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Happy Haunting: Party at Disneyland Sing Along Songs DVD Review

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Sing Along Songs DVD Details

Director: Greg Gold

Running Time: 31 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated / Video Debut: August 25, 1998

Song List: "It's Halloween", "Five Little Pumpkins", "Grim Grinning Ghosts", "Chicken Lips and Lizard Hips", "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" (a.k.a. "The Headless Horseman"), "Five Little Witches", "Spooky Scary Skeletons", "Casting My Spell", "Trick or Treat", "Monster Mash"

1.33:1 Fullscreen, Dolby Digital Stereo (English)
Subtitles: English (Enhanced for Hearing Impaired); Closed Captioned
DVD Release Date: September 5, 2006
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)
Suggested Retail Price: $14.99
White Keepcase with Side Snaps

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This December marks the twentieth anniversary of the Disney Sing Along Songs video. That two-decade span seems substantial when viewed alongside current DVD lines like the collectible Walt Disney Treasures, the thrifty Classic Cartoon Favorites, or our beloved bi-yearly Platinum Editions, each of which has existed less than one-fourth as long. At the same time, a grand tribute hardly seems in order, since the Sing Along series has undergone vast change and largely faded away in recent years.

Once a viable way to promote the latest big animated Disney film in theaters (and an easy way to expand such a cinematic mega-event's hold on stores), the format grew weary as Disney's 2-D releases stopped being more than movies.
After a 5-year lapse (which reflected a shift in Disney's Feature Animation output), new volumes arrived alongside hardly-musicals Brother Bear and Home on the Range. Then, in 2005, Chicken Little marked not only a jump to CGI and a different type of filmmaking, but also a departure from the Sing-Along tie-in; its planned theatrical companion was scrapped.

Nonetheless, the Sing Along Songs format continues to live on in two ways: through the Disney Princess franchise and through untimely DVD debuts of old videocassette volumes. While the former thread seems to be winding down as direct-to-video sequels and non-princesses get tapped to fulfill an apparent 1-new-volume-a-year quota, the other source has a bit more life to it. Last week, Sing Along Songs: Happy Haunting - Party at Disneyland!, originally released in 1998, became the ninth pre-existing Sing Along title to make its way to DVD in the course of one year. An end is not yet in sight; more than a dozen titles in the series, long-discontinued on VHS, still have yet to resurface on disc.

"Werewolves of London"? You wish! Clockwise from left: The three children at the core of "Sing Along Songs: Happy Haunting": Sally (Rachel Ham), Zach (a young Tyler Hoechlin), and special little Sam (Isaiah Griffin).

While the earliest and newest Sing Along titles have been composed chiefly from recycled clips of Disney animated films,
Happy Haunting comes from a different and slightly more original mold. It is a descendant of the line "Mickey's Fun Songs" which soon came to be merged with the other Sing Along Songs titles. Quite simply, this means that Happy Haunting take its cues from "Barney & Friends" (among others) by mixing ordinary young children with full-sized costumed characters for song and dance sequences. Of course, fulfilling the Sing Along portion is the presence, as always, of animated on-screen lyrics. There is also a bit of the usual animated sampling in a few numbers. To sweeten the synergy, a theme park familiar to many becomes the locale, though if you can argue that volumes like Disneyland Fun, Beach Party at Walt Disney World, and Flik's Musical Adventure at Disney's Animal Kingdom are tantamount to for-sale advertising for their respective Disney Parks settings, it's harder to do so here, since Disneyland only prominently features in two places in this video, despite what the subtitle suggests.

As you can probably guess from the title and cover art, the release of this DVD is timed to coincide with the ever-expanding Halloween season (Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party kicks off tonight at Walt Disney World). Halloween figures largely in the brisk proceedings, as a group of kids join Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Goofy, and other prominent park personalities for some musical fun with the slightest tinge of spookiness. The gang supposedly gathers at the popular New Orleans Square attraction The Haunted Mansion, but once inside, they're really just in a generic filming-and-family-friendly haunted house.

Three children emerge as the central characters of this loosely-woven musical saga: Zach, an overacting, gelled-up boy of 11 or so (played by Tyler Hoechlin, who has since honed his skills as Tom Hanks' son in Road to Perdition and in a recurring role on "7th Heaven"); Sam (Isaiah Griffin), a chubby-cheeked little lisper who also likes overacting and seems to demand special attention; and Sally (Rachel Ham), a girl who dresses sort of like she's a teenager in the '50s despite probably being the median age of the trio. A mysterious voice calls upon them and the other kids to do certain things like look for pumpkins. The plot tends to be irrelevant; it exists mainly as an excuse to signal a transition to a new song number. Along the way, the three leads get their costumes, Merlin shows up, and the owner of the mysterious voice is uncovered. All of this unfolds in a fairly standard fashion, and seems driven by the belief that if served with a lot of enthusiasm, kids will gobble any video up.

Using the word "sarcophagus" and not touting "Builds Vocabulary" on the back of the case: priceless. Gawrsh! Goofy's going as a cowboy this Halloween.

As is par for the Sing Along DVDs in the "Mickey's Fun Songs" design, only two of the ten songs performed can be classified as classic "Disney songs", and while they are among the better melodies, they have needlessly been tinkered with for the purposes of this program. These two are "Grim Grinning Ghosts", a very weak reconfiguration of the catchy ride tune, and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow", a new recording of Brom Bones' cautionary ditty which is set to imagery from its original source, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.

The other brief numbers in the lineup range from original creations to twists on traditional children's songs, with a pair of new renditions of mid-20th century pop hits thrown in for good measure. Program-opener "It's Halloween" provides an elusive rhythm which is sure to challenge anyone trying to keep up with the lyrics. Happy Haunting deserves credit, at least, for consistently providing on-screen verses rather than selectively doing so as is the case with other Sing Along Songs volumes.

"Five Little Pumpkins" places the three young leads in an animated environment. The silly "Chicken Lips and Lizard Hips", adapted from John and Nancy Cassidy's well-known KidsSongs album, finds Goofy clad like a cowboy leading a sextet of young singers. "Five Little Witches" offers a spin on the nursery rhyme "Ten Little Indians", as a quintet of girls use makeup to transform themselves into (oddly enough) model-like witches. "Spooky Scary Skeletons" mixes what look like neon green puppets with scenes from the 1929 Silly Symphonies short "The Skeleton Dance." In the next-to-last piece on the disc, "Trick or Treat" takes the kids around Mickey's Toontown for, appropriately enough, trick-or-treating.

The 1952 Huey/Dewey/Louie short "Trick or Treat" is one of many Disney animated productions spotted in the "Casting My Spell" sequence. Tricking and/or treating in Mickey's Toontown comes to an end when Merlin has some magic for our three young leads.

Finally, there are the two aforementioned pop tunes. "Casting My Spell", the catchiest song on the disc is a new (ever-so-slightly reworded) recording of the late-'50s Johnny Otis hit "Castin' My Spell" set to an assortment of cartoon clips. The finale, "Monster Mash", allows a big guy in a mad scientist outfit to give a rousing rendition of the autumnal classic that was made famous by Bobby "Boris" Pickett in the early 1960s.

Ichabod and some vintage shorts like Huey, Dewey, and Louie's "Trick or Treat" are practically the only Halloween-themed animation Disney has given us, but no shortage of the studio's other cartoon fare is visually sampled and set to lyrics from various songs (mostly "Casting My Spell"), regardless of any connection to the fall holiday or even the macabre.
Among the works appearing are The Black Cauldron, Alice in Wonderland, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Great Mouse Detective, Aladdin, Fantasia, The Sword in the Stone, The Jungle Book, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Live action productions and live action/animation hybrids, even those which would seem more relevant inclusions, are nowhere to be found here.

It should be obvious why Disney made Sing Along Songs like Happy Haunting: this half-hour program was fairly cheap to produce (which it was done in association with commercial-maker Milk and Honey Films) and had no trouble attracting young viewers. The costumed Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck which appear on the front cover are enough to raise interest, especially in anyone familiar with these personalities from Disney's theme parks. Consider the company's traditionally stalwart retail presence and many outlets for promotion, and you realize losing money on a project like this was never even a remote possibility. Still, it is clear that some effort went into concepts and staging for this program, and even if it doesn't entirely jive or prove completely able to entertain older viewers, there are far worse ways to spend 30 minutes. There are also, however, far better ways to spend that time, and eight years later, this program holds up -- when viewed as one installment of the ongoing Sing Along series or a single-shot affair -- as an unspectacular work that should still satisfy those holding interest in such a thing.

If witches were little girls who did photo shoots, then I guess this would make sense. When it comes to providing visuals, any Disney cartoon is fair game, especially one that corresponds to the on-screen lyric.

VIDEO and AUDIO

The picture quality is pretty much what you'd expect for an 8-year-old direct-to-video presentation reissued on DVD. The aspect ratio remains 1.33:1 fullscreen. While the opening seems surprisingly grainy, this quickly gives way to a fine-looking program which makes use of the extra resolution DVD affords it.

In the audio department, this one shows even less effort than other VHS-to-DVD Sing Along Songs releases; it offers only a two-channel Dolby Digital Stereo track in English and no foreign language track. Remixing this to 5.1 the way other volumes were would not have yielded a great amount of difference. But you'd at least expect a Dolby Surround presentation for a sound-oriented, late-'90s production. Limited range is the Stereo track's only fault, however; there is no distortion or other drawback to the 2.0 mix.

"The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad" gets its due in the song "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow", which sadly replaces the original Bing Crosby vocals here. Another Sing Along Songs DVD means more golden notes bouncing on the Main Menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, and DESIGN

As is unfortunately to be expected, there are no bonus features found here. Though its trademarked name appears nowhere on the case, Disney's FastPlay is automatically summoned upon inserting the disc.

No insert is found in the case, which is a bit of a nuisance since the only way to follow along with the song titles is the back cover, and it does not list them as they appear in the program.
There is, however, an entry form for a sweepstakes to win a Disney Preschool DVD Library consisting of 25 titles of your choosing within the class that Sing Along Songs apparently belong to.

The animated main menu matches those of the eight other catalogue Sing Along discs released over the past year; gold musical notes bounce along sheet music lines featuring tiny images from the program against a background of a crystal ball which cycles through larger thematic graphics.

Sneak peeks at the beginning of the disc promote The Little Mermaid: Platinum Edition, Meet the Robinsons (anyone else already grown tired of this trailer?), Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Mickey Saves Santa & Other Mouseketales, and Disney Princess Enchanted Tales: A Kingdom of Kindness. After the program, FastPlay treats you to more promos for the next batch of Winnie the Pooh Disney Learning Adventures (Good Day, Good Night and Time to Rhyme), The Fox and the Hound: 25th Anniversary Edition, Cars, and "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse" on Playhouse Disney. All of these ads are available from a dedicated menu, so those with the courage to use their remotes needn't feel excluded from the marketing blitz.

This Mickey isn't hidden. Sorcerer Mickey must have cast his spell on this big kid, who is doing the Mash... the Monster Mash!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

If you're looking for only one Sing Along Songs DVD to add to your collection, Happy Haunting is far from your best bet. Park footage is minimal, the selected songs and performances are hit-and-miss, the song setups are nothing special, and, at just eight years old, there's not even enough nostalgic value to forgive these somewhat commonplace faults of the series. As is the case for other VHS-spawned discs in this line, 30 minutes of content seems plenty sparse for the $14.99 list price; either a lower price tag or the inclusion of other Sing Along programs (several of which could easily fit on this disc, which, at 1.77 GB, may be the lightest Disney has ever given to stores) would have made this a far more appealing package. As it is, unless you're craving a tot-friendly, Halloween-flavored musical DVD or insist on owning every Disney DVD on the market, you would do fine to pass on this in favor of Disneyland Fun, Beach Party at Walt Disney World, or even many of the recycled-film-clips Sing Along compilations.

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Related Reviews:
Sing Along Songs: Disneyland Fun - It's a Small World (1990) Sing Along Songs: Flik's Musical Adventure at Disney's Animal Kingdom (1999)
Halloweentown & Halloweentown II: Kalabar's Revenge - Double Feature (1998, 2001) Halloweentown High (2004)
The Haunted Mansion (2003) Pooh's Heffalump Halloween Movie (2005) Mickey's House of Villains (2002)
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949) Walt Disney Treasures: Silly Symphonies
Sing Along Songs: Campout at Walt Disney World (1994) Sing Along Songs: Beach Party at Walt Disney World (1995)
Disneyland Resort: Happiest Homecoming on Earth (2005) A Musical History of Disneyland (6-CD Box Set)
The Watcher in the Woods (1981) Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983) Hocus Pocus (1993) Escape to Witch Mountain (1975)
Sing Along Songs: The Bare Necessities - The Jungle Book (1988) Sing Along Songs: Pongo & Perdita - 101 Dalmatians (1996)

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Reviewed September 15, 2006.