American Girl Samantha Parkington is busy empowering little girls and Walt Disney and the El Grupo are too busy fighting the war. With all that going on, we'll leave the fluff to the Care Bears and the animated Duke Brothers. Here are some titles you may have missed recently.
• • •
by Lex Walker
It's rather unfortunate that it took until 1983 for The Dukes of Hazzard to get the cartoon adaptation treatment. Not because it deserved its ink sooner, but because at that point in the live-action series Luke (Tom Wopat) and Bo (John Schneider) had moved on (albeit briefly) leaving their "cousins" Vance (Christopher Mayer) and Coy (Byron Cherry) to engage in the show's misadventures for a year. So when Hanna Barbera adapted the show into a cartoon, instead of just making the main characters Bo and Luke (who were the obvious choice), they decided to use the two leads currently in the live-action version, it being impossible to know that they'd be off the show rather quickly. And so, the animated series The Dukes starts off on that rocky character premise and then, with all the grace of a First Prize State Fair sow in a line dance, switches back to Bo and Luke in the second season to correspond with their return in the live-action series. It's not a great way to run your animated series, but the indecision surrounding characters is only a small problem in the grand scheme of things.
The Dukes can best be compared to any of the countless cartoons out there that feature a hairbrained villain with a reliable flunky who hatches a scheme that the Duke boys have to uncover and foil. Or, if Boss Hogg isn't causing the trouble, it's one of the two brothers' character flaws that manages to also teach them a lesson. It really is almost as good as watching an actual episode of The Dukes of Hazzard, but with the recognizable flair of Hanna Barbera animation—though the copy of the print they made this copy from could have been clearer.
SAMANTHA: AN AMERICAN GIRL HOLIDAY
by Arya Ponto
Before she truly showcased her talent in more noticeable films like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Bridge to Terabithia, AnnaSophia Robb showed more modest promise in her first leading role: Samantha Parkington, a New Yorker in the Victorian era, in this 2004 TV movie, the first of a series of movies based on the popular line of proto-feminist American Girl dolls. If you're familiar with the doll, you know the gist of the story. Taking place exactly 100 years previous to the movie (which is technically the Edwardian era, but let's go with Victorian anyway), Samantha is an orphan living a rich life with her grandmother (Mia Farrow), but even privileged, she takes a liking to and helps orphans and servant girls less fortunate than her, particularly her poor Irish immigrant best friend Nellie (Kelsey Lewis). As with any heart-warming family tales such as this, they manage to depict Samantha's actions as a genuine gesture of friendship rather than the pseudo-patronizing charity that it would look like to an observer.
Watching the film has the same quaint feeling of watching a display of those American Girl dolls. The sentiment behind it feels like a product of a bygone period, where good intentions are mellowed by iffy conclusions. In the movie, Samantha fills the empowering role of a mouthpiece against child labor, but she herself isn't an interesting character to center on. Her entire personality is summed up by the word "compassionate." Furthermore, the juxtaposition of railing against orphans making their own living and the only solution being getting a rich man to adopt them raises a question or two; but I suppose only a cynic would take that issue in what should be taken as an innocent holiday movie...
Bonus Features It's a commendable re-release for a TV movie like this, actually. This DVD makes the film available on widescreen for the first time, and there's a pretty interesting featurette that has descendants of suffragists talk about the era's fight for female equality. Though what that has to do with Samantha's story is debatable, it paints a good picture of the period depicted.
WALT AND EL GRUPO
by Tom Hoeler
Walt and El Grupo: The Untold Adventures follows the exploits of a younger Walt Disney and a handpicked team of animators/artists dubbed "El Grupo" on their trek through South America trying to drum up support for the Allies while stemming the tide of Axis support. Though it sounds like the outrageous plot of the latest studio comedy, the new documentary Walt and El Grupo is based on actual events that took place in 1941.
Using a combination of home movies and interviews with surviving members of the "El Grupo" artist group, director Theodore Thomas gives us a rich story about one of the lesser known "goodwill" trips in United States history, and a portrait of Walt Disney, beyond Mickey Mouse and his magic kingdom. A treat for Mousketeers and movie buffs alike, the original footage is engrossing and the interviews outstanding as we learn how Walt Disney not only helped establish good will in South America for the United States, but also how some of his later animation work was influenced by his trip.
Bonus Features There are a host of extras along with the movie, starting with a full director commentary along with a prominent historian, J.B. Kaufman. Documentary films don't often have commentaries and to have multiple people involved is certainly special. Next is a set of home movie clips featured in the director's cut of the film; basically deleted scenes or extra footage that wouldn't otherwise be seen. Also included are theatrical trailers for Saludas Amigos and The Three Caballeros, as well as the original 1943 release of Saludas Amigos.
CARE BEARS: THE GIVING FESTIVAL MOVIE
by Randall Unger
The Care Bears have been a staple of children’s entertainment for over a quarter of a century. From greeting cards to toys to feature length films, this cute and cuddly phenomenon has been everywhere. Their latest adventure, Care Bears: The Giving Festival Movie is computer-generated and is yet another example of their immense popularity. The film centers around a group of small magical color coated Care Bears that live on a cloud in the sky and are preparing for a Thanksgiving-like celebration called The Giving Festival. Unfortunately their plans are threatened by windy weather, and troublemakers named Grizzle and Windle who have dastardly plans for the bears. It is then up to the Care Bears and their special powers to set things right.
Care Bears: The Giving Festival Movie is a very positive and uplifting tale that will definitely win the hearts of children. Parents on the other hand may want to sit this one out since the animation and storylines will make adults want to puke. There is an abundance of syrupy moral lessons and over the top voice acting that may seem charming to the little ones but repulsive to grown ups. Ladies and gentlemen, Pixar this is not.
Bonus Features The special features of Care Bears: The Giving Festival Movie are adequate at best. There is an interactive Care Bears Game: "Save the Giving Festival" plus three Care Bears Adventures in Care-a-lot bonus episodes, each containing different animation styles and last but not least, trailers for various children’s programs.