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Disney Parks: The Secrets, Stories, and Magic Behind the Scenes Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy Review

Buy Disney Parks: The Secrets, Stories, and Magic Behind the Scenes on Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy from Amazon.com Disney Parks: The Secrets, Stories, and Magic Behind the Scenes
Blu-ray & DVD Combo Details

Executive Producer: Andy Perrott / Show Producer: Jamie Iracleanos

Writers: Tom Horn, Jamie Iracleanos, Andy Perrott, Jamie Smith

Narrator: Alex Pels

Running Time: 147 Minutes (3 TV specials) / Rating: Not Rated

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 (English)
Not Subtitled; Not Closed Captioned
Originally aired between 2003 and 2004; updated for 2010 release
Blu-ray & DVD Release Date: June 1, 2010; Suggested Retail Price: $34.99
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (1 BD-50 & 1 DVD-9)
Standard Blue Keepcase with Embossed, Glossy Slipcover
Also available in Six-Pack DVD Collection and Single Disc DVD

Buy from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy Combo • Six-Pack DVD Collection • Single-Disc DVD


By Aaron Wallace

For the Disney Parks' most enraptured visitors, a week's stay is followed by months of longing to go back. To make the wait for free time and a recovered wallet more bearable, these exiled vacationers turn to podcasts, message boards, and endless YouTube videos for a quick fix of the magic. For a long time, home video did little to serve these people's needs, Disney's free vacation-planning DVDs notwithstanding. That's all changed now, though, thanks to Disney Parks: The Secrets, Stories, and Magic Behind the Scenes.

Comprised of promotional television specials that have run on the Travel Channel for years, this new collection is now available to own in three different editions. As you'll see in just a moment, there's considerable variation in each but it's important to understand two things at the outset: (1) Despite the deceptively similar title, this has nothing to do with the far more substantive, now-out-of-print 2007 Walt Disney Treasures DVD Disneyland - Secrets, Stories & Magic (see our review here). (2) This new Disney Parks collection isn't even distributed by Disney -- the company is given an associate production credit for the specials themselves, but the DVDs and Blu-ray come from a little company called Questar.

You're floating right down the middle of Main Street, USA in a shot that should be familiar to anyone who's entered Disneyland or Magic Kingdom.

Happily, the semi-unofficial status says nothing about the quality of this release. On the contrary, the packaging and presentation are top-notch. The third-party perspective gives the narration in each special some breathing room that Mickey's tightly-clenched, white-gloved fist might not have, but a stinging exposé this is not. There's still a predominate commercial feel and hardcore Disney fans undoubtedly already know most of the information "unveiled" here. Still, I'll bet dollars to donuts that they love every minute of it. I certainly do, and I've seen each special a dozen times before. Enough care was put into their production to ensure that the specials are both entertaining and highly rewatchable.

These programs aren't just for Disney veterans, though. In fact, that's clearly not the target audience. The uninitiated will find a sufficiently comprehensive and thoroughly appetizing peek at both Walt Disney World in Orlando and Disneyland in Anaheim on these discs. They're no substitute for Disney's free vacation planning discs, nor are they intended to be. But while those mail-in freebies are good for the "how" of first-time Disney travel, Questar's collection is better for the "what" and the "why". It's also worth noting that these releases include Travel Channel's most updated editions of each special, meaning that attractions as recent as Toy Story Mania, the new Sleeping Beauty castle walkthrough, and President Obama's appearance in the Hall of Presidents are featured, making for a very current (albeit only temporarily) presentation.

This hip, sweatshirted couple thinks they have what it takes to get into Disneyland's secret, mysterious Club 33. Speaking in front of the popular Expedition Everest mountain roller coaster, Mike Lentz is one of the specials' many authoritative interview subjects.

Content aside, this set's real allure is its stunning ensemble of high-definition footage from inside the parks and their attractions. There are no complete ride-throughs but a few of the attractions are given so much attention that they come close. Certainly, these blow out of the proverbial water those park-exclusive Happiest Celebration on Earth DVDs from a few years back (see my Magic Kingdom review here), especially on Blu-ray -- but more on that below. First, you need to see for yourself the three options you have for adding this collection to your collection. It's a lot to sort out, so here's a quick list of each set's format and contents:

Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy ($34.99 SRP)

    1 Blu-ray disc containing:
  • Disneyland Resort: Behind the Scenes
  • Ultimate Walt Disney World
  • Undiscovered Disney Parks
  • Nine bonus features
    1 DVD containing:
  • Disneyland Resort: Behind the Scenes
  • Ultimate Walt Disney World
  • Undiscovered Disney Parks
  • digital copy of these 3 specials

DVD Six-Pack ($49.99 SRP)

    6 DVDs containing the following (1 special per disc):
  • Disneyland Resort: Behind the Scenes
  • Ultimate Walt Disney World
  • Undiscovered Disney Parks
  • Walt Disney World Resort: Behind the Scenes*
  • Disney's Animal Kingdom*
  • Disney Cruise Line*
  • Ten bonus features

"Walt Disney World & Disneyland" Single-Disc DVD ($19.99 SRP)
(Intended as a sampler disc for those who don't want either edition above)

    1 DVD containing the following:
  • Disneyland Resort: Behind the Scenes
  • Walt Disney World Resort: Behind the Scenes*

These Kali River Rapids riders are going to get wet. The only question is how wet. The Haunted Mansion, still one of Disney's most popular attractions, doesn't look too scary from the outside in daylight.

* Note that these three asterisked specials are only available in the DVD six-pack. They aren't on Blu-ray at all. Whether that's because they weren't produced in HD, there's some sort of rights issue preventing their distribution in HD, Questar decided there wouldn't be enough interest in them on Blu-ray, or Questar plans to release them on Blu-ray later, I don't know.

If you want the digital copy, you'll have to buy the Blu-ray + DVD combo set... the six-pack DVD comes sans digital copy.

If you want everything -- that is, all six specials, all ten bonus features, the digital copy, and an HD transfer for three of the specials, you'll need to buy both the Blu-ray combo pack AND the six-pack DVD. That's a lot of unfortunate and inexplicable overlap but the good news is that all three editions are priced very reasonably and carry low price tags in stores and at Amazon.com. Please note that there are rumors flying around the Internet about special edition(s) with different/extra content to be carried exclusively in theme park shops and/or Disney Stores. These are unsubstantiated and as nothing has turned up so far, should be taken with a grain of salt.

The remainder of this review will focus solely on the Blu-ray/DVD combo pack (the only one of the three editions currently in my possession). In the likely event that I cross paths with the DVD six-pack in the near future, I'll do my best to update you here (Questar did not provide these releases for review).

This Imagineer wants the redhead... to look her best. Hence, this Pirates of the Caribbean touch-up. This part of Toy Story Midway Mania has you aim at farm animals to score points. It's like the "Home on the Range" attraction you've been dreaming of!

Now let's take a look at these three exciting specials:

1. Disneyland Resort: Behind the Scenes (51:38) (Originally aired 2003; recently updated)
More of a resort overview than a behind-the-scenes special, this surprisingly comprehensive jaunt through Disneyland's two theme parks nevertheless includes some cool nuggets of trivia and interviews with Imagineering's biggest stars. Those sitting down in front of the camera include Tony Baxter, Tim O'Brien, Marty Sklar, and John Lasseter. From classics like the Matterhorn and the Jungle Cruise to more recent fare (as in, all of California Adventure), this special gets viewers up close and personal with a whole cavalcade of attractions.
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Especially notable here is an extensive preview of the changes coming to California Adventure, including a beautiful map of the park-to-be, an impressive animated rendering of the Silly Symphony Swings, an exciting glimpse at both The Little Mermaid's dark ride and the much-anticipated World of Color.

2. Undiscovered Disney Parks (44:06) (Originally aired 2003; recently updated)
Stepping away from the usual "four parks, one world" mentality of Disney World shows, this slightly shorter special focuses instead on all of the non-park options that the Florida resort offers -- mini-golf, boating, parasailing, behind-the-scenes tours, and Downtown Disney's DisneyQuest. Best I can tell, this is the Travel Channel episode that originally aired as "Undiscovered Walt Disney World" in 2003, but updated to include a few cool things at the Disneyland Resort too and retitled accordingly. Even Annual Passholders at either resort might find a few new things to try here.

3. Ultimate Walt Disney World (51:53) (Originally aired 2004; recently updated)
Like the Disneyland special, this one gets around, hitting up all four theme parks and the water parks to boot. The focus here is narrower, though: Disney thrill rides. Fortunately, that term is applied pretty liberally, so pretty much anything moving more than five miles an hour counts. Still, the most coverage goes to Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Mission: SPACE, Rock 'n Rollercoaster Starring Aerosmith, Tower of Terror (look for recycled footage from the Disneyland special!) and Expedition Everest. Most of these are filmed and discussed in detail, providing some valuable close-up shots that the naked eye isn't given access to in person. The Imagineers and Disney suits are back in this special, with Imagineering legend Joe Rohde joining them.

This Space Mountain rider is all smiles to be moving through the ride's energizing tunnel of blue light.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Presented in 1.78:1 and enhanced for 16x9 displays, the high-definition transfers on each of the three specials are absolutely gorgeous. Though it comes from a small specialty studio and has received very little marketing, this release marks Disney fans' first chance to own stunning HD footage of both Cinderella's and Sleeping Beauty's castles and the many attractions that encircle them. Frequent archival footage expectedly reveals its meager origins when presented in high resolution. Likewise, some shots taken inside very dark rides are noticeably flat and grainy, but that's no surprise.
For the most part, though, the vibrancy and detail in every shot dazzles the eye with the same luster that the ornate resorts offer in person. While the picture varies in its level of detail from shot to shot, the quality is always quite pleasing and far and above anything that's been offered on DVD.

The three specials don't fare nearly as well on the bonus DVD included in this set. In fact, they fall short of a standard TV broadcast. That's probably because all three are crammed onto one DVD, alongside a digital copy of each. That doesn't mean that the separately-sold DVD six-pack suffers the same fate, though. Without having yet set my eyes on that, I'm guessing those look quite a bit better, thanks to the extra breathing room that five more discs would allow. (Please note that the screencaps on this page were taken from the combo's DVD, not the Blu-ray or the DVD six-pack.)

Audio for all three specials is available only by way of an English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track. The specials were originally aired in stereo and were likely created that way too, so there's nothing wrong or surprising about the two-channel presentation here. The sound quality is quite good, offering up a slick and well-balanced narration and music track that is always plenty audible and entirely clear. There are no subtitles or closed captions.

Both the Blu-ray and DVD are region-free, meaning that they should be playable around the world.

What goes up must come down, as these seventeen riders of The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror's unsettling elevator drop find out.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

As noted earlier, there are nine bonus features on the Blu-ray disc. Each is a quick, narrated glimpse at a particular Disney Parks offering or attraction, presented in HD with the same quality and style as the three featured specials.
Brief though they may be, each interstitial (which actually appear to be excerpts cut from the original specials) manages to pack behind-the-scenes footage, interviews, trivia, travel tips, and even occasional archival footage.

Four of the extras profile actual attractions. First, "King Arthur Carrousel" (1:19) looks at the recent digital restoration of the Disneyland classic and reveals interesting details pertaining to a couple of the ride horses. Next, "The Haunted Mansion" (2:25) looks at the creepy staple's recent renovations. "Goofy's Barnstormer" (2:22) aptly demonstrates that this unassuming kid coaster is a diamond in the rough. Finally, "Catastrophe Canyon" (3:29) profiles not only the Backlot Tour's finale, but the entire Hollywood Studios attraction (or what's left of it, at least).

"Walt Disney's Apartment" (1:54) isn't exactly an attraction, but a room that fascinates many a Disneyland patron. That it isn't open to the general public makes this up-close walk-through all the more exciting in high-def.

The other four extras are more travel-oriented and geared toward prospective first-timers. "Disney's Resort Hotel" (3:40) is an overview of Disney World's hotels and campgrounds, with an emphasis on value resorts and Fort Wilderness cabins (which are referred to as part of Disney's Moderate category, reflecting the resort's controversial recent shift that hasn't resulted in any kind of Moderate-range re-pricing). Of note is a neat old recording of the Contemporary Resort's 1970s construction. "Tips for Travelers" (1:30) is what it sounds like, devoting much of its time to Disney's Magical Express airport shuttle. Finally, both "The Disney Dream" (2:23) and "Disney Dream AquaDuck" (1:02) are CGI-heavy previews of the Disney Cruise Line's newest vessel. The AquaDuck is a very cool-looking, semi-Space Mountain-inspired water tube that runs alongside the ship and the CGI ride-through makes it look very neat, albeit slower than expected.

The only bonus feature on the DVD is a digital copy of each episode. Unlike most of today's digital copies, no code is required for these. Just insert the DVD into your laptop and drag the .mp4 files over to your hard drive (or add them to iTunes the same way you'd import any other media file). All together, the digital copies add up to 1.79 GB.

The fast-paced 16x9 main menu screen pieces together a plethora of HD shots pulled from the various episodes while the uber catchy end credits music plays in the background. Each episode has a helpful scene selection sub-menu. Unfortunately, there's no "Play All" option for the special features. Otherwise, it's rather a lively and pleasant menu scheme.

Both discs are packaged inside a standard blue keepcase, housed inside a very attractive, embossed, and glossy cardboard slipcover that replicates the keepcase cover art. Inside is a small sheet of paper explaining the DVD's content. Note that the 167-minute runtime listed on the back includes the nine bonus features.

Snow White and her Prince enjoy a nighttime waltz as part of Disneyland's Fantasmic!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The casual or first-time Disney tourist will find in this new collection a "get psyched for Disney" starter kit and a helpful overview of what the American parks have to offer. The head-over-heels Disney Parks fan will find a three-hour geek-out kit in glorious, eye-popping, jaw-dropping definition. While this isn't intended to be a substantive look at the parks' history or inner-workings, its content and production are enough to sustain multiple viewings. The bonus DVD leaves plenty to desire in video quality but the nearly top-notch Blu-ray, digital copies, and fairly low price tag more than offset that.

Buy from Amazon.com / Buy the DVD Six-Pack / Buy the Single-Disc DVD

Buy from Amazon.com

Related Reviews:
New: Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief • The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo • The Crazies • Alice in Wonderland (2010)
Walt Disney Treasures: Disneyland - Secrets, Stories & Magic • A Musical History of Disneyland • Modern Marvels: Walt Disney World
Science of Disney Imagineering: Magnetism, Animal Adaptations: Communication, Newton's 3 Laws of Motion • Design and Models, Energy, Fluids
Walt Disney Treasures: Disneyland USA • Boy Meets World: The Complete Third Season (featuring "The Happiest Show on Earth")
Parks-Exclusive DVDs: Magic Kingdom • Disneyland Resort: Happiest Homecoming on Earth | The Happiest Celebration on Earth (CD)

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Sing Along Songs: Disneyland Fun: It's a Small World • Flik's Musical Adventure at Disney's Animal Kingdom • Beach Party at Walt Disney World
Alice in Wonderland (1951) • Sleeping Beauty • Pinocchio • The Little Mermaid • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs • The Haunted Mansion
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl • Dead Man's Chest • At World's End
Toy Story • Toy Story 2 • Monsters, Inc. • A Bug's Life • The Nightmare Before Christmas
Walt Disney's Legacy Collection: True-Life Adventures, Volume 3 - Creatures of the Wild • Walt Disney Treasures: Tomorrowland
Walt Disney Treasures: Your Host, Walt Disney • Jim Brickman at the Magic Kingdom: The Disney Songbook

Related Interviews: Tony Baxter, Senior VP of Imagineering • Alice Davis, Disney Parks costumer

DisneyStore.com

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Reviewed June 26, 2010.



Text copyright 2010 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2010 Lightship Entertainment, Inc., in association with Disney Parks, LLC, and 2010 Questar Entertainment.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.