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Bunnytown: Hello Bunnies! DVD Review

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Show & DVD Details

Creators/Executive Producers: David Rudman, Todd Hannert, Adam Rudman / Directors: David Rudman, Iain McLean, Adrian Hedley / Writers: Emily Rudman, Alice Dinnean Vernon / Producers: Pete Coogan, Martin G. Baker

Puppeteers: Alice Dinnean Vernon, Eric Jacobson, Mark Jefferis, Nigel Plaskitt, David Rudman, Victoria Willing, Mark Wilson / Human Cast: Andrew Buckley (Red), Ed Gaughan (Fred), Polly Frame (Pinky Pinkerton)

Singers: Gary Baker, Rebekah Dobbins / Music & Lyrics: Todd Hannert / Music Composition & Arranging: Terry Fryer

Running Time: 96 Minutes / Rating: TV-Y
1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Broadcast Ratio), Dolby Surround 2.0 (English, Spanish)
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled

DVD Release Date: March 17, 2009 / Originally Aired 2007-2008
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9) / White Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99

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Whether or not you have relatives in the preschool demographic, you've probably heard of Playhouse Disney's most popular TV series. Shows like "Little Einsteins", "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse", and "My Friends Tigger & Pooh" were in the news before they even launched.
Relying upon well-known properties or brands, these computer-animated children's programs have always been foreseen as franchises onto themselves, with an array of tie-in merchandise making money that the cable channel's internal ads do not.

Though it too is part of the Playhouse Disney family, "Bunnytown" isn't meant to sell toys, clothing, books, and party supplies. It isn't even really designed to educate, as seemingly all preschool programming today purports to. "Bunnytown" is simply meant to entertain the young for 24-minute stretches. That doesn't mean there aren't some plush dolls available. But a year and five months since taking to the air, "Bunnytown" is still just a show and not a full-fledged commercial empire.

"Bunnytown" is a product of Spiffy Pictures, a company run by Todd Hannert, Adam Rudman, and longtime Muppeteer David Rudman. The trio has been creating series and sequences for Nickelodeon, "Sesame Street", and others since 1994. Before the bunnies, they made "Jack's Big Music Show" for Noggin. Their specialty is puppetry. Appropriately, producers Martin Baker and Pete Coogan have experience working behind-the-scenes on Jim Henson Company projects.

Three Bunnytown bunnies enjoy a cheese and apple butter snacks in song. Super Bunny stands up to Little Bad Bunny and saves the Crunchy Carrot Festival.

British-made "Bunnytown" defies most of the conventions of its genre. Character names are hard to come by among the colorful core rabbit cast. Spoken dialogue is fairly sparse, as is repetition. Morals and learning techniques are largely absent. The format is non-narrative, weaving together a variety of music and comedy sketches.

The content isn't quite as free-wheeling as it first appears to be, however. Each episode has one unique recurring bit that is returned to throughout. Halfway through each installment, the cast performs the "Bunnytown Hop." Two times an episode, a pink bunny pops up to the surface and looks with us at some silly human antics. (This design has the air of the Uncle Traveling Matt sequences from Henson's "Fraggle Rock", a series slightly recalled thematically here.) On the first visit, we watch a pair of mimes in matching suits (played by Andrew Buckley of Ricky Gervais' "Extras" and Ed Gaughan) deal broadly with practical problems. The second trip serves up "Super Silly Sports" with enthusiastic announcer Pinky Pinkerton (Polly Frame). In between these staples, the programming varies -- sometimes self-explanatory archetypes Super Bunny or Space Bunny are employed. Other times, we get musical numbers on any subject.

Released two weeks ago, Hello Bunnies! is the series' first DVD. The title is shared with the disc's first episode, which is the first of the series to ever air (its November 2007 US debut came a week after its UK launch). There are four episodes on the DVD, each running 24 minutes and 5 seconds with credits.

Here's a slightly closer look at the featured episodes:

King Bunny needs a royal nap and all that goes with it in "Hello Bunnies!" Mimes Fred (Ed Gaughan) and Andrew Buckley (Red) try to fit in at a social function in "G'Day Bunnies!" "I don't get it." This blue bunny keeps climbing this orange mountain in "Bunny-A-Go-Go!"

"Hello Bunnies!" (Originally aired November 10, 2007)

Multiple attempts are made to hold a 3-bunny running race. There are songs about making music in Bunnytown, Pirate Bunnies searching for the lucky Golden Carrot, and a mathematical picnic. A sleepy king has needs before royal naptime. Fred and Red struggle to read a newspaper in the park. Pinky Pinkerton reports on a 3-clown race.

"G'Day Bunnies!" (Originally aired January 19, 2008)

Norbert has several chances to repeat a musical pattern played by his mother. Songs celebrate Bunny Scout nature hikes, all the different colors, and happy song-singing. Space Bunny questions a star. Fred and Red attend a social gathering. Pinky covers a piggyback race. Two strange bunnies bond over trying to push a large rock.

"Bunny-A-Go-Go!" (Originally aired January 5, 2008)

A blue bunny persists in climbing a mountain as he is passed by various parties. Disco pirate bunnies party. Other bunnies clean and dance. Fred and Red have trouble staging a picnic. Super Bunny saves Bunnytown's Crunchy Carrot Festival from Little Bad Bunny. People Town's top chefs golf with cooking utensils.

"Bumbling Bunnies!" (Airdate unknown)

A farmer bunny watches his plants grow to discover what flowers they'll bloom. Super Bunny stops Little Bad Bunny from spoiling a carrot picnic. Cave bunnies seek the origins of their stink and dirt. To enjoy their pot pie, Fred and Red must first clean the dishes. "Making Music in Bunnytown" is performed instead of the Bunnytown Hop. "Super Silly Sports" is on the scene of a race between the Tortoise and the Hare. Little King Bunny loves music so much he joins the royal band.

VIDEO and AUDIO

On DVD, "Bunnytown" appears in 1.33:1 fullscreen and Dolby Surround. There are no problems with either aspect. The clean video aptly displays the show's palette (which includes bright shades of all the colors of the rainbow). Less appealing, the soundtrack rarely features slight atmosphere in the rear channel.

A book or a plate -- which would you rather eat lunch over? This is one of the objective questions posed in "It's That Time Again!" Colorful bunnies form a border around the main menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

For bonus features, we get two items considered games/activities.

"It's That Time Again!" is a quiz that lets you choose
which of two items is more appropriate for lunchtime, bathtime, and naptime.

"Bunny Dance" offers a 1-minute "learn the steps" lesson and then the chance to groove to the "Bunnytown Hop" (2:20) with a diagram reminding you of the proper footwork.

The side-snapped white keepcase (did Disney anticipate such anti-theft measures would be needed here?) slides into a cardboard slipcover that embosses the characters of the title and the show (most extensively the central pink bunny). The artwork below is otherwise identical. Inside the case, a single insert supplies the unique code that will net you 75 Disney Movie Reward points and, if you'd like, a 7-inch bunny plush for $2.49 shipping/processing costs.

Start-of-the-disc promos advertise Snow White, My Friends Tigger & Pooh: Tigger & Pooh and a Musical Too, "Handy Manny": Manny's Green Team, "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse": Mickey's Big Splash, and Disney Movie Rewards. Menu/post-feature-with-FastPlay trailers are for the now-delayed Monsters, Inc. Blu-ray, Up, Schoolhouse Rock! Earth, Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure, and "Imagination Movers." Though the back of the case promises, with a large title logo no less, an exclusive peek at Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Mickey's Adventures in Wonderland, I could no find no such thing here. Whoops.

The colorful main menu gradually builds and dissolves a border of bunnies. Submenus feature close-ups of a single bunny, to differing music loops.

Super Silly Sports reporter Pinky Pinkerton (Polly Frame) is on the scene of the much-anticipated Tortoise vs. Hare race. Bunnytown rocks out to the Bunnytown Hop in the middle of most episodes.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Visually and technically, "Bunnytown" is unique and special. It definitely deserved its Daytime Emmy nomination for Art Direction/Set Decoration/Scenic Design (it lost to "The Ellen DeGeneres Show").
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I also can appreciate that it's less regimented and didactic than many of its contemporaries. Still, at its very best, I'd call the show "harmless."

The colorful music and comedy might entertain some young children, but has very little value for adults watching along. Personally, I found it tedious. I'm obviously not the target audience, but I couldn't even muster patience for this kind of thing, having been exposed to so much of it on Disney DVD over the past few years. I also probably wasn't in the right mindset to enjoy it. I've spent about two weeks with this disc claiming one of the five slots in my DVD player, only to repeatedly have more exciting DVDs bump it down my review priorities list. My reluctance appears to have been justified; while this wasn't as obnoxious or pandering as some preschool television, it did nothing for me.

While I would never recommend this to children or parents, I bet some young people will find it somewhat fun. That said, it won't stay that way long enough to justify buying this disc. I see more value in this being tracked down by the kids of today who grow into nostalgic adults.

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Reviewed April 3, 2009.