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Mickey and the Beanstalk DVD Review

Buy Mickey and the Beanstalk from Amazon.com Disney Learning Adventures: Mickey's Reading & Math Fun
Mickey and the Beanstalk


DVD Details
Running Time: 78 Minutes (49 without repetition) / Rating: Not Rated
1.33:1 Fullscreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned
DVD Narrator: Cam Clarke
DVD Release Date: March 22, 2005
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
White Keepcase

Short Details
"Mickey and the Beanstalk"

Theatrical Release: September 27, 1947 (part of Fun and Fancy Free)

Voice Cast: Walt Disney (Mickey Mouse), Clarence Nash (Donald Duck), Pinto Colvig (Goofy), Billy Gilbert (Willie the Giant), Anita Gordon (Singing Harp), Paul Frees (Narrator Ludwig Von Drake)


Review by Aaron Wallace

Disney Learning Adventures: Mickey's Math & Fun - Mickey and the Beanstalk is among the latest in Disney's new direct-to-DVD educational series for young children. In the case of "Beanstalk," the idea is that a classic Disney short is frequently interrupted to take advantage of "teachable moments." The result, unfortunately, isn't the educational entertainment that is promised.

Following a drawn-out introduction in which the viewer is dubbed "the sorcerer's apprentice" by the narrator (Cam Clarke), the short itself, "Mickey and the Beanstalk" begins (followed by a speedy coloring book activity to prepare the first scene). The short debuted as part of 1947's Fun and Fancy Free, one of several "package features" that made a movie out of blending together two or more animated shorts. Since then, "Mickey and the Beanstalk" has taken on a life of its own, easily becoming the most recognizable part of Fun and Fancy Free for the general public.

Based on the classic fairy tale, the story stars Mickey, Donald, and Goofy as starving farmers with no prospects for future success. Left with no alternative but to sell the family cow, Mickey sets off to make a good deal. When he returns, though, he's only managed to get a handful of magic beans, to the fury of Donald. The rest is well-known enough to probably go without explanation- the beans produce a magic beanstalk that bridges the farmers' world with that of Willie, a giant who has stolen the happiness (a beautiful singing harp) from Happy Valley. Disney's adaptation is, as one might expect from films of Walt's time, a bit of a departure from the traditional story. The use of three protagonists works well, especially since it's everyone's favorite gang in the roles. Willie provides quite a bit of comic relief as the clumsy villain. It's worth noting that the version presented here is not the original. Taking the place of the live-action bookends featuring Edgar Bergen, Luana Patten, and a ventriloquist dummy that appeared in Fun and Fancy Free are sequences featuring Ludwig von Drake, which appears to be older animation. In this version, Ludwig, not Bergen provides the short's narration as well.

Ludwig von Drake points out that some Disney magic has been evil, as with Maleficent in "Sleeping Beauty." A simple stab at proportions: how many Mickeys stack up against Willie?

Throughout the short, the story is paused and Ludwig von Drake narrates an educational excursion. The exercises mostly consist of counting, with the occasional try at simple division or shape and size comparisons.

Upon the story's conclusion, a final activity is introduced in which the short is recapped in storybook form. This abbreviated revisit is probably unnecessary, having just seen the story in its entirety, and is likely frustrating for any adult, but it may entertain children and is as educationally worthwhile as any Disney read-along. This is the only area in which the "Reading" portion of the title comes into play and one can't help but wonder if it isn't only an effort to boost the running time of the set closer to the apparent goal of one hour.

The educational entertainment that is really the intention of this set unfortunately is neither all that entertaining or educational. Instead, the very good story of "Beanstalk" is frustratingly interrupted with some frequency and often in the peak of action. As far as educational value goes, the interstitials are only more likely to appeal to children than a simple set of counting blocks in that they sometimes feature Mickey and company. Still, it's likely that children may at least be amused by and responsive to any animated interaction, especially when it's of the Disney variety.

If you only divide the loaf into two pieces, Donald won't be very happy. Ludwig reads the story and you can follow along in the "Sorcerer's Apprentice Play." Alternatively, you can choose to read the story for yourself.

VIEWING OPTIONS

There are two ways to view the DVD. The first is "Guided Play," which begins by default if the menu is left idle for too long (irritating to anyone wanting to leave the menu running to quickly attend to something before starting). The second and more useful is "Sorcerer's Apprentice Play." Whereas the former features a voiced group of children immediately solving all problems, the latter allows for interaction in which the viewer solves the answers with their remote control. I can see little benefit in the "Guided Play" option.

Each of these options treats the final story recap a bit differently. In the generally useless "Guided Play," the very same short that has been interrupted countless times is shown yet again in its uninterrupted entirety. This repetitive inclusion seems unwarranted and is sure to beckon anyone to hit the stop button on the remote control. "Sorcerer's Apprentice Play" abridges the plot, putting it on the pages of an interactive storybook in which viewers have the option of having it read to them by Ludwig (with words still on the screen) or reading it to themselves.

VIDEO and AUDIO

All the new video is clean, vibrantly colored, and without fault. The older footage from the short itself, though, is rather dim and grainy. The entire presentation is in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is entirely acceptable throughout the presentation. At times it packs more of a punch than others, particularly in the music and sound effects of the newly-created footage.

Round 1 of "Mickey's Magical Beans Game": Count The Beans. Put the scenes in their correct chronological order!
(I suppose this is considered math.) The Main Menu screen for "Mickey and the Beanstalk."

BONUS FEATURES

There's only one bonus feature, "Game Time: Mickey's Magical Beans Game." The concept is a simple one: count the number of beans that fall into Mickey's bag and then select the matching drawing with the remote control. After each of the possible answers has been used once, the game moves to succeeding rounds. The second round is a bit more challenging as it combines counting with item identification. The third and final round has the player helping Mickey chop down the beanstalk. "Mickey's Magical Beans Game" is by far the most stimulating activity on the entire DVD and it's a shame that there's not more like it included.

The disc opens with sneak peeks at Pooh's Heffalump Movie, two upcoming installments of the Disney Learning Adventures line (again themed to Pooh and friends), and the most recent releases from the Disney Princess line. The Sneak Peeks Menu also includes a look at last year's "Bear in the Big Blue House" discs as well as previews for Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has a Glitch and Little Einstein.

MENUS and PACKAGING

The 4x3 menus are lively and musical and to their credit, they ease a rather complicated navigation system as much as possible. Still, for a preschool DVD, it's not the world's most user-friendly.

Inside the case, a coupon booklet offers $2 savings on Mulan II as well as releases in the Learning Adventures, Disney Princess, JoJo's Circus, and Growing Up With Winnie the Pooh lines. A chapter listing is included which also explains the viewing options and each of the three levels of "Mickey's Magical Beans Game."

The most notable insert, though, is a six page activity booklet. Most of the activities are written reincarnations of the interactive activities included on the DVD, but a few are brand new, including directions for growing a bean plant. The booklet is a nice inclusion.

The trio sneaks inside the giant's castle in "Mickey and the Beanstalk." Can you guess which foot print belongs to Mickey?

CLOSING THOUGHTS

It's difficult to see the benefit to this particular installment of the Disney Learning Adventures line, though to be fair, it's certainly not intended for anyone capable of writing a review of it. Still, I suspect even the target audience (preschool-aged children) will be frustrated. The greatest educational value lies in the culture of the story itself, not in the activities provided, which are mostly simplistic and boring.

There are two options for play, one which bars all interaction and thus renders the disc void of its purpose, and the other which frequently interrupts the flow of an otherwise brilliant and beloved cartoon short. Perhaps the disc would have been more effective by putting all the questions and activities at the end of the story.

Mickey fans need not feel obligated to acquire this DVD for their collection. After all, the short itself is presented (in better form) on the Fun and Fancy Free and Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in Living Color, Volume 2 DVDs. The only benefit here is that this disc uses the narration and animation of Ludwig von Drake (and his summary of Disney magic using video clips from animated classics) rather than the original live-action interstitials that are included in these other two sets.

Because some children may very well enjoy an educational "adventure" with their favorite Mickey Mouse characters, I have trouble entirely condemning this set. For the most part, though, I would advise those searching for quality educational entertainment to look elsewhere. For the same price, that goal has been better accomplished in other products, even from Disney.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com

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Reviewed March 26, 2005.