When I sat down with this title, I was all ready to breeze right through it, making comments about how this is a disc that will only appeal to kids, and that the quality was just enough to keep kids happy. Imagine my surprise when I really got into this little 70-minute film. This is actually a pretty entertaining cartoon, and I was surprised by its superior quality. Stanley is a little boy that gets easily lost in his imagination, and gets most of his ideas from his “Great Big Book of Everything”, which is something…of a living encyclopedia. In this film, Staley’s family goes to visit his Uncle’s dude ranch, only to find that the ranch isn’t doing so well. Leave it to Stanley and his friends to save the day by raising enough money to pay off the bank and keep the ranch out of the hands of the evil corporate real estate mogul. Obviously, this is a story that has been told time and time again, but for a children’s title, this is a quality program that is well told and entertaining for children and parents alike.
I was completely surprised to find out that this title was mastered in Dolby Digital 5.1. I was even more surprised to find that quite a bit of thought and time has been put into this track. The sound stage is wide, and the program hits the perfect balance between dialog and score. The dialog is clear and easy to hear, yet the score and sound effects effortlessly fill the room, including subtle but fulfilling use of the surrounds. I am really pleased with this track, and though it may be a bit of overkill for a children’s title, I would always prefer to have too much effort go into the audio than not enough.
Unfortunately, the video is not as good as that of the audio. This title has a major problem with flashes on the screen when characters move during certain sequences. I believe this is an unfortunate side effect of the compression process, but whatever it is, it is downright annoying. I have seen this problem with animated features before, but never to this extent. It may not be a problem on a smaller screen or on those that are not formatted for high definition, but it is a major problem on a high quality display. Even children will be annoyed by this unfortunate error.
If you do decide to watch this disc on a big screen, you can take some consolation in the fact that even though this is a full-screen presentation, aspect distortion is hardly noticeable when stretched to widescreen. I have noticed that many animated products are like this, and I am certain that it has to do with proportions being slightly off even in the correct aspect ratio, since the images are hand drawn. Regardless of the reason, this film can move effortlessly from full screen to widescreen displays with virtually no change in the way the characters look.
There are a fair number of handy and entertaining special features on this disc. First up is a little device that parents everywhere should be thrilled about, . Upon inserting the disc into the player, viewers can either push a button to go to the main menu, or wait a few moments and the disc will start playing automatically. The beauty of this is that it allows children to get their own movie going with little to no help from Mom and Dad. This is a great way to teach kids processes and responsibility, and a handy little feature for parents to have while driving in the car, for instance.
More traditional extras include a selection of eight trailers which are really just advertisements for other Disney DVD products, as well as Stanley’s Dino Dig Game. This is a fun little game for kids, and is typical of the nice way in which Disney adds some more interactivity to their children’s discs, encouraging children to use their minds as well as their eyes and ears. The next two extras revolve around Stanley’s “Great Big Book of Everything”. The Make Your Very Own “Great Big Book of Everything” extra is actually another set-top game, and not a how-to segment like I was expecting. The final extra allows kids to flip through part of Stanley’s “Great Big Book”. In this case, the topic is animals, and upon choosing an animal from the Table of Contents, kids get to see a picture of the animal and hear some fun facts about it. I am all about educational extras, and this one is great.
It is a shame that a shoddy transfer has marred an otherwise surprisingly-entertaining disc. Hopefully when my daughter reaches the “let’s watch this DVD 8,000,000 times in a row” stage, I will have plenty of discs like this one stored up, so I don’t have to shove a pencil in my ear to make the Elmo voice go away. It’s not that the studios don’t make quality programming for children, you just have to know where to look. Now that I have found Stanley, I feel a little better about my chances of being able to hear well into my 40’s.
Special Features List
- Eight Trailers
- Stanley’s Dino-Dig Game
- Make Your Very Own Great Big Book of Everything
- View the Great Big Book of Everything
- Disney’s FastPlay