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Sabrina, The Animated Series: Witch In Training

DiC (1998), NCircle Entertainment (March 6, 2007), 1 disc, 88 mins plus supplements, 1.33:1 original full frame ratio, Dolby Digital Stereo, Not Rated, Retail: $6.99

Storyboard:

A younger version of Archie Comics’ teenage witch appears in this series inspired by the live action sitcom.

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The Sweatbox Review:

It’s funny how fictional characters can take on so many lives of their own, often with success in one medium dictating what happens in another. Back in 1962, George Gladir and Dan DeCarlo created Sabrina The Teenage Witch as a magic-based character to appear in an issue of Archie’s Madhouse, published by Archie Comics. (This was the same DeCarlo who drew hundreds of stories for Archie over the years before splitting with the publisher in a creator dispute over the live-action Josie And Tthe Pussycats movie.) Sabrina had several more minor appearances in the comics before appearing on Archie’s newly-expanded Archie Comedy Hour cartoon on CBS in 1969. This led to her being spun off onto her own 1970 Filmation-produced television show (sharing billing with her monstrously fun cousins in the hour-long Sabrina And The Groovy Goolies show), as well as gaining her own comic book in 1971. Another cartoon, named Sabrina, Superwitch, came out on NBC in 1977.

Her comic ran for a number of years before petering out in 1983. From there, it seemed she was doomed to a string of guest appearances in the various Archie books. She found her rescue from obscurity when Showtime decided to air a TV movie featuring Melissa Joan Hart as Sabrina in 1996. That fall, the weekly ABC series version with Hart started and became a surprise (some might say mystifying) success. It eventually switched to airing on the WB network, but did last a total of seven seasons by the time it expired in 2003. In the meantime, a new comic book was launched, and (yes, I’m getting to it) Sabrina received a new Saturday morning cartoon show in 1998.

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The animated version this time would feature a pre-teen witch in suburbia, voiced by Melissa Joan Hart’s sister Emily. Melissa, meanwhile, would voice Sabrina’s two aunts, Hilda and Zelda. The aunts are teenagers in the cartoon series, having been de-aged while on witch probation. Sabrina’s mother, meanwhile, is away digging up a lost city (according to one of the episodes on this disc.) Even as a twelve year old, Sabrina has a crush on her friend Harvey. Other supporting roles include her best friend Chloe (the one mortal who knows her secret), her Uncle Quigley, and their talking warlock cat Salem.

As kids cartoons go, this show is pretty standard. Sabrina is learning about herself, finding what it means to be a strong and mature individual, and struggling with when to use her powers as she deals with school and relationships. Usually she finds out that using her special abilities only complicates things more, and she must instead figure out the situation in more standard ways. In many respects, it is the same type of show as Jimmy Neutron, Fairly Oddparents, or at least 20 other examples one could come up with, dating back to the early days of Saturday morning cartoons. That is okay, as there are few new ideas under the sun; what it comes down to, then, is execution. Any series these days needs to demonstrate an unusual amount of creativity to stand out in a crowded cartoon market, and we shall see how Sabrina fares.

After the copyright warnings, this DVD goes to the show’s opening (which is designed as an homage to the character’s comic book roots) before going to the main menu. The main feature, then, does not play the opening again but does end with a single set of credits.

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Episodes
Shrink To Fit – Sabrina and her friend Chloe are desperate to fit into a new brand of jeans advertised by a bony supermodel. They are motivated by the fact that Sabrina’s rival, Gemini Stone, is wearing them, and because they think that Harvey likes how skinny girls look. The girls use the family “Spooky Jar” genie to help them. He gives them the means to shrink down, but warns them they may regret their decision. If you do not see where this is going already, you’re probably not paying attention (or are not old enough to read). It’s a predictable plot with an obvious moral, combining a shrinking motif with a lesson about being yourself. At least the voice performances are stellar— too bad they are in service of a tired story. Of course, viewers under twelve may not have seen this story dozens of times on countless TV series, so fair enough.

Strange New World – Sabrina needs big-time help with her science project, so she resorts to conjuring up a young Thomas Edison. The problem is, his appearance in our time means that his inventions of the past start to fade away… This is very much like the Jimmy Neutron story “The Big Pinch”, which would have been produced after this Sabrina episode.

The Importance Of Being Norma – Sabrina wants to join the snobby cheerleading squad, that of course being the ultimate move towards gaining popularity. Her friend Norma proves to be too much of a liability, though, so Sabrina magically makes Norma popular. But does Norma want to be popular? The script for this episode actually had a few original notions, making it my favorite of this compilation.

I can give Sabrina credit for being a good-looking show; it has appealing cartooning, decent animation, and pleasant design. In the script department, though, its mediocrity “shines”. The stories are certainly coherent and enjoyable on a rudimentary level, but there is little to separate Sabrina from all the other shows about pre-teens growing up. The magic angle does little to make it fresh either, since the supernatural has been a staple of cartoons for a while now. One cannot fault it for its unoriginal premise, really, but the execution is indeed pedestrian.

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Is This Thing Loaded?

There is a fourth episode, named as a “Bonus Episode” since it does not appear on the VHS version of this title. This episode also plays without the opening but does have its own credit sequence at the end. Anywhere But Here sees Sabrina feeling that well-known angst centering around wanting to grow up and be more independent. Naturally, she discusses this with Salem and he grants Sabrina her wish to grow up. As one might expect, being an adult is not all Sabrina thought it would be, as she has to deal with new pressures and responsibilities. Will Sabrina learn to appreciate being a kid? Far be it for me to spoil it for you!

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There are no other Sabrina-related extras on this disc other than the “bonus episode”. To even call that a bonus is misleading, since it is only a bonus in the sense that the VHS version of the program included only the first three episodes seen here. Without the fourth episode, this disc would have only been a measly hour or so, though, so to me its inclusion was practically mandatory. However, I’ll respect the packaging and give points for that last episode on the disc.

As per the norm for these “Animation Station” discs of DiC properties, there are a slew of Sneak Peaks for other DVDs. The previews here include those for Care Bears, Wizard Of Oz: The Continuing Story (with the characters looking and sounding surprisingly like the MGM version— does current rights holder Warner Brothers know about this?), The Sylvanian Families, Heathcliff, (the non-animated) Old MacDonald’s Sing-A-Long Farm, Gadget Boy, Bump In The Night, Super Mario Bros., The Wacky World Of Tex Avery, The Littles, Wish Kid, and Where On Earth Is Carmen Sandiego? It is a bit nice to be able to view these previews, but let’s call a spade a spade: these are ads, not bonus features. (Note: This disc was originally put out by Sterling. I am not sure if the same trailers appear on the new version by NCircle.)

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Case Study:

Standard keepcase, no insert. The package trumpets the fact that the cartoons feature the voice of Melissa Joan Hart, obviously figuring that this is a big draw for her fans. Of course, those that did not already know her role on the cartoon likely assume then that she plays Sabrina rather than the aunts. It’s not false advertising, certainly, but not entirely up-front either.

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Ink And Paint:

The video on this disc was a pleasant surprise. Lately, I’ve been seeing some toon DVD’s— particularly if they are aimed at kids or feature DiC animation— with less than stellar video. It certainly helps that these Sabrina cartoons were produced recently, but I was still half-expecting the video on this disc to be lacking. Happily, that is not the case at all. The colors are vibrant, the picture is stable, the compression is flawless, and I am a happy camper. Fans of the show will be pleased to know it looks darn good.

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The look of the show features shading on all the characters, which gives it a nice polished and professional look. The character and background designs are appealing, avoiding the flat, boring look of many of today’s shows.

Scratch Tracks:

The English and Spanish stereo options provide an appropriate amount of audio magic for a kids’ TV cartoon. The sound is nicely “full” sounding, but without much in the way of distinct effects. Anything else, however, would have seemed out of place. The episodes sound at least as good as they do on cable, and that’s good enough for me. There are no subtitles offered.

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Final Cut:

Sabrina won’t amaze anyone who has been watching cartoons for a while, but it is a decent enough show. It looks sharp, has pleasant characters, and time-honored moral lessons. I found it a bit on the bland side, largely because of the familiar plots. A little more energy and creativity would help, as the stories almost seemed to go on autopilot at times. Remember, though, that this is a kids’ program, and as such it is perfectly adequate if not outstanding.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?

MAIN FEATURE
SUPPLEMENTS
VIDEO IMAGE
SOUND TRACK
OVERALL DVD

 

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