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Disney Parks: The Secrets, Stories, and Magic Behind the Scenes Six-Pack DVD Review

Buy Disney Parks: The Secrets, Stories, and Magic Behind the Scenes Six-Pack DVD Review from Amazon.com Disney Parks: The Secrets, Stories, and Magic Behind the Scenes
Six-Pack DVD Details

Executive Producer: Andy Perrott / Show Producers: Tom Horn, Joe Correll, Jamie Iracleanos, Susan Cingari, Gina Jones / Writers: Tom Horn, Andy Perrott, Joe Correll, Jamie Iracleanos, Jamie Smith, Susan Cingari, Gina Jones

Narrator: Alex Pels

Running Time: 286 Minutes (6 TV specials) / Rating: Not Rated

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen (3 Specials), 1.33:1 Fullscreen (3 Specials)
Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 (English); Not Subtitled; Not Closed Captioned
Originally aired between 2003 and 2004; 3 specials updated for 2010 release
DVD Release Date: June 1, 2010; Suggested Retail Price: $49.99
Six single-sided, single-layered discs (DVD-5s)
Six clear slim keepcases inside cardboard slipcover with additional embossed, glossy sleeve
Also available in Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy Combo 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.

Objects in screencaps may be larger than they appear... but not much. Relatively new attraction Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor (a.k.a. MILF) gets a disproportionate amount of attention in "Walt Disney World Resort: Behind the Scenes."

The semi-unofficial status says nothing about the quality of these programs, though their presentation on DVD leaves something to be desired (more on this in a moment). The third-party perspective in each production gives the narration 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 DVDs, 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".

I read online that if you listen closely, this Animal Kingdom tiger tells teenagers to strip. Disneyland's addition of movie characters to It's a Small World is bringing in excited locals by the boatful. Just look at all that pointing.

Before we go any further, 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:

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

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

    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

"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*

* Note that these three asterisked specials are only available in the DVD six-pack. They aren't on Blu-ray at all. They also aren't quite as good as the others, so those with HD set-ups may feel satisfied with just the three that have gone Blu.

Travel Channel cameras were granted exclusive access to Disneyland's Blocking Walkways tour. Please keep your arms, hands, legs, and feet inside the boat at all times.

If you want everything -- that is, all six specials, all of the 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 if you don't have a Blu-ray player and decide to stick with just the six-pack, you won't be missing out on any actual content. You'll just have to put up with a serious loss in presentation quality. Fortunately, all three editions of this release 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 DVD six-pack. If you're interested in the Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, we have a full review of that here.

The three episodes that were prepared for the Blu-ray set present the Travel Channel's most updated editions of each, 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. The other three, DVD-exclusive episodes are more current than they were in their original broadcast and aren't necessarily outdated now, but they don't showcase those kinds of up-to-the-minute new additions.

A secret glimpse at the magic behind the scenes of the Haunted Mansion! Judging by the smiles on their faces, these Toy Story Maniacs aren't taking the competition too seriously.

Now, with all of that explanation out of the way, let's take a look at these six specials:

1. Walt Disney World Resort: Behind the Scenes (48:34) (Originally aired 2002; subsequently updated)
It's appropriate that this comes first, as it works nicely as a kind of introduction to Disney Parks tourism. Each of the four Walt Disney World theme parks is profiled in the most general way, hitting the highlights in each along the way. Narrator Alex Pels also spends a fair amount going over the history of Disneyland, the Magic Kingdom, and Epcot.

2. 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. 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.

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 screencap from "Disney's Animal Kingdom" looks better in reduced size than it does during DVD playback. So if you're talking to us... who's driving the boat?

4. Disney's Animal Kingdom (41:11) (Originally airdate unknown; subsequently updated)
By far the shortest and least interesting of these specials, Disney's Animal Kingdom suffers from a subject that simply doesn't have as much to offer as the others. Disney World's lightest park experience is given another broad overview that only covers a bit more than Walt Disney World Resort: Behind the Scenes did. Most of the time goes to Imagineer interviews and lengthy "look and learn" sessions with animals, occasionally leading this to feel more National Geographic than Travel Channel.

5. Disney Cruise Line (49:03) (Originally aired 1998; subsequently updated)
Even Disney Parks regulars are likely to learn something new in this special, which does an excellent job of previewing the Disney Cruise Line experience for those who haven't yet had it. The scope is largely confined to the onboard offerings of the Cruise Line's two original vessels, with only a very brief (and not altogether up-to-date) discussion of the various itineraries and upcoming ships. Fortunately, the next big boat on the horizon is given some attention in the bonus features.

6. 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.

Everybody in the club gettin' tipsy. California Adventure's new Silly Symphony Swings will apparently feature blinding light.

VIDEO and AUDIO

The three episodes prepared for the Blu-ray release are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen on DVD. Even with the aid of Blu-ray upconversion, the picture quality doesn't exactly dazzle. There's mild grain, a pervasive softness in the picture, some edge enhancement, and frequent encounters with the moiré effect.
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Still, the transfers rise just a little bit above standard television broadcast quality (a comparison I'm familiar with, my most recent of many TV viewings having immediately preceded my review of the DVDs). There's a bigger than usual difference in the picture quality between the Blu-ray and these DVDs, but the viewing experience is still a wholly tolerable one. (Note: the six-pack's widescreen DVDs still offer better picture quality than the crammed bonus DVD that comes along with the Blu-ray.)

Walt Disney World Resort: Behind the Scenes and The Disney Cruise Line are presented in standard 1.33:1 "fullscreen" but the picture quality is otherwise more or less on par with the three widescreen specials. Also in fullscreen, Disney's Animal Kingdom is, on the other hand, especially grainy, soft, frequently blurred, and obstructed with frequent visual distractions (namely edge enhancement and moiré -- there are no artifacts to speak of, nor should there be).

Audio for all six 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. I detect a slight improvement in audio on the Blu-ray, but it's hardly worth mentioning. There are no subtitles or closed captions.

All six DVDs are region-free, meaning that they should be playable around the world.

One of several non-anamorphic bonus features, this clip takes a quick look at the Hollywood Studios Backlot Tour's Catastrophe Canyon. Few will be as charmed by Stitch's Great Escape as this young boy supposedly is. Travel Channel takes us inside Walt Disney's apartment. Unfortunately, he isn't home.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

As noted earlier, there are ten bonus features spread across the six DVDs. Each is a quick, narrated glimpse at a particular Disney Parks offering or attraction, presented in frustratingly non-anamorphic widescreen and produced with the same quality and style as the six featured specials. Brief though they may be, each interstitial (which actually appear to be excerpts cut from the original specials) manages to pack in behind-the-scenes footage,
interviews, trivia, travel tips, and even occasional archival footage. (All but one of these is also found on the Blu-ray disc -- the tenth, "Stitch's Great Escape", is a DVD exclusive).

Five 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. "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). Finally, "Stitch's Great Escape" (1:37) plays like a commercial for the poorly received Tomorrowland addition. A DVD exclusive and the only bonus feature presented in fullscreen, "Great Escape" offers pretty good picture quality, but those opting for the Blu-ray set won't be missing much.

"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.

Here at Disney's Three Little Pigs Resort, guests who can't afford brick cabins hope to God that the Big Bad Wolf isn't around. This CGI ride through the Disney Cruise Line's newest slide counters its cool view with its alarmingly slow speed. Walk ten feet away from the screen and tell me how many castles I'm holding up.

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.

Each disc's menu screen serves up a fast-paced 4x3 montage of shots from the respective specials and a castle-and-clouds graphic superimposed atop them. The uber catchy end credits music plays in the background. Each episode comes with a helpful scene selection sub-menu. While it doesn't make sense to have a 4x3 home screen on the three widescreen discs, the menu scheme is otherwise lively and active.

Each disc is packaged inside a clear slimline keepcase that reuses the primary cover art. Those six keepcases are held in an attractive cardboard case, itself housed in an even more attractive, embossed, glossy cardboard sleeve. Both boxes use the same front and rear cover art and allow the slim cases to slide out to the right. There are no inserts.

Bobsleds, trains, and submarines. It's like an unauthorized John Candy sequel. I don't wanna miss... this unusually low crowd level at Rock 'n Rollercoaster Starring Aerosmith in Disney's Hollywood Studios.

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.
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The head-over-heels Disney Parks fan will find around five hours of excitement-revving fun. 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.

I can't recommend the DVD six-pack quite as fervently as I did the Blu-ray set. Video quality is adequate for five of the specials (and much less than adequate for a sixth) but falls short of the Blu-ray transfer and even what one might reasonably expect to find on DVD. Still, there's more than enough here to satisfy just about anyone who's interested enough to consider buying it.

If you have a Blu-ray player, you'll definitely want to get that instead and then only add on this six-pack if you really, really need to have the complete collection in your home. If you haven't made the HD jump yet, then this is the package for you -- its shortcomings notwithstanding, you'll at least get all six Travel Channel specials that are currently available on home video and ten bonus features to boot. The fairly low price tag doesn't hurt either.

Buy from Amazon.com / Buy the Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy Combo / Buy the Single-Disc DVD

Buy from Amazon.com

Related Reviews:
Disney Parks: The Secrets, Stories, and Magic Behind the Scenes (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy Combo)
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)

DisneyStore.com

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
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
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

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

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Reviewed June 30, 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.