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Heidi (1993) DVD Review

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Movie & DVD Details

Director: Michael Rhodes

Cast: Jason Robards (Grandfather), Jane Seymour (Fraulein Rottenmeier), Patricia Neal (Grandmother), Sian Phillips (Frau Sesemann), Lexi Randall (Klara), Noley Thornton (Heidi), Jane Hazlegrove (Dete), Andrew Bicknell (Herr Sesemann), Benjamin Brazier (Peter), Basil Hoskins (Sebastian), Michael Simkins (Doctor)

Original Air Dates: July 18-19, 1993 / Running Time: 191 Minutes / Rating: G

1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Broadcast Ratio)
Dolby Digital Stereo Surround (English, French)
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned
DVD Release Date: May 3, 2005
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
White Keepcase

By Aaron Wallace

Johanna Spyri's beloved Heidi has been adapted to film many times since the visual medium was launched. Disney's 1993 TV movie isn't the most recognized telling - that distinction belongs to Shirley Temple's 1932 classic - but it managed to grab this reviewer's attention those twelve years ago. In revisiting it for the first time since its premiere as a two-night miniseries, I was at first puzzled by its ability to stick with me while other television productions have faded away. But after diving a little further into this three hour-plus story, I found myself reconnecting with its charm.

Heidi, of course, is the story of its title character (Noley Thornton), a young girl whose parents are struck down during her infancy, leaving her to live with her well-meaning but selfish cousin, Dete (Jane Hazlegrove). The movie quickly skips ahead from the time of her parents' death to just before a career opportunity arises for Dete that requires her to transfer guardianship of Heidi to her estranged grandfather (Jason Robards). Having fought with his son just before his death, Grandfather holds himself responsible for the tragedy and the sudden return of his granddaughter in his life is an unwelcome reminder.

Heidi (Noley Thornton) and Grandfather (Jason Robards) appear to be living on different planes. One's all smiles and the other's a Grumpy Gus! Snow, flowers, and a little shepherd boy. That's the kind of nice Bavarian imagery Disney's "Heidi" goes for.

In spite of his reservations,
Heidi has nowhere else to turn and so her grumpy grandfather takes her in with the understanding that Dete will return once more suitable arrangements have been found. It just so happens that Heidi brings with her a disposition to the infectiously joyful and pleasant and it doesn't take long for it to bear fruit in even her bitter grandfather. Before things can become too comfortable, though, Dete returns to make good on her promise and Heidi is whisked away from the friends and family that she's found in the mountains to a new household in Frankfurt, occupied by intimidating strangers. The young girl's personality spreads throughout this new, more sterile environment as well and she finds kinship yet again in the form of the needy, wheelchair-bound Klara (Lexi Randall).

Even the remarkably mature and optimistic protagonist can't easily heal the ailments that inflict her loved ones, nor can she find a way to bridge the two places she must call home, and thus the conflict that brings depth to the story falls into place. One of Heidi's most interesting facets is that nearly every character in the protagonist's life has his or her own agenda, only a few of which truly hold the girl's best interest at heart. The audience follows her as each of these agendas direct her life in various directions over which she has no control. Empathy is born out of contrasting her will to do good and desire to please with the selfishness exhibited by so many around her.

Heidi is plagued by many of the problems that are generally associated with made-for-TV movies. The budget and production values are obviously not those of a blockbuster. The story generally flows well but some transitions in plot and characterization are less than fluid, leaving things with a staged feeling. There's the occasional overdramatic camera usage as well, which follows the movie on its intermittent trips to saccharinity.

Still, as the run time might indicate, it's a bit more lavish than many. Beautiful mountaintop scenery makes for an impressive visual presence. (The film was shot on location in Salzburg and other parts of Austria.) Attention to detail is evidenced in occasional reminders that though the audience sees this story through an English-speaking lens, the characters are speaking German. And while the score may not always be in perfect harmony with what's on screen, it's more involving than one might expect.

Now living with a wealthy family in Frankfurt, Heidi admires her new wardrobe. Heidi and Klara speak with the kindly Frau Sesemann.

Acting is a bit of a mixed bag. Noley Thornton does an outstanding job as Heidi and achieves chemistry with her co-stars, particularly Jason Robards, who also does a fine job. In fact, the main characters are all well-cast and are apt in their performances. The supporting characters and extras are, however, sometimes flat and conventional to a fault.

In the end, the film's successes are found in its story rather than in cinematography or technicalities, which isn't a bad thing. The same can be said for its release on DVD, where the movie itself is the main - well, only - draw. The best thing about the DVD is that it restores the film to its full 191-minute length. Whereas its earlier VHS release chopped the film down to 166 minutes (presumably to fit on one cassette with quality respectable by the antiquated standards), this DVD preserves the entire feature as it aired on the Disney Channel over those two July nights twelve years ago. The debate on whether Heidi should stay with her grandfather or go with her friend does seem to go on for too long, but the original cut otherwise seems to run at an appropriately relaxed pace that the excision of twenty-five minutes would likely hinder more than help.

Though Heidi is a forerunner to today's Disney Channel Original Movies, comes to DVD not as part of the newly established "DCOM" line, but instead bearing the label of "New- Disney's Literary Collection" like a handful of Disney DVDs have in the past. The movie is a Harmony Gold/Bill McCutchen production.

The opportunistic Dete pleads with Grandpa, but he doesn't want to hear it. As the conflicted, guilt-ridden Grandpa works and looks on, Heidi happily smiles on her misty mountain hop.


As with most television movies, Heidi was originally presented with an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and that's the case on this DVD, too. From time to time, one might notice that the picture becomes a little fuzzy along with mild ringing around the edges.
Fortunately these are rare, as the element remains mostly clean. The most noticeable visual flaw is the transfer's softness; some shots - particularly a few of the scenic backgrounds - are simply lacking the sharpness than one might hope for. Other scenes are a little on the dark side too, but that seems to be more a problem with the original production than the DVD's transfer. The end credits are plagued by the moiré effect. Overall, this movie looks better than expected to be such an old Disney Channel production.

The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Surround Sound track offers what I assume was the same presentation of its original broadcast and it sounds perfectly fine. Volume levels are fairly consistent, although the score seems to swell too loudly at times, and nothing in the track ever draws attention away from the story. Some fans will undoubtedly wish for a 5.1 track, which might have brought even more life to the movie, but given its origin and age, the absence of one is understandable.


Sadly, this disc is completely void of bonus features. While there probably isn't a lot to offer, some sort of featurette or perhaps a commentary track would have added a nice incentive to consumers.

The main menu features a framed picture of Heidi against a mountain top background while a selection from the score plays. Three options are present: Play, Scene Selection, and Set-Up. Only twelve chapter selections are made available, which isn't nearly enough for a film that runs over three hours. Each chapter is lengthy and finding a particular point in the movie will prove to be more of a hassle than it should.

The disc opens with a preview that samples some of Disney's classic live-action offerings on DVD, including The Parent Trap, Escape to Witch Mountain, and The Apple Dumpling Gang, among others. This preview is not accessible from the main menu.

Oh my, is that the Bride of Boogedy? Nah, it's just Heidi doin' a bit of sleepwalking. Heidi, Grandpa, and Klara pose looking at possible peril offscreen, which is always cost-saving.


Heidi starts off a bit slow and falls prey to various shortcomings throughout. Fortunately, these are handily off-set by the engaging story that it tells. Unfortunately, my familiarity with the source material and the Shirley Temple adaptation are too distant at this point for me to make an apt comparison. It does stand on its own merits, however, as a movie worth watching more than once, despite its weaknesses. The DVD may be a bit bare, but that's not entirely unexpected and its audio/video presentation is pleasing. It's not often that television movies this old are revisited at all, so even modest but satisfactory releases are a treat, and in that light, this release comes "recommended" from someone who has now found himself won over by it twice.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com

Related Reviews:
Perfect Harmony (1991) • The Parent Trap: 2-Movie Collection (1961, 1986)
Third Man on the Mountain (1959) • Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983) • Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken (1991)
Mickey Mouse Club: The Best of Britney, Justin & Christina (1993-94) • Under the Umbrella Tree: Volume 1
The Christmas Star (1986) • Boy Meets World: The Complete First Season (1993-94)

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Reviewed June 28, 2005.