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Balloon Farm DVD Review

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Movie & DVD Details

Director: William Dear

Cast: Rip Torn (Harvey Potter), Mara Wilson (Willow Johnson), Laurie Metcalf (Casey Johnson), Roberts Blossom (Weasel Mayfield), Fredric Lane (Jake Johnson), Richard Riehle (Earl), Ernie Lively (Tom Williams), Arnetia Walker (Crystal), Lee Garrington (Maggie), Guy Boyd (Mayor), Neal McDonough (Sheriff), Ken Jenkins (Banker), Adam Wylie (Charles), Rudee Lipscomb (Marcy)

Original Air Date: March 28, 1999

Running Time: 89 Minutes / Rating: TV-G
1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Aspect Ratio)
Dolby Digital Stereo Sound (English, French)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish; Closed Captioned

Release Date: July 6, 2004
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5); White Keepcase
Suggested Retail Price: $14.99 (Reduced from 19.99)

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In Balloon Farm, a farm town called Waterston has been running low on water.
With the town in the midst of the worst drought in over fifty years, the residents are growing antsy as a dwindling reservoir and strict water regulations are inconveniencing them in a number of ways.

Enter Harvey H. Potter (Rip Torn), the new man in town who is turning heads. After hand-picking corn seeds and planting them without even water, Potter has produced a most unlikely crop: balloons. An entire harvest of colorful balloons adorns Potter's land, much to the disbelief of the Waterston residents.

But Potter's farm appears to be genuine, and everyone comes in to see the unusual sight. Even with financial difficulties upon them, the people are inclined to pay Potter's high asking price of $10 per balloonstalk.

Hello! You may remember me from such films as "Men in Black" and "Men in Black II." Mara Wilson and the cool neighborhood kids spy on Harvey Potter's farm.

Some, like Casey Johnson (Laurie Metcalf), believes that a balloon farm is some kind of a special sign for Waterston. Her family is nearing the 100th anniversary of their farm, if they can manage to get by financially.

Others like the grouchy former prize-winning farmer Weasel Mayfield (Roberts Blossom) believe that Potter is a scam, cheating people out of their money with an elaborate hoax. Nonetheless, the balloons are helping the townspeople overcome their various hardships and their excess reliance on water.

Though her father and friends are skeptical of Potter's magic, young Willow Johnson (Mara Wilson) gets to know the man and appreciates what he is doing. Harvey tells her that he's not magical and not an alien, but simply a farmer who gets by using what he has. It's not just balloons that Harvey has good fortune with, either. He's able to make an entire pecan pie from one pecan and an entire pitcher of lemonade with simply one good lemon.

Meanwhile, time is running out on the standing offer from the bank about foreclosing on people's property and though Potter's balloons may bring hope and offer comfort to their owners, they have not helped Waterston's financial problems or the town's water drought.

Balloons! He's growing balloons! With awe and disbelief, the Johnsons respond to Potter's unlikely crop.

Directed by William Dear, who five years earlier was behind the camera for Disney's successful theatrical release Angels in the Outfield, Balloon Farm seems to go unnecessarily heavy on the sap that was just appropriate for Angels. Rip Torn's lead performance has spark, and it's refreshing to see him play a more interesting character than usual.

The rest of the cast seems routine and poorly used. Mara Wilson shows that it was her youthful charm that made her performances in Mrs. Doubtfire, Miracle on 34th Street,
and Matilda stand out, more so than her acting. Here, she is no longer a cute young kid, and she's rather forgettable in the young lead role.

As Willow's parents, Laurie Metcalf and Fredric Lane do not make their typical adult roles interesting. Neal McDonough plays the town's young sheriff like his dim-witted Angels in the Outfield character; this was what he played before getting serious parts in Minority Report and "Boomtown." And Roberts Blossom (best known as Old Man Marley in Home Alone) is simply the unfortunate butt of the film's jokes.

While its story is quite interesting, Balloon Farm is so relentlessly hokey that it's rendered nearly unwatchable. The town's characters are simple to a fault and everything seems to wrap up too artificially neatly. The dialogue and situations alternate between sappy and just plain clunky. I'm not sure why this adaptation comes off feeling sentimental yet spiritless, but I would suspect that the source material, Jerdine Nolen's book Harvey Potter's Balloon Farm works better.

Harvey gives a close listen to individual corn seeds. Willow and her balloon go out for a late-night stroll.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Balloon Farm is presented in its original aspect ratio, 1.33:1 fullscreen. While one obviously shouldn't expect a sharp high-budget feature film look, on a large screen, one will notice that the video quality is a bit disappointing even considering this telemovie's roots. There, the picture was very grainy and pixelated so that it looked out of focus and kind of hazy. On more standard sized monitors and TV sets, the picture quality looks good, merely lacking the sharpness of feature films.

The film also seems plagued by a sloppy editing job. Fade-outs for commercial breaks last noticeably longer than they should, and often times, there seems to be an unnatural speed-up (like something in the European PAL format) for no intentional reason whatsoever. Still, less picky viewers will find this video presentation to be just fine and dandy.

Balloon Farm features a Dolby Stereo 2.0 sound track, and there's nothing offensive about it. Sound wasn't always synched up perfectly, but the score, dialogue, and sound effects were all vibrant and active. A dubbed French track is also included.

Balloon Farm's Main Menu Roberts "Old Man Marley" Blossom is a grouchy butt of jokes in his last film role.

BONUS FEATURES

A nice inclusion is a 40-second Walt Disney Home Video trailer for Balloon Farm. A promo like this is so easy to provide, and interesting to see. Since TV movies don't lend themselves to the type of bonus features that feature films do,
this is a nice standard supplement that Disney really ought to include on all their Wonderful World of Disney releases. It'd also be nice for them to include the Wonderful World of Disney TV ads and broadcast opening for the film, but one preview is infinitely better than none!

The menus are static 16x9 screens that feature a dreamy, wistful score selection. It's worth mentioning that the Set Up menu interestingly features Rip Torn holding a list of the choices. Though the main menu isn't the nicest-looking, you can tell that some thought went into the design of the selection screens.

The disc opens with the ubiquitous 90-second preview for old live action Disney movies, promoting the Witch Mountain and Apple Dumpling Gang films, The Absent Minded Professor, The Parent Trap, and The Love Bug. I bet I could recite this for you!

Balloons! Wheeee! Harvey explains that we all come from seeds.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Balloon Farm is an interesting story, which is ineptly executed. Though Disney's put a bit more effort into the design of this DVD than releases of most other made-for-TV movies, only those who know and like the movie are encouraged to buy. For others, a rental viewing should be more than enough.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com / Book: Harvey Potter's Balloon Farm by Jerdine Nolen

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Also Directed by William Dear: Angels in the Outfield
Wonderful World of Disney Movies: Angels in the Endzone Oliver Twist Eloise at the Plaza Sounder
Toy Story: 10th Anniversary Edition Toy Story 2: Special Edition
Summer Magic A Wrinkle in Time Inspector Gadget

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Reviewed July 7, 2004