American Broadcasting Company (1973-1986, 1993-1996), Buena Vista Home Video (September 23, 2008), 1 disc set, 49 mins plus supplements, 1.33:1 original full screen ratio, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, Not Rated, Retail: $19.99
Schoolhouse Rock is re-released in a limited edition covering the American political process just in time for the Presidential Campaign of 2008. Who will run the White House for the next four years, Republicans or Democrats? We will not know until November, but the 15 shorts included in this edition cover many of the major issues in a way that even children can understand them.
The Sweatbox Review:
It is a four year cycle, and every four years in the United States it seems we are bombarded with politics and political imagery. Between the fundraising, the primaries, the conventions, the debates and the election, things don’t really seem to die down until a year after the first primaries are held. Of course, every year there are millions of people who have never been eligible to vote that are gearing up for their first vote. Think about it. This year, if you were born in 1990, it is likely that you are already eligible to vote. 1990! Well, all I can say is that when it comes to electoral processes, none is more complicated than the American Electoral College System. It took me years to finally understand what it meant and how it worked. I think everyone in my generation finally understood after the election in 2000 when the Popular Vote went one way and the Electoral College vote went to another candidate. Overall, it’s a fascinating system and the most entertaining way I learned about it was by watching Schoolhouse Rock as a kid.
Schoolhouse Rock made its television debut on ABC in 1973 with their first short Three Is a Magic Number. At the time, David McCall, an advertising executive at McCaffrey & McCall Advertising, got together with Bob Dorough to write a rock song about multiplication. An artist named Tom Yohe heard the song and decided to add animation to the music. After a meeting with Michael Eisner, then Vice President of Children’s Programming at ABC, Schoolhouse Rock was born. The show continued until 1985 on television and would also come back for an additional five years in the early 1990s. The show became one of the most popular educational shows on television and came at a time when children were becoming more and more exposed to complex political and social issues due to dawning of the Communication Age. It went on to win four Emmy Awards and when the show finally came out on DVD in 2002 ready for its 30th Anniversary, it became one of the most consistent best-sellers on the DVD charts. One quick glance at the Amazon DVD chart today and one can still find it closer to the top after all of these years.
The idea behind this new DVD is a good one. Capitalize on this new political season by re-releasing a limited edition of an already popular property with a political twist. The shorts in this new edition are organized in a fashion that best explains American politics. The DVD is divided into three different areas where one can explore the issues and events surrounding the entire electoral process. The first part is The Campaign which covers the different issues that campaigns have to deal with in the running up to the election. The second section is entitled Our History. The themes here are landmark moments in American history that shaped the way that America is as a nation. The final section is called How Government Works and it shows how the American Presidential system works, what it’s based on and how it can be changed. There is also a third section that features two versions of the new short made by the original creators of the series called Presidential Minute.
The Campaign features five shorts dedicated to the issues surrounding any presidential election: Energy Blues, Tax Man Max, Walkin’ On Wall Street, Tyrannosaurus Debt, and I’m Gonna Send Your Vote to College.
The two shorts that made the biggest impression on me while watching them were Energy Blues and Walkin’ On Wall Street. It’s impossible to think about this political season without thinking of our ever-growing energy crisis and the stock market tumbling on Wall Street in the last few months. In Energy Blues, the planet sings about fossil fuels and how we are eventually going to run out of them. It them goes on to list a variety of alternative fuels such as hydroelectric and geothermal and it encourages us all to conserve on energy. This short was produced shortly after the fuel crisis of the 1970s, but it’s interesting that the topic is just as contemporary and important today as it was back then. Walkin’ On Wall Street is really just an explanation of how stocks work and what investors do on the stock exchange. Kids are probably aware that something is going on in Wall Street these days so this is a good way to explain it to them. Tyrannosaurus Debt is also a very interesting and in the short, which features a dinosaur gobbling up money as the government spends more on credit, the national debt reaches five trillion. It’s interesting to note that just a couple of days ago, it finally passed ten trillion. The other two shorts are Tax Man Max which discusses taxes and what they’re used for, and finally I’m Gonna Send Your Vote to College which discusses and explains the American Electoral College system.
Our History features five shorts that explain how America became a nation and how we came up with the process we have today: No More Kings, The Shot Heard ‘Round the World, Fireworks, Mother Necessity, and The Great American Melting Pot.
Three of the shorts deal with the American Revolution and the American Declaration of Independence. No More Kings focuses on the situation that led to the American Revolution and the concept of taxation without representation. The Shot Heard ‘Round the World talks about the American War of Independence and the major events and battles in that war. Finally, Fireworks talks about the Declaration of Independence and why it is celebrated on July 4th by covering the most important points of the Declaration. The other two shorts celebrate American culture and accomplishments. Mother Necessity celebrates some of the most famous American inventions such as the cotton gin, the telegraph, and the light bulb by focusing on a mother who needs things and her sons coming up with a solution. Some of the inventions aren’t strictly American (Enrico Marconi and Alexander Graham Bell were not American), but it’s still an entertaining short. The Great American Melting Pot is about the history of immigration in America and it adds great imagery to the melting pot idea.
How Government Works features four shorts that discuss the function of government and how it works: The Preamble, Three-Ring Government, I’m Just a Bill, and Sufferin’ Til Suffrage.
The Preamble is probably one of the most famous of the historical shorts and puts music to the actual Preamble of the Constitution of the United States. The reason this short has become so popular is that it allows people to memorize the preamble and it puts the music to some very colorful animation. Overall, it is a great short and one of the most memorable in this edition. The other more memorable short is I’m Just a Bill and it perhaps is considered to be the most popular Schoolhouse Rock short ever created. It’s even featured on the cover of both this and the previous 30th Anniversary Edition of the DVD. The short features a legislative bill and follows it from a proposal, through the committee sessions, voting, and on to the President’s table until it becomes a law. Three-Ring Government compares a three-ring circus to the three branches of the US government (judiciary, legislative, and executive). Sufferin’ Til Suffrage is a short about the 19th Amendment that granted women the right to vote in elections.
Is This Thing Loaded?
There is a special section of the DVD for bonus features called Extra Credit. This section features a bonus short called Presidential Minute. The short is about everything that happens before a candidate makes it to the White House. It features a song about the national conventions, the debates, and the election. What it mainly does is encourage people to go out and vote for their favorite candidates. Overall, it’s a good addition to the Schoolhouse Rock canon and it was actually created by the same team that created the original shorts. The short is actually featured in two different versions. The difference between the two, that I could see, was that version 1 had a man and version 2 had a woman coming out of the booth at the end, presumably after voting for themselves. This, of course, makes sense in a year where Senator Hillary Clinton was a serious contender for the Democratic Presidential (and VP) choice and Gov. Sarah Palin is the new Republican VP Nominee.
The DVD also features trailers for Sleeping Beauty: Platinum Edition, Schoolhouse Rock!: Earth, High School Musical 2: Extended Edition, Beverly Hills Chihuahua, Little Einsteins: The Christmas Wish, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, Disney DVD Games (High School Musical and Hannah Montana), and Disney Movie Rewards.
The DVD comes in a standard one-disc keepcase and features Boothy and Bill on the cover. All of this comes covered by a shiny, cardboard slipcase that goes over the hard case. Inside the case are an insert for Disney Movie Rewards and another one promoting the very disc you have purchased (?) along with the two Disney DVD Games mentioned above.
The coolest insert and probably one of the most interesting things in this edition is a 14.5” by 9” map of the United States with the number of electoral votes in each state. There are also 50 Democratic blue stickers and 50 Republican red stickers that you can place on the state when the results have been announced. There are instructions on the side of the map on how to use it and on the flip side of the map are seven Electoral College and Presidential Trivia. For kids, this map will be interesting if they are following the results of the election along with their parents. I’m actually planning to use it myself on November 4th.
Ink And Paint:
The quality of the animation of these shorts vary as they came from a range of decades with the newest ones being I’m Gonna Send Your Vote To College which came out on DVD in 2002 and Presidential Minute being made exclusively for this DVD. With this range of animation styles, of course the video quality varies with the newest shorts being the cleanest and the oldest shorts showing some grain. However, overall the quality of the video is good and the running time of the main features is just under one hour at 49 minutes. All shorts, including the newest ones, are featured in full screen, 1.33:1 aspect ratio.
Each section has a play all feature, but there is also one play all for all the songs on the main menu. If you don’t pick an option in the main menu, it begins Disney’s Fast Play option that begins with a trailer for Schoolhouse Rock!: Earth (which I’m really excited to hear more about) and other previews before going into the main feature.
The shorts here are presented in an English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track. Overall, it is a good track for the music found on the disc, but the surround feature is a bit unnecessary for this release. It is not really an upgrade from the previous edition. There are no alternative tracks or languages included in the set. While there is no menu for technical specifications, English Closed Captioning is included.
There’s little reason to purchase this DVD over the previous 30th Anniversary Edition, but some die hard fans of the show might be interested in getting the brand new short. It might also be a nice gift for someone who is only marginally interested in Schoolhouse Rock, but is interested in politics in general. I’m planning an Election Party at home this year and I’m already planning to put up the Electoral College map on my wall so we can track the election results as they come. However, with the previous edition being only a couple of dollars more than this edition in most major retail outlets (both have the same suggested MRP of $19.99) I would recommend getting the complete edition instead. You can read about that edition and my take on it here. Most importantly, if you can, don’t forget to vote on November 4th!
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?