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Snowball Express DVD Review

Snowball Express

Theatrical Release: December 22, 1972 / Running Time: 93 Minutes / Rating: G

Director: Norman Tokar

Cast: Dean Jones (Johnny Baxter), Nancy Olson (Sue Baxter), Harry Morgan (Jesse McCord), Keenan Wynn (Martin Ridgeway), Johnny Whitaker (Richard Baxter), Michael McGreevey (Wally Perkins), Kathleen Cody (Chris Baxter), George Lindsey (Double L. Dingman), Mary Wickes (Miss Wigginton), David White (Mr. Fowler), Dick Van Patten (Mr. Carruthers), Alice Backes (Miss Oglevie)


All the elements are in place for an upbeat and likable family comedy riding on the comedic spark of Dean Jones. Jones appeared in a plethora of Disney comedies during the '60s and '70s and his goofy charm is as appealing and present in 1972's Snowball Express as any of them.

Johnny Baxter (Jones) is an employee of a dry Indemnity and Casualty firm in New York. Learning he has just inherited a Colorado hotel from the death of a distant great uncle, Baxter takes a moment and then quits in style, in a way that only Dean Jones could. This sets Snowball Express in motion, before the opening credits even roll.

So, Johnny and the Baxters head west, a family of four complete with wife (Nancy Olson, Sunset Boulevard, The Absent-Minded Professor), son (Johnny Whitaker, who appeared in The Biscuit Eater and Napoleon and Samantha for Disney the same year), and daughter (Kathleen Cody, Charley and the Angel, Superdad). They know not what to expect, but being that this is a Disney comedy, you just might be able to guess that the Grand Imperial hotel they inherited is not so grand; in fact, it's in complete disarray. There are raccoons in the oven, guppies in the water pipes, and cobwebs everywhere.

Dean Jones makes a grand exit from his thankless job in New York... ...and the Baxters head for Colorado!

Rather than giving up on what appears to be a lost cause, Johnny decides the family ought to try and restore things and open it as a great ski lodge which will draw people from all over the country. To do this, though, the Baxters need loans, and Johnny decides it best for him to pretend to be a ski buff. An avalanche in another part of town suddenly brings the Grand Imperial its first taste of business.

Some comic mishaps leave the Baxters again in need of money, but rather than pass the hotel onto banker Martin Ridgeway (Keenan Wynn) , who shows an unusually strong interest, Johnny thinks that just maybe a snowmobile race with monetary prize could be the answer. This race is shown, complete with action sequences and some amusing banter between Johnny and his sidekick, an oddball squatter (Harry Morgan). Ultimately, it leads to a sticky resolution, which probably overextends in its efforts to push logic behind the inevitable happy ending.

If a complaint can be lodged against the film, and it can be against many of the 'wacky Disney comedies' from this era, it's that Snowball Express goes a bit heavy on the physical stuff - stunt work and action sequences. They don't quite become tedious, but they're just not as personal and entertaining as the interplay among the characters. I think seeing a bit more of the family and the old hotel ruins, and a bit less of the snowy plummets, would have made the film even more funny and endearing. As it is, though, the film doesn't cease to be entertaining in a lighthearted way. It's even more amusing than many of the other comedies that the charismatic Jones headlined for the studio.

Buy Snowball Express from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.33:1 Reformatted Fullscreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English
Closed Captioned
Release Date: April 22, 2003
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99 (Was $22.99)
White Keepcase; No Insert

VIDEO and AUDIO

Like most other catalogue releases, Snowball Express is presented in 1.33:1 'fullscreen' on DVD. Though one can safely say that the film would have been theatrically exhibited in widescreen, one can also safely say that this appears to be an open matte transfer. As a result, there's no cropping on the sides, and instead excess space fills the top and bottom of the screen. While far less troubling than a severe pan-and-scan job, it's still disheartening that Disney has opted to release this film and so many others in ratios that don't match the theatrical presentation. Outside of the rare Vault Disney/Special Edition titles, the studio just about never gives catalogue releases the aspect ratio they were meant for.

The place needs a little work. But before you know it, Johnny Whitaker is wearing a bow tie and taking your order! Slow-witted neighbor Wally shows off his snowmobile, made from scraps.

The reformatting job is fortunately a somewhat minor complaint, since not only does the open matte framing appear okay, but the picture is surprisingly clean and sharp. However, Snowball is riddled with tiny artifacts throughout the presentation. It mars what would be an overwhelmingly satisfactory video transfer, but not enough to be more than a tiny nuisance. The colors are vibrant, and the scenic exteriors are clearly rendered on this DVD. The film exhibits a fresh quality that makes it awfully difficult to believe this film is over three decades old.

Though the back of the package and the DVD signal indicate that the film is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, it doesn't really feel like a 5.1 track. Nonetheless, it's an appropriately pleasing audio presentation. Dialogue and music are all perfectly discernible. The catchy score and snowmobile sound effects do make the soundtrack feel more lively than most other Disney comedies from the '60s and '70s. Though there isn't much speaker separation, or anything to convince you that it's 5.1, it's a solid sound mix for the film.

EXTRAS

There are no extras whatsoever on this disc. The menu screens are static 16x9 frames accompanied by the boisterous film score.

Whoa! It really looks like Dean Jones is skiing!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Snowball Express is a carefree and consistently entertaining family comedy. This can mostly be credited to another fine performance from Disney veteran Dean Jones, whose subdued and subtle charm elevates material which is somewhat formulaic. There is something so familiar and inviting about the simple Disney comedies from these days that I can't help but be delighted by seeing them for the first time. As can be said for the bulk of the live action films from the time, Disney's DVD release is disappointingly without extras or the original aspect ratio. Fortunately, video and audio quality are several notches above most other no-frills catalogue releases, which may make Snowball Express all the more alluring a purchase.

More on the DVD

UltimateDisney.com | Review Index | Live Action (Pre-1980) Films Page | Dean Jones on Disney DVD

Related Reviews
Directed by Norman Tokar: Those Calloways (1965) | Follow Me, Boys! (1966) | The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975)
Starring Dean Jones: Monkeys, Go Home! (1967) | Blackbeard's Ghost (1968) | The Love Bug (1969)
Starring Nancy Olson: Pollyanna (1960) | Starring Johnny Whitaker: The Biscuit Eater (1972)
1970s Films: Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971) | Robin Hood (1973) | Pete's Dragon (1977)

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