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Summer Magic DVD Review

Summer Magic Movie Poster Summer Magic

Theatrical Release: July 7, 1963 / Running Time: 109 Minutes / Rating: G

Director: James Neilson

Cast: Hayley Mills (Nancy Carey), Burl Ives (Osh Popham), Dorothy McGuire (Margaret Carey), Deborah Walley (Cousin Julia Carey), Una Merkel (Mariah Popham), Eddie Hodges (Gilly Carey), Michael J. Pollard (Digby Popham), Peter Brown (Tom Hamilton), James Stacy (Charles Bryant), Jimmy Mathers (Peter Carey), O.Z. Whitehead (Mr. Perkins), Wendy Turner (Lallie Joy Popham), Harry Holcombe (Henry Lord), Hilda Plowright (Mary)

Songs: "Summer Magic", "Flitterin'", "Beautiful Beulah", "The Ugly Bug Ball", "The Pink of Perfection", "On the Front Porch", "Femininity"


Summer Magic opens with two pieces of information. The "Place" we're told is "Boston", the "Time" is given as "Rag." For those whom that second bit requires clarification, the film is set in the early 20th century. Little time is wasted in establishing the premise. Middle-aged widow Margaret Carey (Dorothy McGuire) and her three children must bid farewell to their life of luxury in the big city. They head off for the small country town of Beulah, Maine. This relocation, though the central action of the film, occurs quickly. This enables Summer Magic to use most of its running time leisurely exploring the Carey family's adaptation to country life and development amidst simpler surroundings.

Hayley Mills receives top billing and the largest chunk of screen time as the eldest Carey child, teenaged Nancy, who inexplicably retains Mills's British accent. Gilly Carey (Eddie Hodges), is the older son and designated piano player, who is reluctant to abandon their urban home and move to the country. Meanwhile, Peter (Jimmy Mathers) is the young'un and he doesn't have to think or worry too much, for he's primarily comic relief and is game for the new environment.

Summer Magic, which is adapted from Kate Douglas Wiggin's 1911 book Mother Carey's Chickens, does not play its setup for fish-out-of-water comedy nor does it even seek radical developments to further the plot. Instead, it allows its audience to get familiar with its characters and then proceeds with a domestic drama composed of a series of subplots, each carried out at a comfortably slow pace.

The Carey family sings a song after deciding to move to Maine. Digby (Michael J. Pollard) drives the family to their new home.

The Careys move into an old yellow house at no cost of their own. That's because Beulah's postmaster and general store manager Osh Popham (Burl Ives) says it's okay and in the absence of the house's landlord, his word carries the most weight. Osh supposedly is in regular correspondence with the home's owner Mr. Hamilton, but one soon gathers that Hamilton is not returning anytime soon and doesn't appear to be particularly concerned with the matter.

With some help from Osh, the family manages to renovate the home as much as they can. Little triumphs and melodramas hold our attention meanwhile. Peter sneakily updates his "sissy" Boston haircut after being picked on by some local boys. Gilly inherits the job of chauffeur after Osh's son Digby (a very young Michael J. Pollard) decides to leave town and finally see the city. Filling in the film's animal quotient is Sam, a large sheepdog which Peter haphazardly acquires.

Though unremarkable as the "adventures" may seem, you're much too absorbed in the atmosphere and characters to notice. To liven things up, there are songs. Like most Disney songs of the '60s, these were written by the dynamic songwriting siblings known as Richard and Robert Sherman. Of the seven numbers, a majority seems forgettable, although those performed by jolly Burl Ives are surely catchy, especially "The Ugly Bug Ball" (which makes use of True Life Adventures footage of insects). "Flitterin'", the song the family sings when deciding to move North, has been adopted by the Main Street USA section of Disneyland.

For a film that so deftly moves at such a slow clip, one does not particularly detect a stagnancy or yearn for something to change the course of events. But change does occur when word reaches the Careys that Cousin Julia (Deborah Walley) will be living with them. Julia seems universally unliked and unwanted before she is even introduced, which makes the cold welcome that Nancy and company dole out seem a bit mean-spirited. But the snobbish Julia poses a threat when a handsome young schoolmaster (James Stacy) takes a liking towards her, not Nancy, at a Sunday gathering put together by the two equally enchanted girls.

Is three a crowd? Nancy and Julia have their eyes set on the same young schoolteacher. Osh (Burl Ives) has a talk with Peter, who's suspiciously sporting a new 'do.

Still, all is soon forgiven. Even when things change, they seem to revert to their previous state to everyone's content. Digby returns, humbled by the city, but he lets Gilly keep the driving job. Meanwhile, Nancy and Julia work together to school Osh's shy young daughter Lallie Joy (Wendy Turner) on the arts of dressmaking and being feminine for the Halloween Homecoming dance.

There's a surprise ending of sorts, though one you might see coming. But on the whole, life in Beulah seems blissfully uneventful and marked by amusing episodes which are often harmlessly resolved. After all, any film which spends its first ten minutes on saying goodbye to an old piano and hello to a new one cannot be too concerned with challenging viewers or keeping them enthralled.

The enduring image of Summer Magic is Burl Ives strumming his guitar on the porch to his generally pleased company, who all begin to sing along with him. They're not overflowing with joy or excitement, and neither is the viewer, but all are having a nice time. For a film which treads so little new ground, Summer Magic is ultimately rather sweet. It shuns the typical cinematic structure of conflict and resolution, instead basking in a simple small-town setting that conjures up nostalgia. Hayley Mills is, as always, fun to watch (she received a Golden Globe nomination for this one) and Ives simply oozes with warmth. With its scenes of croquet, fall dances with big dresses, and gathering around the piano for a song, Summer Magic is a relaxing trip down memory lane. This cozy family drama may be too gentle for unsuspecting modern audiences, but for those who know it, it still goes down nice and smooth like lemonade on a warm summer's day.

Buy Summer Magic from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.75:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital Mono (English, Spanish)
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned
Release Date: May 3, 2005
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
White Keepcase

VIDEO and AUDIO

Surprise! Summer Magic is presented in its original 1.75:1 widescreen aspect ratio and has been enhanced for 16x9 televisions. This is only the second catalogue Disney DVD of 2005 to offer widescreen support, but it at least makes sense that such proper treatment is bestowed upon one of the most popular titles.

The video benefits from the higher resolution of an anamorphic transfer. It's not flawless and not as pristine as the fully-remastered Vault Disney / Special Edition releases, but by and large, the DVD exhibits strong picture quality. The print is pleasantly clean, though sometimes prey for grain. Fleshtones are as present as anything else, and so one notices that they don't like entirely natural. But the print is satisfactorily sharp and detailed. With a bit more effort, Summer Magic could have looked wonderful, but it's easy to settle for this good anamorphic widescreen presentation since so few titles in Disney's catalogue are met with it anymore.

The film is offered in a Dolby Digital Mono track, and like most of the catalogue titles, it doesn't present a state-of-the-art sound mix but it also is not noticeably weak in this department. The audio does seem flat at times, particularly in certain patches of dialogue. Musical sequences fare much better, whether they boast the soothing vocals of Burl Ives or the exuberance of young Hayley Mills. The entire track seems to be on the low side, but the dynamics were consistent. Find the right volume from the start, and there's no need to adjust throughout. On the whole, short of artificial tinkering and remixing, the DVD delivers the film's soundtrack with the type of quality you'd expect.

"Summer Magic"'s Main Menu Having taught Lallie Joy all about "Femininity", Nancy and Julia send her off to her date.

BONUS FEATURES and DESIGN

The disc opens with that minute-and-a-half promo for vintage live action films on Disney DVD. It's in need of an update, although so few of the numerous catalogue DVDs released in the past 18 months have come equipped with great bonus features the way the advertised titles mostly have.

Anyway, why am I saying so much about the trailer at the start of the disc? Well, that's all there is to talk about on Summer Magic when it comes to bonus features. Hayley Mills fans have been given two extremes on Disney DVD: the fully-loaded widescreen Vault Disney sets for the actress's first two films Pollyanna and The Parent Trap and barebones fullscreen discs for later works like In Search of the Castaways, The Moon-Spinners, and That Darn Cat!. Summer Magic would fall into that latter class, but as discussed earlier, it's presented in its original widescreen aspect ratio. So maybe that stroke of luck merits more celebration, because the absence of an original trailer or new supplements does not.

The 16x9 menus on this DVD take a simple approach, shunning animation and background music. Instead, the screens utilize a low-key, alternating colors vertical-line design, with tiny pictures of four characters adorning the Main Menu and a small shot of Hayley Mills attached to the Set Up menu.

Mother Carey and her daughter (but no chickens) appreciate the house that Osh lets them stay in. Sam the Snowman graces us with a tune.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Summer Magic is a gentle, old-fashioned Disney drama, complete with familiar faces (most notably, Hayley Mills) and Sherman Brothers songs. Its simplicity and slow pacing keep it from holding up as well as some of the studio's other works from this period, but fans of the film will be glad to see its comfortable appeal is still there, just as sure as Burl Ives' goatee is. This barren DVD seems a bit anticlimactic after such a long wait, but on the plus side, it's one of the few catalogue discs Disney's released that retains the original widescreen aspect ratio. That alone makes it easier to recommend.

More on the DVD

Related Reviews:
New to DVD: In Search of the Castaways (1962)
Hayley Mills: Pollyanna (1960) The Moon-Spinners (1964)
Dorothy McGuire: Old Yeller (1957) Swiss Family Robinson (1960)
Deborah Walley: Bon Voyage! (1962)
Eddie Hodges: The Happiest Millionaire (1967)
Directed by James Neilson: The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin (1967)

The Book: Mother Carey's Chickens by Kate Douglas Wiggin

UltimateDisney.com | Review Index | Classic Live Action (1941-1979) Films Page | May 2005's Disney DVDs

Reviewed April 30, 2005.

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