Sunday, November 29, 2009

Bringing Your Childhood Christmas Memories To Your Kids

*Contest is now closed. Thanks for playing!*

I loved Christmastime as a kid. I'd help my mom decorate the tree, we'd listen to Christmas music and bake cookies, and in the evenings I'd sit in front of the TV and watch the old Christmas classics. My favorite was Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, although I also really liked Frosty the Snowman. The cartoons each had simple messages about Christmas spirit and being good to others, and each featured catchy tunes that we'd sing on the playground at school the next day.

Now that I have kids of my own, I miss those old Christmas specials. I want my girls to enjoy the same timeless stories that I grew up watching, even if the animation isn't up to the same standards as today and the language is a little different. C'mon, when's the last time you heard someone call a child a Junior Citizen?

I know many of these specials are still shown on TV, but I always have the worst luck in remembering when they're on. Thankfully, I'll no longer have to watch and wait with the release of The Original Christmas Classics Limited Keepsake Edition DVD set. The set features seven classic Rankin/Bass holiday specials, including Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Comin' to Town and The Little Drummer Boy.

All have been digitally remastered, although remember that these were originally made in 1969, and so the lips might not always match the voices. But the audio is clear as you listen to Burl Ives singing "Holly, Jolly Christmas" or the children sing "Frosty, the Snowman." Also included is a bonus audio CD of holiday music.

My girls have already watched most of the specials on this DVD set, and I enjoy seeing them fall in love with the same characters I first met over 25 years ago. I'm hoping this will be a holiday tradition we'll carry on in the years to come, also.

Win A Copy!

I'm also giving away a copy of The Original Christmas Classics Limited Keepsake Edition DVD set to one lucky reader! To enter, leave a comment below sharing your favorite childhood holiday memory. One entry per person, and be sure to leave a valid e-mail address in your comment if your don't have one enabled in your Blogger profile.

Entries will be accepted until Thursday, December 3 at 11:59pm EST. One winner will be selected at random (using to receive one copy of The Original Christmas Classics Limited Keepsake Edition DVD set. Winner has three days to respond once contacted or another winner will be chosen. Contest open to residents of the U.S. or those with a valid U.S. mailing address.

Good luck!

Full disclosure: I received one complimentary copy of this DVD set for review. No further compensation was provided, and no promise of a positive review was given. All opinions are my own.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Disney/Pixar's UP is a Soaring Hit

Before this summer, Cordy had never stepped foot in a movie theater. I worried that at four years old she wasn't ready to sit through a full-length movie, and I also knew that most movies out there tackled subjects I wasn't ready for her to see, or used humor I didn't want her to start repeating.

But when I saw the trailer for Disney/Pixar's UP, I thought maybe this would be a good first movie? Aaron took her to a Saturday morning showing, and less than two hours later reported that she loved her first trip to the movies, and UP was a great first movie. I took her a week later to see it again, and once again she watched the entire film with limited squirming and talking.

After that we anxiously awaited for UP to come out on DVD, which finally happened last week. I received the Blu-ray/DVD combo pack for review, and the day it arrived we ordered pizza for dinner, sat on the floor and watched UP together as a family.

For those who haven't seen the movie, here's the movie's synopsis (from the studio):

Up follows the uplifting tale of 78-year-old balloon salesman Carl Fredricksen, who finally fulfills his lifelong dream of a great adventure when he ties thousands of balloons to his house and flies away to the wilds of South America. But he discovers all too late that his biggest nightmare has stowed away on the trip: an overly optimistic 8-year-old Wilderness Explorer named Russell. Their journey to a lost world, where they encounter some strange, exotic and surprising characters, is filled with hilarity, emotion and wildly imaginative adventure.

Now, that's the basics of the story, but there's so much more in this story than what is written in that synopsis. The opening sequence of the movie is the story of Carl & Ellie, including how they met as kids, their marriage, their struggles through life (including infertility), growing old together, and Ellie's death. We learn that their greatest dream was to visit Paradise Falls together in South America, a dream that Ellie never sees and Carl is determined to accomplish for her.

I'll admit: I cried during this movie. It was hard not to cry, seeing the touching relationship between Carl and Ellie and Carl's willingness to carry out their dream after her death. Thankfully, there is plenty of adventure and humor to keep from dwelling on it for too long.

My daughters loved UP. Russell and Dug (aka the kid and the dog) are their favorite characters and they giggled and giggled over some of the antics between the two of them.

Although the opening is a little slow for young children, the action picks up quickly after that and from then on my kids refuse to budge until the movie is over. If you've already seen the movie a few times, you can always skip the backstory (a la Finding Nemo - who doesn't skip past the mom fish's death?) and get right to the action.

Bonus features on the Blu-ray/DVD combo include director commentary, a new short animated film called Dug's Special Mission, alternate endings, character profiles, and on the Blu-ray disc, a Global Guardian Badge Game, where you can identify countries, states and capitals to earn badges.

UP is available on DVD and in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack that includes a digital copy for your computer or iPod. Even if you don't have a Blu-ray player yet, you might consider the combo pack, giving you the DVD for now and the higher-quality Blu-ray for when everything eventually switches over to Blu-ray in the future. The combo pack is currently $19.99 at Amazon - a great price for a holiday gift for your kids or others you know.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Mickey's Magical Christmas: Snowed in at the House of Mouse

Both of my girls love Disney, and Mickey holds a special place in their hearts. One of the most popular DVDs in our house is an older Disney Halloween special called Mickey's House of Villains, a special where the Disney villains take over the House of Mouse. (Remember the House of Mouse cartoon? Essentially it involved Mickey and friends running a club for all of the Disney characters to visit, where they shared various Disney shorts for the audience and Huey, Dewey & Louie were the club band.)

We've watched House of Villains so much that I had to create a rule that it was only to be seen in October for Halloween. And then, just as it was being placed back on the shelf for a long winter rest, I received an e-mail asking if I would like to review Mickey's Magical Christmas: Snowed in at the House of Mouse? Another House of Mouse special that isn't about Halloween? Sign me up!

Mickey's Magical Christmas: Snowed in at the House of Mouse follows the standard House of Mouse format with a few added surprises. A heavy snow has trapped the Disney characters at the club, and so they decide to make the most of it and throw a big holiday bash. Clips of classic Disney cartoons are shown, with character interviews featured in-between. The character interviews felt a little forced to me, with several of the jokes falling flat with our screening audience. Some of the character voices didn't match up well, either. Thankfully they're short and not the primary focus of the DVD.

The best parts of this DVD are the cartoon shorts themselves. The Nutcracker features Mickey and Minnie in a jazzed-up version of the holiday classic. The music has a Trans-Siberian orchestra feel to it that will have you humming along. My favorite, however, is Mickey's Christmas Carol, starring Donald's Uncle Scrooge as the "bah, humbug!" protagonist. I've loved this retelling of A Christmas Carol for years, and I was thrilled to see it on this DVD. Both of my daughters loved it, too - Goofy as the ghost of Marley kept it from being too scary while still getting the message through to them.

Bonus features on the DVD include the premiere episode of the House of Mouse cartoon and two sing-along songs, along with a featurette about Disney sound effects that is interesting for adults, but not so much for young children.

I like having a holiday-themed DVD for Christmas, and from the first few viewings, I know that Mickey's Magical Christmas: Snowed in at the House of Mouse will get a lot of play over the next two months. I have a feeling I'll have to place limits on how often this DVD is played, too.

If you're interested in purchasing this DVD, Amazon has it on sale for $15.99 right now!

Full disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this DVD, but received no further compensation for this review.