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Higglytown Heroes on DVD: Volume 1: To The Rescue Volume 2: Heroes on the Move

Higglytown Heroes: Heroes on the Move DVD Review

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Show & DVD Details
Executive Producer: Jeff Fino / Creators: George Evelyn, Denis Morella, Holly Huckins, Kent Redeker, Jeff Ulin
Directors: George Evelyn, Denis Morella / Writers: Ford Riley, Peggy Sarlin, Peter Gaffney
Voice Cast: Frankie Ryan Manriquez (Wayne), Taylor Masamitsu (Eubie), Liliana Mumy (Twinkle), Rory Thost (Kip), Edie McClurg (Fran), Dee Bradley Baker (Pizza Guy, Uncle Zooter), Jesse David Corti (Jaxx), Mindy Sterling (Aunt Mellie), Jim Wise (Fripp), Alanna Ubach (Plunkie)
Guest Voices: Marissa Winokur (The Taxi Driver Hero), Ed McMahon (The Tugboat Captain Hero), Jesse Corti (The Submarine Captain Hero), Roberto Alcaraz (The Air Traffic Controller Hero), Stuart Pankin (The Bus Driver Hero)

Running Time: 58 Minutes (5 episodes) / Rating: Not Rated
1.33:1 Fullscreen, Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English, Spanish)
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned
DVD Release Date: January 2, 2007
Five Episodes Originally aired October 2004 - July 2006
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5); Suggested Retail Price: $14.99
White Keepcase

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Characters at the heart of children's television shows often seem strange upon reflection: little blue forest beings who replace all kinds of words with their species name, gurgling bright creatures who have screens in their stomachs, colorful bears who sit up in the clouds and care. "Higglytown Heroes", one of more than a dozen series that currently comprise the Disney Channel's preschooler-friendly Playhouse Disney block, adds to that tradition.
Its leading personalities are modeled after matryoshki, wooden dolls that originated in late-19th century Russia. Though the word "matryoshka" may not ring any bells, you're probably familiar with the sets of figures that vary in size and conveniently nest, one inside the other ending with the largest of the group.

Like the handicrafts they are based on, the characters of "Higglytown Heroes" are round, tapered, lacking conventional limbs, and able to open up at their waist. Though strange and even somewhat scary visually, the protagonists of the series are relatively normal in their behavior. Eubie, Wayne, Twinkle, and Kip are four young friends who, like any good TV personalities, embark on a series of adventures. Theirs are slightly shorter than others, as nearly-15-minute installments are paired together to fill a half-hour of airtime. Said adventures are also more colorful and educational in nature than most cartoons thanks to a vibrant palette of inexpensive-looking computer animation and values-based storylines that are inherent to youth-tailored entertainment.

Fran the squirrel and her human friends (left to right: Kip, Twinkle, Wayne, and Eubie) line up in front of the "Higglytown Heroes" title logo. "Dirigible Day" finds the gang down at Higglytown Airport.

The title refers not to crime-fighting superheroes, but the ordinary adult townsfolk of Higglytown, whose everyday work solves specific problems and is celebrated for its societal contributions. Even though the series operates from a formula that sees each episode culminating in the introduction of a hero and an opportunity for he or she to shine, I think young viewers are likely to only gain smidge of respect for and a sprinkle of interest in the highlighted working-class professions like bus driver, police officer, and air traffic controller. The child which remains inside of me pays more heed to the young leads, whose relatable curiosity and imagination surely make them appear better-rounded than they will be if today's young viewers revisit them ten years from now.

A talking squirrel named Fran (who speaks with the unmistakable, Midwestern-accented vocals of Edie McClurg) is with the gang of four at all times. In each episode, she drops facts that take the air out of the big, bright-eyed ideas of Twinkle, the baby of the bunch. Also appearing in every show (usually briefly) is Pizza Guy, an apparently hip dude who offers short-term help before bidding "cheese ya later" and returning to his scheduled deliveries. There are also goofy adults, a theme song by unlikely Playhouse Disney faves They Might Be Giants, and an unexpected roster of celebrities providing guest voices.

As far as Playhouse Disney fare goes, I'd put "Higglytown Heroes" in the middle of the class quality-wise. It is less calculated and transparent than "Little Einsteins" but slightly less fluid than "JoJo's Circus" and definitely not as much fun as "Bear in the Big Blue House" or "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse." Nevertheless, the illiterate tots that the show is geared at are likely much less discerning than I. They've made the 2-year-old series one of Playhouse Disney's most popular.

City slicker Jaxx shows off Higgly Biggly City to his cousin and friends in "Bright Sights, Big City." Wayne feels seasick in "Ship Ahoy!"

Released on the second day of 2007, Heroes on the Move is one of the first two DVD volumes devoted to "Higglytown Heroes", though the show has made earlier appearances on A Very Playhouse Disney Holiday and a pair of "JoJo's Circus" discs, all issued in 2005.
As you can probably guess, On the Move finds the central boys, girl, and squirrel of Higglytown out and about on little trips either around their hometown or just outside it. The five selected episodes arrive from all over the show's first two seasons and are arranged in an order that would appear to be random. Here's a closer look at them:

"Bright Sights, Big City" (Originally aired April 4, 2005)
The gang travels to Higgly Biggly City (the hometown of Eubie's cousin Jaxx and the show's version of New York City with some international embellishments), where they're excited to see "Happy Hairy Higgly Monsters Live on Higglyway." To pass the hours before the theater opens, they go sightseeing and without realizing, showtime is near and they're far away. Saving the day is a cab driver Hero (Broadway's Marissa Jaret Winokur); the perfect English and apparent lack of body odor might seem good enough, but this kind lady even sings to the gang while making sure they're there for the curtain's rise.

"Ship Ahoy!" (Originally aired October 25, 2004)
The gang learns about nautical life via a trip on Aunt Mellie and Uncle Zooter's boat. Things come to a halt when the boat runs aground on a sandbar during low tide. Enter the Tugboat Captain Hero, voiced by Ed McMahon, who saves the day!

"Twinkle, Twinkle Little Fish" (Originally aired July 6, 2006)
The Higglytown kids spend a day at the beach. Twinkle avoids entering the water until her mom gives her a custom swimming cap, but when a seagull swipes the special cap and then a dolphin does the same, no one can help. No one except a Submarine Captain Hero!

A seagull threatens Twinkle's custom swimming cap as Pizza Guy looks on in "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Fish." Only in Higglytown can a lucky ketchup dispenser become the prop in an action sequence.

"Dirigible Day" (Originally aired June 21, 2006)
Kip's uncle Zeke invites the kids down to the Higglytown Airport for Dirigible Day. There, they worry that Zeke and others won't be able to land, but the Air Traffic Controller Hero helps them not to fear-o.

"Catch Up with Ketchup" (Originally aired November 8, 2004)
Kip's father opens a new hot dog stand by the Fricky Frack Ferris Wheel, but he leaves his lucky ketchup bottle behind. The kids and Fran march after him with the celebrated condiment dispenser, but they need a bit of help from Bus Driver Hero (Stuart Pankin of "Dinosaurs").

Episodes run 11 minutes and 14 seconds each, with neither the opening title sequence nor episode-specific end credits attached.
The only way to get those is to use the "Play All" feature, which plops the minute-long opening in front and a composite credits list at the end as if it is some type of a Playhouse Disney original movie.

VIDEO and AUDIO

From the start, "Higglytown Heroes" has been produced with computer animation that appears to skimp on lighting and shading, the final stages that make CGI from Pixar and its growing list of competitors look realistic. As such, the visuals here are bright, colorful, and sterile-looking. Not exactly out of place on Playhouse Disney, this nature ensures that the series is pretty much free of imperfection. (If I felt it'd be appreciated, I could go on about how the void of visible imperfection reflects the show's picture-perfect depiction of the world.) The episodes are presented, as they are on television, in 1.33:1 fullscreen. I noticed no shortcomings that aren't inherent in the show's production methods.

Though youngsters are less likely to be audiophiles than older viewers, the two-channel stereo presentation here certainly feels lacking next to Dolby 5.1 efforts given to Playhouse Disney DVDs of hits like "Little Einsteins" and "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse." Nevertheless, the absence of an engulfing sound environment can't necessarily be considered a fault, nor can anything else about this basic track, which delivers dialogue and the steady flow of music in a consistent and satisfactory way.

JoJo and the Spudinskis look to the heavens, er, the Flying Froginis above for guidance in bonus episode "The Spudinski's (sic) New Act." Try to hold your excitement over the mildly-animated Higglytown Heroes: Heroes on the Move DVD main menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, DESIGN and PACKAGING

There is no need for a bonus features menu since the only supplement is a bonus episode of "JoJo's Circus", which returns a favor given two years ago when "Higglytown Heroes" episodes turned up on compilations of "JoJo's." In "The Spudinski's New Act" (12:48), JoJo visits the Spudinskis, a family of literal couch potatoes. Traveling around on the Couchmobile with JoJo, they consult other circus performers (Mr. Muscles, the Flying Froginis, and the Jackrabbits) to bring a more exciting finale to their reclining act. If you can look past the grammatically incorrect title and the loud bookending ads, you'll find the sure-fire enjoyment that this clay-mated Playhouse Disney series has been providing for over three years now. By the time JoJo tells us what she learned today, the lessons should already be apparent to older viewers, but the show is filled with enough music and wit to delight a wide audience.

The basic Main Menu offers mild animation and an instrumental version of the opening theme. The same simple motif (blue sky, green grass, gray path) turns up on all the other menus, which are accompanied by different instrumental music.

Previews at the start of the disc promote Peter Pan: Platinum Edition, the still-being-reworked Disney Princess Enchanted Tales: Volume 1 - A Kingdom of Kindness, "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse": Mickey's Great Clubhouse Hunt, and "Little Einsteins": The Legend of the Golden Pyramid. The first page of the Sneak Peeks menu holds additional promos for Meet the Robinsons, the next two Winnie the Pooh-flavored volumes of Disney Learning Adventures, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh: Friendship Edition, Cinderella III: A Twist in Time, and "Little Einsteins" on Playhouse Disney. Equipped with FastPlay, the two sets of ads play automatically pre- and post- "feature" without tiny viewers having to handle the remote.

There is no standard insert inside the case (which makes the disc's menus the only way -- aside from this review -- to know the episodes offered), but there is a sheet with a magic code for the Disney Movie Rewards program. At least, there was in this copy; our other review copy was missing one, so a call to Disney's customer service folks (1-800-723-4763) may be required for those who are collecting points.

The Tugboat Captain Hero (an unshaven Ed McMahon) saves the day when Uncle Zooter and Aunt Mellie's boat The Rusty Gnome runs aground. Fran (voiced by John Hughes veteran Edie McClurg) has a knack for deflating the imaginative ideas of Twinkle.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

If you and your little ones are already familiar with and fans of Playhouse Disney programming, then the final judgment on Heroes on the Move comes down to this: would you pay around ten dollars to have ideal presentations of one "JoJo's Circus" and five "Higglytown Heroes" episodes on your shelf to entertain whenever you'd like? (Multiple each number by two to decide if you also need the concurrently-released To The Rescue disc.)

For those who aren't accustomed to "Higglytown Heroes", it's an okay series with a curious design and a moderately entertaining execution. The DVD could have provided a lot more episodes, but as is, the running time versus cost is more consumer-friendly than comparable releases of "Little Einsteins" and other preschooler fare from Disney. With picture and sound a non-issue, it's really your call based on projected replay value, Disney Channel availability, and your current DVD collection. I'd be much quicker to recommend any one of Disney's classic animated features (the lesser known of which don't cost much more) for longer-term enjoyment and even other tot-tailored discs for in-the-moment thrills. But you could do much, much worse than this disc for children who are starting, or not yet in, school.

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Related Preorders:
Little Einsteins: The Legend of the Golden Pyramid (February 27)
Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Mickey's Great Clubhouse Hunt (Press Release) (March 20)

Related Items:
Higglytown Heroes Figurine Set (6 officially-licensed figures)
Higglytown Heroes Character Plushes: Eubie Plush Wayne Plush Twinkle Plush Fran & Kip Plush

Related Reviews:
Higglytown Heroes: To The Rescue A Very Playhouse Disney Holiday
Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Mickey Saves Santa and Other Mousektales Little Einsteins: Mission Celebration!
Playhouse Disney: Imagine and Learn with Music (CD) JoJo's Circus: Take a Bow! JoJo's Circus: Animal A Go-Go
Stanley's Dinosaur Round-Up Bear in the Big Blue House: Visiting the Doctor with Bear The Incredibles
Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Songs From and Inspired by The Hit TV Series (CD) Bear in the Big Blue House: Sense-sational!
The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Other Stories Disney Learning Adventures: Winnie the Pooh - Wonderful Word Adventure
Rock & Bop with the Doodlebops (CD) Adventures of The Gummi Bears: Volume 1 Growing Up with Winnie the Pooh: Love & Friendship
Voice Cast and Guest Stars:
Edie McClurg: The Little Mermaid: Platinum Edition | Liliana Mumy: My Neighbors the Yamadas | Jim Wise: The Even Stevens Movie
Stuart Pankin: Dinosaurs: The Complete First and Second Seasons Squanto: A Warrior's Tale | Ed McMahon: Scrubs: Season 4

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Reviewed January 28, 2007.