Disney/Buena Vista Double Feature (US - BD)
Jonathan checks out catalog releases of Babes in Toyland and Joy Luck Club..
Babes in Toyland
Experience a fantastic excursion into the world of Mother Goose where all roads lead to magical, merry Toyland. While Mary Contrary (Funicello) and Tom Piper prepare for their wedding, the villainous Barnaby schemes to steal Mary away, setting off a series of hilarious comic chases and double-crosses. Will the silly villain succeed, or will there be a happily ever after for Tom and Mary? (From the Disney synopsis).
Disney's Technicolor adaptation of the 1903 Victor Herbert operetta has the distinction of being the first live-action musical that Disney produced. At the time of its release in 1961, it was a failure at the box office. The studio wouldn't find financial success with a live-action musical until Marry Poppins came out three years later. My first memory of the film is watching it with a relative at a very young age. I remember being entertained as a child, but until I revisited the film on Blu-ray I had no real frame of reference. If you're a fan of old fashioned musical productions or Technicolor films in general, there is some enjoyment to be had here. It definitely shows its age, and personally I found the characters and a lot of the gags obnoxious, but I can't deny that their is a charming goofiness to it that some kids may eat up. I can see why the younger me enjoyed it. Seeing Ray Bolger (The Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz) playing a silly villain is also amusing. Though it is harmless and wholesome, I only recommend it if you grew up with the movie and have a nostalgic love for it.
Like many of the catalog titles released recently by Disney, the transfer on this Blu-ray is quite good. The restoration isn't as extensive as some other Technicolor classics like Gone With the Wind or The Wizard of Oz, but the brilliantly vibrant colors are all there. This is a BD-25 disc, and there are some clear signs of compression on the image. There's a generally pleasant layer of grain over the transfer, but occasionally the grain does look harsh and digital. Take a close look at Annette Funicello's face in the second screen cap for an example of this. It's fairly minor, and in motion it isn't nearly as distracting. I'm no expert on how this film is intended to look, but the blacks do seem to have some mild crush. This is most evident on the tree detail in the third screen cap, but it could just be an under-lit sequence in the production. The audio mix is a simple but serviceable Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono track. Normally I might complain about the lack of a lossless format, but given the age and state of the film there is really no need for it. It sounds about as good as any other film from its era, and the vocals aren't too difficult to discern from the rest of the noise. The mix is flat and lacking in any form of dynamism as one would expect from a monaural presentation, but this is likely the best that it will ever sound on a home format.
The Joy Luck Club
The inspirational story of four remarkable friends whose extraordinary lives are filled wit joy and heartbreak. Their friendship reveals a mosaic of startling events that have shaped their lives and affects the hope they hold for their families. (From the Buena Vista synopsis)
The Joy Luck Club is an American-made movie (produced by Oliver Stone) about Asian American women, but it would be difficult to know it was an American film if you had only seen the movie without reading anything about it. It feels like a modest, foreign production. It is closer in spirit to the older films of directors like Zhang Yimou or Chen Kaige. It does have some Oscar bait moments scattered throughout it, but I found myself giving in to its every emotional beat. I half-expected this film to be a chore with its 140 minute runtime and generic, mingling-couples in San Francisco box art. I couldn't have been more wrong, and I was left moved by these wonderfully realized characters. There are moments of celebration and reconciliation, and other moments that are completely devastating. All of them build into a touching mosaic of the lives of Chinese women, their cultural struggles, and how their strict traditional backgrounds effect their daughters lives in America.
This Blu-ray disc comes with a very strong 1080p transfer. The feature takes up approximately 40GB on a BD-50, making for an impressive bit rate. And it shows. There are virtually no compression artefacts to be found, though the film grain does occasionally look harsher in certain areas of the picture, much like the Babes in Toyland release. Both titles probably went through the same encoding process, but with a higher bit rate The Joy Luck Club comes out on top as the better transfer. The film has a very natural and mundane color palette, with no particular color ranges feeling especially vibrant. Contrast and black levels are consistently strong. Detail looks as good as any 35mm film from the early 90's is bound to look, and in many ways this video presentation trumps other major releases from the time period. Even though these catalog releases are completely lacking in bonus features, it is nice to see that Disney/Buena Vista takes the video quality seriously. The same can be said for this disc's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, which works wonders in a lot of subtle ways. Echoes, chatter, and even slight winds sneak their way into the rear channels on a regular basis to make for a strong sense of environment. Dialogue is exceptionally clear and easy to understand, though most of it is in Mandarin with English subtitles.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Jonathan Hogberg
Release Date: 11th December 2012
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Babes in Toyland: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono English, Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono Spanish. Joy Luck Club: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Dolby Digital 2.0 Spanish
Subtitles: Babes in Toyland: English SDH, French, Spanish. Joy Luck Club: English SDH, French, Spanish
Easter Egg: No
Cast: Ray Bolger, Tommy Sands, Annette Funicello, Tamlyn Tomita, Rosalind Chao, Kieu Chinh
Genre: Drama, Fantasy and Musical
Length: 245 minutes
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