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

Higglytown Heroes: To The Rescue DVD Review

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Show & DVD Details
Executive Producers: Jeff Fino, Holly Huckins, Kent Redeker
Directors: George Evelyn, Denis Morella
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), Jim Wise (Fripp, Kip's Dad), Kevin Michael Richardson (Uncle Lemmo), Mindy Sterling (Aunt Mellie), Rachel York (Bitty), Alanna Ubach (Plunkie)
Guest Voices: Gayla Goehl (Great Aunt Shirley), Michael T. Weiss (Mountain Rescue Hero), Katey Sagal (Police Officer Hero), Mathew St. Patrick (Police Officer Hero), Donald Faison (Fireman Hero), Phil Lamarr (Lifeguard Hero)

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

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By Albert Gutierrez

In September 2004, Playhouse Disney introduced "Higglytown Heroes", a new television series which sent its young viewers to a whimsical 3D-animated world known as Higglytown. In the show, four children -- Eubie, Wayne, Twinkle, and Kip -- and their squirrel friend Fran embark on a series of adventures that range from everyday fun to exciting exploration. Each encounter finds them in need of help, the help of a Higglytown Hero, be it a police officer, a mountain rescue team, or even dentists.

The characters' design is based on Matryoshka nesting dolls (where one doll fits into another, and into another, etc.),
an inspiration which ensures little fluidity in movements as the featured personalities bounce from place to place. Most of the time, they'll actually open themselves at the waist to remove or put in certain objects, like money, crackers, toys, etc. It is a bit unsettling to see the first time, but viewers can pretend that it's a really large pocket on the characters.

Of the children, Eubie is the largest, with siblings Wayne and Twinkle about the same size, and Kip the smallest of the four. Fran the squirrel is noticeably smaller, as things like size are realistic on this show, even though the fact that she talks is overlooked. In addition to the five main characters, a few minor characters who make appearances in To The Rescue (one of the series' two recent concurrently-released DVD compilations) are Kip's dad Fripp, the scene-chewing Pizza Guy, and Wayne and Twinkle's Uncle Lemmo.

Meet the Higglytown Children: Twinkle, Kip, Eubie, Wayne, and Fran the Squirrel! "I'm singing in the rain, just singing in - come on, everyone, it's no fun if I have to sing by myself"

Having never been exposed to the series until this review, I was able to watch it with a fresh perspective, though one of a 21-year-old mindset. Much to my surprise, the children of Higglytown are more mature than others I've seen in pre-school shows. Their personalities are defined and not too childish, and these characters do not talk down to the viewers. One of the main problems I have with several children's shows is that lines of dialogue would be said in an instructional tone, and is apparent that an adult wrote it. In "Higglytown Heroes", you won't find any "Can you spot the ball? Yes, there's the ball!" moments, and it is a refreshing change. Also, the rapid-fire dialogue is brought to life by talented voices both young and old, including the ever-perky Edie McClurg as Fran the Squirrel, making the show even more entertaining for both parent and child.

Even with my odd enjoyment of the show, the cynical part of my brain noticed one slightly disturbing factor: Higglytown doesn't seem to be pretty safe if every episode requires a hero to save these kids! But this trait serves as an example of how children should seek out the responsible adults and to remain patient if they ever find themselves in the same situations that Eubie, Wayne, Twinkle, and Kip are in. Having each hero sing a song is also a great way for children to remember the lessons; it gives them a catchy tune and easy words to recite to themselves. Also, the music is quite easy on the ears. The best part about the songs: the creative lyrics, which give way to amusing visuals. Where else would you find a child ask "Could you rescue hiking hogs if they got trapped by the fog?"

Episodes follow the same format and contain several recurring elements. Usually, when a character breaks out in song, they envision wild and crazy situations that interestingly are presented in a 2D-style computer animation, as opposed to the three-dimensional Higglytown world. Also, Twinkle always spins and imagines a story which gets animated against dotted-line notebook paper (sure to bring back elementary school flashbacks!). Another character reminds her that it's not realistic, such as the time when Twinkle imagined mountain trolls slept on pillows; it turns out they sleep on spaghetti. Once her story is shot down, Twinkle takes it in stride and offers her trademark "Aw pickles!" Usually by the time the kids realize they need a hero, they break into the same four-line song: "Someone special, who could it be?/ This job's too big for you and me/ We need some help, but never fear-o!/ It looks like a job for a Higglytown Hero!" I always chuckle every time I would hear the word "fear-o"; it's just a word that I find hilarious.

Kip envisions his own circus in a song. In one of many of Twinkle's far-fetched stories, the Higglytown Kids take Pizza Guy's helicopter to a bunny castle in the sky.

Every Hero and/or guest character is voiced by a celebrity. In scanning an episode cast list of the show, one notices a few notable performers who have lent vocals to the still-running series including Tim Curry, Cyndi Lauper, Smokey Robinson, Sharon Stone, and of course... Raven Symone (in the important role of Playground Monitor Hero). The use of recognizable names isn't the selling point for the young viewers, but it is a somewhat surprising perk for their parents, who may get a kick out of hearing John Astin as Santa Claus or Lance Bass as the Electrician Hero. The Hero often comes at the midway point of the story, a good sign that the episode is nearing conclusion and that a catchy song is just around the corner.

Each episode is eleven minutes long, meaning that two air together in a half-hour timeslot during Playhouse Disney blocks of the Disney Channel. Five episodes are
presented on this rescue-themed disc, which results in three not being paired with the same one they originally aired with. Also, rather than provide the individual closing credits, a new set of combined credits were made that played after the fifth episode, "A Really Hot Day." Likewise, the opening credits ("Here in Higglytown", performed by They Might Be Giants) is only available at the start of the first episode, "Balloon-A-Palooza", though each episode does have a short title card with the episode name.

"Balloon-A-Palooza" (Originally Aired June 16, 2006)
Wayne and Twinkle's Great Aunt Shirley (Gayle Goehl) visits Higglytown and takes the children and Fran on a hot-air balloon ride, but they get stranded on the mountain. Conveniently, there are Mountain Rescue Heroes (Michael T. Weiss) present who help them get back to Higglytown.

"Wayne's Day Out" (Originally Aired June 16, 2006)
Kip's dad Fripp takes the children and Fran to the Higglytown Craft Fair. In the middle of the crowds at the fair, Wayne gets separated from everyone else! It's up to Police Heroes (Katey Sagal and Mathew St. Patrick) to help the Higglytown kids find each other and learn about what to do if one of them is lost.

The children learn to hold hands and Higgly-Check in "Wayne's Day Out." Katey Sagal voices Policewoman Hero, who brings along Jiffy the Police Dog Hero to help the children find a missing hot dog cart in "Smells Like a Mystery."

"Smells Like a Mystery" (Originally Aired October 25, 2004)
The Higglytown children are cleaning the hot dog cart for Kip's dad Fripp, but suddenly it turns up missing! Policewoman Hero returns with Jiffy the Police Dog Hero to help them find the missing cart.

"A Really Hot Day" (Originally Aired July 19, 2005)
It's a really hot day in Higglytown, and to cool off, the kids and Fran decide to go swimming. They learn the importance of having a Lifeguard Hero (Phil Lamarr) on watch and proper pool and swimming safety.

"Kip Joins the Circus" (Originally Aired May 8, 2005)
The circus comes to Higglytown, inspiring the Higglytown Kids to put on their own show at the Fricky-Frack Funhouse. But a rainstorm and a lightning bolt sets the Fricky-Frack Funhouse on fire! Who should come to the rescue, but the Fireman Hero (Donald Faison, "Scrubs")!

VIDEO and AUDIO

Framed in 1.33:1 fullscreen, I couldn't find many problems with the video. It's a very bright and colorful show, and the simple CGI animation used is pleasing on the eyes. There is a degree of softness throughout the episodes; the picture isn't quite as sharp as that of more detailed CGI like, say, The Incredibles. But the animation for Higglytown is not striving to be a cinematic masterpiece, its primary focus lie more in providing an entertaining and educational environment.

Audio comes through Higglytown in Dolby Surround, in both English and Spanish. It's nothing to write home about, and is a rather standard mix that doesn't merit any complaints or praise. Also, I learned that "fear-o" in Spanish is "miedo." Not quite as exciting, but still hilarious.

JoJo is either laughing or clutching her stomach in hunger in bonus "JoJo's Circus" episode "A Clown Ride." The Higglytown children stare at the rotating sun and a small blimp that just went away in the "To The Rescue" main menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, and MISCELLANEOUS

While it would be fun to see an interactive game or some Hero Profiles, all that's offered is an episode of another Playhouse Disney show, "JoJo's Circus." The episode, "A Clown Ride" clocks in at 13 minutes, and is fairly bland, featuring JoJo getting ready for her first ride on a horse. Being a fan of Wallace & Gromit,
I do enjoy the use of claymation, but the series doesn't seem as engaging as "Higglytown Heroes." It does invite a bit of interactivity with the viewers (JoJo asks "Can you gallop like a horse?" and is followed by a song about it), but falls short of being truly entertaining. A short TV spot plays before and after the program, advertising its website.

For those not old enough or too lazy to handle a remote control, FastPlay is included and makes this a hands-free DVD viewing experience. Well, it's nearly hands-free as somebody has to put the disc in the player! With handy-dandy FastPlay, we'll get the sneak peeks first, of course.

The bright and active menus are 16x9-enhanced, animated, and accompanied by an instrumental version of the theme song. Putting the disc in the player goes straight to the FastPlay Menu, where you'll start with trailers. It opens with promos for the much-anticipated Peter Pan: Platinum Edition, the oft-retitled Disney Princess Enchanted Tales: A Kingdom of Kindness, and more Playhouse Disney fun by way of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Mickey's Great Clubhouse Hunt and Little Einsteins: The Legend of the Golden Pyramid. From the "Sneak Peeks" option on the main menu, one also finds the trailer for Meet the Robinsons, as well as DVD previews for Disney Learning Adventures: Good Day, Good Night and Time to Rhyme, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh: Friendship Edition, Cinderella III: A Twist in Time, and a general promotional spot for Disney's "Little Einsteins."

According to the Disney Movie Rewards site, this DVD should carry 75 points, meaning there should be a booklet with the rewards code to get those points. While the concurrently released Higglytown Heroes: Heroes on the Move DVD did contain said booklet, mine was missing. It's not worth anything to me, but if initial copies are indeed missing the rewards code, it's something of a loss to a consumer who was 75 points closer to a reward.

Nudity...Playhouse Disney Style. The show-stopping finale of "Balloon-A-Palooza" finds one of the Mountain Rescue Heroes (voiced by Michael T. Weiss) saves the young leads.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Having been part of the PBS generation, the children's programming during my formative years consisted of the essentials: "Sesame Street", "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood", "Reading Rainbow", "Square One", "3-2-1 Contact." Of those five, only three still air, and only two produce new episodes. Compared to "Higglytown Heroes", my shows were far less interactive and had a more structured narrative. There exists a healthy balance of interaction and narration in "Higglytown Heroes", along with comical and clever songs and situations. I can see why it's popular and hope it has a long and healthy run on Playhouse Disney. The DVD offers five fun adventures in Higglytown, along with a so-so episode of "JoJo's Circus", and is sure to get several spins on the DVD player, at least until the next DVD comes out.

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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: On the Move A Very Playhouse Disney Holiday Bear in the Big Blue House: Storytelling with Bear
Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Mickey Saves Santa and Other Mousektales Under the Umbrella Tree: Volume 1
Little Einsteins: Team Up for Adventure JoJo's Circus: Take a Bow! JoJo's Circus: Animal A Go-Go
Playhouse Disney: Imagine and Learn with Music (CD) Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Songs From and Inspired by The Hit TV Series (CD)
"Little Einsteins": Mission Celebration! Stanley's Dinosaur Round-Up Bear in the Big Blue House: Early to Bed, Early to Rise
The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Other Stories Disney Learning Adventures: Winnie the Pooh - Shapes and Sizes
Voice Cast and Guest Stars:
Edie McClurg: Cars | Frankie Ryan Manriquez: That's So Raven: Disguise the Limit | Liliana Mumy: The Santa Clause 2
Rory Thost: Phil of the Future: Gadgets & Gizmos | Jim Wise: The Even Stevens Movie
Kevin Michael Richardson: Leroy & Stitch | Donald Faison: Scrubs: Season 4

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

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Reviewed January 22, 2007.