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Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates DVD Review

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Movie & DVD Details

Director: Norman Foster

Cast: Rony Zeander (Hans Brinker), Carin Rossby (Gretel Brinker), Gunilla Jelf (Hilda van Gleck), Erik Strandmark (Raff Brinker), Inga Landgrι (Metje Brinker), Lennart Klefbom (Ludwig Schimmel), Claes-Hεkan Westergren (Peter Bouman), Lauritz Falk (Kaps Bouman), Gunnar Sjφberg (Dr. Boekman), Ulf Palme, Alf Kjellin (Frans Ruisdael)

Original Air Date: January 7 & 14, 1962 (aired in two parts)

Running Time: 90 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated
1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Aspect Ratio)
Dolby Digital Mono (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, French; Closed Captioned

Release Date: September 7, 2004
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5); Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
White Keepcase

 
Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates is set in the '60s...the 1860s, that is. The Brinkers are a simple family of five living in Holland, and its Zeider Zee. The family just barely gets by on father's modest earnings as a fisherman, but their religion and values shape their generally upbeat outlook on life. The five family members enjoy each other's company, so the absence of elegant luxuries never seems to deny a comfortable and happy existence.

The title character and oldest child of the family is Hans Brinker (Rony Zeander), an aspiring artist with some strong sketching skills. While the young man's mother (Inga Landgrι) wishes he would spend his time leading towards a more stable career, Hans's father (Erik Strandmark) recognizes the boy's talent. He even considers investing in it, which happens to be manageable because Mr. Brinker reveals that he's been saving money over the years and stashing it away for something important.

Story without conflict tends not to work well, so it's not surprising that early on, a bit of misfortune falls upon the Brinkers. In the midst of preparing against an impending storm, Father falls into the lake and sustains injuries. These are not your run-of-the-mill Tim Taylor emergency room scrapes, but more like serious brain impairment and memory loss. The eldest Brinker is reduced to sitting in a chair, offering no sign of recognition to his wife or children.

With Father out of work and his secret money stash hidden too well, the Brinkers' financial situation becomes even more challenging. Seeing no alternative, Hans drops out of school and begins to take on odd jobs, finding any work he can to keep the family fed and warm.

Before the ice skating contest, there was an MC Hammer pants competition between father and son Brinker. Hans paints a picture of the fam. His father's kind of been still life lately.

One day, Hans and his sister Gretel (Carin Rossby) make their way to Amsterdam. No, they are not going there destitutely looking for some moral decay. Rather, they are looking to raise some more money. Hans makes a couple of seemingly fruitful contacts with his sketches, and even receives a set of paints from a sympathetic artist. The same artist refers Hans to Dr. Boekman, a first-class brain specialist who everyone hopes will be able to provide the type of medical care to bring Mr. Brinker out of his mute daze.

Of course, medical services are never cheap, especially not when you're getting a highly-regarded, much-demanded specialist. When Hans finally succeeds in tracking down Boekman and getting him to look at his father, the doctor decides that Brinker will need a semi-risky brain operation to restore his memory and complete functionality. While Dr. Boekman concerns himself with the case and not the fees, Hans and the family know that the costly services need to be covered at some point.

Enter the titular silver skates. An ice skating competition is to be held, and Hans and Gretel intend to compete in order to win the prize money. The Brinker children are at a disadvantage, primarily because they do not have silver skates, only wooden. They also do not have the means to get the advantageous metal footgear that all their fellow skaters--the privileged Dutch youths--do.

Hans and Gretel travel to Amsterdam, and Hans points out the many attractions. Hans pleads that the renowned Dr. Boekman help his father.

The film devotes a significant portion to the skating competition even if, for a number of reasons, it ultimately doesn't mean that much. The competition doesn't actually start until the second half, which was the second week of the original two-piece airing on "Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color" in January of 1962. While it may not be the most important element of the film, the race does act as a central physical exercise and ties into the story's greater concerns with Hans and the Brinkers' struggle with class differences.

Class differences are at the heart of Hans's strained relationship with Hilda van Gleck (Gunilla Jelf), a kindly, pretty schoolmate/neighbor whose father, the Burgomaster, discourages any contact with lower class folk like the Brinkers. The film's exploration of this relationship and the other challenging societal interactions that Hans optimistically faces are handled interestingly and sympathetically. Though similar subject matter has been dealt with elsewhere, this television movie does so in a way that is refreshing and unique.

One can see the hand of Walt Disney at work in Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates. Four decades ago, with television still at a relatively young age, Walt poured enthusiasm and effort into films for the small-screen medium he wholeheartedly embraced. The result: this likable production feels on par with some of the stronger live action films Disney ushered to theaters in the late '50s and early '60s. Hans Brinker even received theatrical release overseas, something that so few modern day TV movies could pull off without standing out like a sappy sore thumb.

All lined up and ready to skate! Dr. Boekman takes a look at Mr. Brinker's eyes.

The film may be subject to some simplicity and predictability, probably more than its source, the popular 19th century novel written by an American named Mary Mapes Dodge. But that does not deny the number of particularly poignant sequences this adaptation features. These include scenes of the Brinker family at ease with their position in life, Hans and Gretel's encounters in the bustling Amsterdam, an affecting Saint Nicholas Eve night (the Dutch Christmas), a surreal and sublime dream sequence late in the film, and the inspired stolen moments between Hans and Holda.

The performances of Hans Brinker do not feel like performances. The mostly foreign cast had mostly limited experience in films, and it shows in a good way. For instance, the star of the film, Hans Brinker himself, is played by Rony Zeander, who as far as I can tell, never made another movie. The European cast lends credibility to their characters and commonplace situations. Behind the camera were sensible, experienced people who had worked for Disney in the past, with success. Director/screenwriter Norman Foster had helmed the remarkably popular Davy Crockett episodes, as well as "Zorro" and "The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca." Producer Hamilton Luske had directed some recent animated films including Cinderella, Lady and the Tramp, and 101 Dalmatians.

On a technical level, the film is well-crafted. But as with any good piece of art, it is the heart and emotion that lifts the film and makes it resonate. The scenic and savvy Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates has a heart as strong as most, and its morally-centered story works expertly as a result.

Don't go chasing icy holes, please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you're used to. A surreal dream sequence before the race.

VIDEO and AUDIO

This made-for-TV movie is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. For a television movie filmed over forty years ago, Hans Brinker holds up pretty well. Colors are vibrant and accurate, and never fade or bleed. There is an inconsistency to the picture quality, but generally it's pretty clean and sharp. At times, the picture gets quite grainy and scratches and other imperfections show up. All things considered, though, this looks pretty strong.

Hans Brinker's transfer falls into a wide middle ground of Disney catalogue releases. It doesn't have the satisfying quality of digitally remastered Special Editions or some of the solid recent entries into the Movie Showcase line. At the same time, it's less problematic in video quality than some high profile feature films that made their DVD debut this year.

The Dolby Digital mono does a fine job of presenting dialogue and sound effects. Unfortunately, as most of the dialogue is looped, the dialogue is not perfectly synched with the video. Dub tracks in both French and Spanish are included.

EXTRAS

Not surprisingly, there's nothing in the way of bonus features. The artistic-looking 16x9 menu screens feature some accordion-centric score selections. The disc opens with the standard 90-second recent live action Disney home video promo.

The Dutch Family Brinker. Hans is all smiles with sister Gretel and potential love Hilda holding on.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates is a surprising, welcome DVD release. This film is clearly the product of its era, an era when Walt Disney was very much devoted to making quality entertainment, whether for theaters or as in this case, his weekly television program. The DVD comes with no bells and whistles, and video and audio quality are a bit spotty. Still, in the case of a DVD like this, it's all about the movie. And Hans Brinker works well, certainly well enough to appease fans of classic Disney films who may well be unacquainted with this made-for-TV production.

More on the DVD

The Book: Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge

Other Disney TV Movies Reviewed: The Christmas Star • Angels in the Endzone • Balloon Farm
Also Directed by Norman Foster: Davy Crockett: Two Movie Set

Reviewed September 15, 2004

UltimateDisney.com | Review Index | Vintage (Pre-1980) Television Movies Page | September 2004 Catalogue Releases

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