American Broadcasting Company (March 31, 2009), Walt Disney Home Video (March 31, 2009), single discs, 50 mins plus supplements, 1.66:1 aspect ratio, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound, Not Rated, Retail: $19.99
The makers of the original Schoolhouse Rock series return with all new material for a new generation. Focusing on songs about conservation and the environment, the aim is to promote awareness about our planet so that it is conserved for new generations.
The Sweatbox Review:
When I first heard about this release, I was really excited about the idea of new Schoolhouse Rock songs and cartoons. I know that some fans of the show were hesitant about reviving a part of their childhood. For many people, the classic show was already complete and perfect. Others saw the show as a continuous work in progress, given the nature of the show and how it developed over many years with new cartoons and songs. The show has already been featured in two separate DVD releases, both of which were successful. I also have to say I was excited about the theme of conservation. With the always relevant theme of global warming and a renewed push towards energy conservation around the globe, it is an important theme to teach children. However, after watching this release, I came out with a decidedly mixed view of the result.
The new release is made up of eleven new animated music videos along with one classic (The Energy Blues). The songs are connected by short clips featuring three cartoon polar bears. They are our hosts that introduce the different clips and songs. They are made up of four bears who you can tell apart from the different hats they wear. In the beginning of the show, we get a behind the scenes glimpse of the bears getting ready to put on a show. They then break into their first song. The first song on the disc is Report From the North Pole, a forgettable song about how the ice caps are melting. I say forgettable because the song is not really that great and has no catchy refrain for children to remember. Well, actually it does have a refrain, but it had a horrible melody (and I do not use this word lightly) and actually hurt my ears every time I heard it. The animation is interesting, very simple, yet effective. I liked it as a cartoon, and there were moments in the clip that I enjoyed. It gives us an overview of the problems our planet is facing and how it is affecting our biodiversity. However, this first tune made me wary about the next few songs on the disc.
After a brief introduction from the bears, they introduce the next clip about what we can do to save our energy called The Little Things We Do. Once again, I found this song a bit forgettable. It was more concerned with making every phrase rhyme with the next than with the melody. Some of the rhymes were forced and unnecessary, making little sense with what is shown on the screen. Many of the different verses are actually interspersed with people talking and explaining energy conservation. This is fine, but it breaks up the songs. The song is about a family of three who take measures to conserve energy in their own home. The lesson in this song is actually very important. It teaches kids about what measures they can take around their house to conserve energy. Once again, it is good, clean animation, but the song drags it down from what it could have achieved.
The third song is about recycling and it is called The Trash Can Band made up of a box, a can, and a bottle. The music is similar to bluegrass and I enjoyed the melody. The clip here relies more on images to get the point across instead of the lyrics. It teaches us to reduce, reuse, and recycle. The goal is to teach kids to reduce the amount of packaging they purchase, reuse anything that can be used again, and recycle things like plastic, paper, and glass. In the end, it is a good song, but features more visual content than catchy tunes.
The next song, You Oughta Be Savin’ Water is probably the catchiest new tune on the DVD. Once again, the bears introduce the clip with a cub reporter telling us about global warming. The clip is sung by Dewey Drop and the Drips, an old-fashioned rock and roll band who teach us about reducing our water consumption. It has the catchiest refrain on the set “If you’re not conserving water, you oughta, you oughta…” The visuals are also great because they tell us exactly how many gallons of water we save from taking conservation measures around the house. The idea is that we actually waste much of the water we taken from the Earth. After the disc was over, this was the one song I remembered vividly from the disc, which is a mark of the best Schoolhouse Rock songs.
Before heading into the next song, we get a clip from the bears discussing how they can hear the different sounds the Earth is making, but that they are being drowned out by sounds of chainsaws cutting down the forest. This leads us into the next song The Rainforest, one of the most visually interesting songs on the set. The animation is made up of watercolor cutouts of the forest and animals moving through the screen. The lead singer discusses the different layers in a rainforest and how they all interconnect and depend on one another. He also discusses why humans depend on the rainforest for our sustainability and what can happen if they suddenly disappear at the rate they have in the past years. Overall, it is one of the most innovative animated clips on the set and the R&B-infused song is actually pretty decent, even without a memorable refrain.
The bears once again introduce the next theme on the set which is the state of the world’s oceans. In Save the Ocean, we get a rousing anthem about protecting our oceans and the things we get from them. A tropical crustacean band provides the music for the song with a simple refrain where they spell out the words to Love the Ocean, Save the Ocean and Make a Commotion. A rapping walrus, shark, and turtle, along with some acapella fish also provide explanation about what is going on with the ocean and what we need to do. They talk about melting ice, overfishing, an acidic ocean, and extreme weather in particular. This was a nice clip and song and one of my favorites on this slim set.
Unfortunately, the good run on this disc had to end at some point. To me, it briefly ended with the arrival of FatCat Blue: The Clean Rivers Song. Before, we begin the song, the bears provide a cute introduction about how important our rivers are for our survival. My main problem with this song was that it was boring. I did not understand why they even had a fat cat singing the bluesy song. He discusses runoff, the effect of dams, dirty ships and different measures needed to curb their negative effects on the river. Then the song shifts gear to talk about how the river became polluted with different factories and cities dumping their waste. He continues talking about big business and how they can reduce their waste. Then the song abruptly ends with a shot of the clean river. I did not enjoy this song. I found it unfocused and lacking a catchy refrain. I thought the animation was great and in line with the rest of the set, but I felt that the topic could have been treated differently.
Fortunately, the disc picks up again with a great clip, both visually and musically. The song is about a little kid living in the city who loves nature. He finds a little patch of land behind his building and begins to grow a little garden which he calls his tiny urban zoo. A Tiny Urban Zoo is visually one of the most colorful on the set. We get to see beautiful butterflies, flowers, and bugs that live in his backyard. I loved that it empowers children to create a small environment for animals in the middle of the city. The pop song that accompanies the animation is also very pleasant and enjoyable. Overall, I liked this song and only wished the rest of the set was up to the same level.
While listed as a bonus feature on the back of the DVD case, The Energy Blues is actually an integral part of the main feature. The bears introduce the song by talking about how the energy crisis has been with us for a long time. Written during the energy crisis of the 70s, the song is as relevant today as it ever was. It talks about the energy shortage, the different types of energy we use today, and the ones that are sustainable for future use. I love this short because it really has held up over time. Of course this song is great with a great refrain and clever visuals. I think it is funny that we are still dealing with the same issues after thirty years.
Continuing the theme of classic Schoolhouse Rock, Interplanet Janet makes a clever reappearance in the next song Solar Power to the People. The bears introduce the song that talks about one of the most abundant and clean sources of energy. It is fun to see Interplanet Janet as she flies around the earth promoting solar power as a clean alternative to fossil fuels. The basic tune here is the same as in the classic song, but the lyrics are different. The visuals are also very interesting and we get to see future inventions all running on solar power. It explains how solar panels work and what the benefits are regarding global warming. Overall, while the song itself is just average, it is fun to see the classic character, and her classic refrain is actually briefly replayed towards the end of the clip.
The next song on the disc also talks about a renewable source of energy, this time wind power. Windy and the Windmills is a forgettable song about Windy, a cloud of wind, who talks about wind power throughout the ages. This basically follows the same formula as Energy Blues, by beginning with the pollution, moving through the history, and talking about wind as the future. It even talks about the different winds in North America. Unfortunately for this song, there is so much information that there is no time to create a tune for the audience to remember. Most of the lyrics are spoken or only lightly sung. The song is also not very memorable and it actually is more of a marching song.
The final song on the disc is Don’t Be a Carbon Sasquatch which compares the footprint of a Sasquatch to our carbon footprint. This was a clever idea, but it packs so much complex information into the song that it is hard to remember everything about the subject. In the clip, the singer talks about how everything we and how it increases our greenhouse gas emissions. It then talks about alternatives to some of things we do like eating more locally grown food and turning things off when not in use. The song does act as a good summary of everything the viewer has seen thus far on the disc and gives practical solutions to our everyday lives.
Is This Thing Loaded?
While technically part of the main feature, The Three Rs music video performed by Mitchel Musso, actually plays after the credits of the main feature. This is the updated version of Three is a Magic Number by Jack Johnson that was actually first featured on the Curious George soundtrack. I like this song and I enjoyed Johnson’s version. The song talks about the three Rs: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. What Disney has done here is to take the song and give it more of a rock edge to it. In the end Musso’s version is pretty good and the music video does a good job at keeping the conservation theme. Interspersed through the video are some clips from Schoolhouse Rock Earth.
Sneak Peaks are also featured for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Handy Manny: Manny’s Green Team, Earth, Tigger & Pooh: And a Musical Too, Hannah Montana: Keeping It Real, The Princess Protection Program, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Mickey’s Big Splash, Tinker Bell and the Lost Trasure, Disney XD, a double feature of Hatching Pete/Dadnapped, and the Disney Movie Rewards program.
Schoolhouse Rock Earth is featured in a regular white keepcase. Since the theme of the DVD is conservation, I am surprised that they did not go with a more earth-friendly packaging like they did with Wall-E. I am not saying that there is anything wrong with the way they have packaged this set, but I thought they might have changed it for this earth-friendly disc. It also struck me that while Disney is talking about minimizing packaging and waste, we still get an insert for the Disney Movie Rewards Program. I do not know if there is any way around this, but perhaps Disney could just print the code somewhere instead of adding a whole new insert to their DVD releases. This could reduce waste.
Ink And Paint:
I love the visuals for the original Schoolhouse Rock series. They always managed to create minimal animation with simple backgrounds and complex themes. I always loved how they tried to experiment with different techniques and color pallets. These new songs are in the same vein. While I may have disliked some of the songs on this set, I always appreciated the animation. I think that The Rainforest is one of the most unique-looking Schoolhouse Rock clips created and really loved the colors in A Tiny Urban Zoo. All of the clips are featured in their original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, except for The Energy Blues which is featured in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio.
As this is a musical DVD, sound is very important and I am glad Disney has decided to go for a full Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track for this release. This may not be a good thing in some of the weaker songs, but overall it is a great bonus for kids who enjoy them. The DVD actually contains both English and French 5.1 tracks. Spanish, French, and English subtitles are also included.
I have mixed feelings about this DVD. As an adult and a fan of the original series, I had great expectations for this release. Looking back, they were probably unrealistic expectations, but I still think that this is a great idea for the Schoolhouse Rock franchise. I think that by educating children on one of the most important issues of our lives, they are doing a great service to the public. However, with a boring and forgettable beginning, a great middle section, and a so-so ending, this DVD has left me wishing they had taken more time to develop some of these songs and ideas. The original show was created over many years with new clips only made when creators had the time and an original idea for a clip. I feel that this final result may have been rushed. Either way, I may be judging this too harshly as it is still aimed at children. I only hope that the songs entertain the children long enough that they will want to watch it over and over and perhaps learn a thing or two about conservation along the way.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?