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Schoolhouse Rock! on DVD: Special 30th Anniversary Edition Election Collection Earth

Feature - 1973, 283 minutes, Disney; IMDb entry

Genre - Music, Animation

DVD - 1.33:1 fullscreen, Dolby Surround 2.0, Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1 (English), subtitles - English; 2 single-sided, dual-layered discs; $29.99 SRP, Released 8/27/02

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Review by Kelvin Cedeno

Feature - "Schoolhouse Rock" is one of those marvelous and brilliant ideas that feel so natural that one wonders why it wasn't thought of before. Many know what it is, and even those who don't at least recognize one of its two most popular songs: "Conjunction Junction" and "I'm Just A Bill." To those who are still puzzled or have an extremely vague memory, here is what the entire series is about.
Back in 1972, someone came up with the idea to put educational songs to animation as Saturday morning interstitials on the ABC network. The songs and segments covered grammar, American history, multiplication, science, and money. The show became a smash hit and became something of a pop sensation. The majority of adults today still remember this from their fond childhood days back in the '70s.

All 46 of the original "Schoolhouse Rock" songs are included on this 2-disc DVD, as well as a new song about the electoral college. They are divided into the aforementioned subjects and can be played individually, randomly, in order by subject, or in order in total.

Grammar Rock includes Unpack Your Adjectives; Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here; Conjunction Junction, Interjections!; Rufus Xavier Sarsasparilla, Verb: That's What's Happening, A Noun is a Person, Place, or Thing; Busy Prepositions, and the Tale of Mr. Morton. Arguably the most popular SHR song ever created, Conjunction Junction (along with Interjections!) is the best of this bunch and, as its title suggests, is about the use of conjunctions in a clever analogy using train carts.

Although all parts of the DVD claim that "Three is a Magic Number" from Multiplication Rock is the very first SHR song created, it seems Unpack Your Adjectives was the first one animated. Although the song itself is nice and easy listening
, the animation is extremely crude as is the coloring of the characters and seems very primitive.

Science Rock includes The Body Machine; Do the Circulation; Electricity, Electricity; The Energy Blues; Interplanet Janet; Telegraph Line; Them Not-So-Dry Bones; and A Victim of Gravity. Do the Circulation is this reviewer's personal favorite SHR ever in how it's one of the few SHR songs that makes you want to actually get up and dance. The song itself is about blood circulation, and features various characters dancing in motion to keep their blood moving; it's a very underrated song indeed.

Money Rock includes Dollars and Sense, $7.50 Once a Week, Where the Money Goes, Tax Man Max, Walkin' on Wall Street, This For That, Tyrannosaurus Debt, and The Check's in the Mail. All the songs in this section were made in the 80's/90's and unfortunately this is the worst SHR has to offer. The best song is Dollars and Sense (about a woman saving up to become a country star) and even that isn't very memorable. Apparently, other fans agree as not a single one of these songs appear in the top 10 SHR songs; Dollars and Sense appears in the top 20, but it's towards the bottom of the list.

Multiplication Rock includes My Hero, Zero; Elementary, My Dear; Three is a Magic Number; The Four-legged Zoo; Ready or Not, Here I Come; I Got Six; Lucky Seven Sampson; Figure Eight; Naughty Number Nine; The Good Eleven; and Little Twelvetoes. The song that started it all (Three is a Magic Number) is definitely the most memorable of the group, but this section, unlike the previous one, features many memorable and charming songs including Elementary, My Dear and Figure Eight. "Three" and "Eight" are the two most gentle and peaceful songs out the entire series which is a nice change from the usual rock, country, and blues songs that are synonymous with SHR.

America Rock includes No More Kings, Fireworks, The Shot Heard 'Round the World, The Preamble, Elbow Room, The Great American Melting Pot, Mother Necessity, Sufferin' Till Suffrage, I'm Just a Bill, and Three Ring Government. If Conjunction Junction isn't the most popular SHR song created, then I'm Just a Bill is, for many people who've never even heard of the series have heard this song from somewhere or someone. The song itself is a sad blues song about a bill explaining to a boy how bills become laws and how he wishes to be one. What makes this piece memorable the most is the voice of Jack Sheldon who sings as the voice of Bill. His deep, raspy voice sticks with one long after the song ends.

For this 30th anniversary DVD release (as well as the "Best Of" VHS), a new song was written by the original SHR creators as sung by the two most recognized voices of the series: Jack Sheldon (most remembered for I'm Just a Bill) and Bob Dorough (most remembered for Three is a Magic Number). The song (entitled I'm Gonna Send Your Vote to College) teaches about the electoral college by describing it as a school college where "everyone who graduates becomes the president." It's an extremely fun and catchy tune that's far more memorable than anything in the "Money Rock" series.

Video - "Schoolhouse Rock" is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, preserving its television ratio. Due to the fact that the songs spread through approximately three decades, the video quality is extremely diverse. In the older songs, print flaws such as speckles, flickering, and an occasional hair or two appear. Surprisingly, the flaws are actually pretty minor. Grain is virtually non-existent, sharpness is perfect and is never soft, and colors overall vivid and bright with no bleeding. The newer shorts, of course, look cleaner and more fresh, but the overall presentation is quite pleasing, though not jaw-dropping.

Audio - "Schoolhouse Rock"'s soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 (with the exception of the new song which is in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1). Like the video, "Schoolhouse Rock"'s audio quality varies with the shorts. Unlike the video, though, "Schoolhouse Rock"'s audio isn't quite as restored. This becomes extremely puzzling when one hears the music during the menus as they are surprisingly crisp and clear and don't sound their age. While watching the actual shorts, though, most of the shorts are muffled and definitely sound their age. The newer songs are more crisp and have more of an edge, but focus mainly on the center speakers while the older ones spread everywhere. It's puzzling that the restored tracks heard during the menus weren't used for the actual feature.

Extras - This 2-disc 30th Anniversary Edition of "Schoolhouse Rock" features numerous supplements that, like the songs themselves, are short and simple yet entertaining. Disc 1 features all 46 original SHR songs as well as the new song. As stated earlier, these can be viewed individually, or by having a "Play All" option for each section. If "The Whole Enchilada" is chosen, the viewer is given the option of "Mild" (plays the songs in order) or "Spicy" (shuffle mode). Also on disc 1 is the "Rockin' Top Ten Jukebox" which allows the viewer to select the top 10 SHR songs (as chosen by the fans at disney.com) in any order they wish, as well as how many times they wish each song to be played.

Disc 2 is where the supplements begin. First up is "The Weather Show."
This highly entertaining song about the weather (obviously) is actually edited. Apparently, Barnum & Bailey Circus filed a lawsuit against the creators for including the line "the greatest show on earth" in the song. Now when viewed, the song says "The Greatest Show" and is cut off by thunder. It would've been nice is some background information on this song was included for it's never explained why the song was "long lost." Surely the "greatest show" edit must've taken place long ago and if so, why wasn't the song included in the series after the edit was taken care of?

An extremely odd set of three songs is included featuring "Scooter Computer and Mr. Chips." These songs were obviously not written by the SHR staff for their lyrics are extremely ridiculous and odd at the same time. These songs are worth a look once to see how bizarre they are, but aren't something everyone is going to want to re-watch repeatedly. Even odder (possibly) is a 30 second Nike commercial. It features a sneaker hanging from a basketball hoop while "Three is a Magic Number" plays in the background. Get it? Neither did this reviewer.

Two games that are actually challenging appear on this disc. The "Earn Your Diploma" trivia game asks a set of questions from each SHR section that range from educational questions ("What year was the Constitution written?") to REAL trivia such as the color of a couch of the number of a group of characters. Unlike other Disney DVD trivia games, this one actually provides a real reward. The reward is an original song about presidential elections that was apparantly written for ABC's election coverage from whatever year (the video quality looks like it came from a VHS). It's a quick and breezy little song that isn't featured anywhere else on the disc which makes it a real treat. The second game is made up of three "Arrange-A-Song" puzzles. The songs are I'm Just a Bill, Conjunction Junction, and Three is a Magic Number. Each song is broken into clips. The clips must be matched in order to form the song. Failure to do so results in an amusing jumbled version of the song in the order selected.

"The Top 20 Countdown" features the top 20 SHR songs as chosen by fans. These can only be played in a shuffle mode. 10 of these songs are found elsewhere in the "audio commentaries" section. The creators of the show give fun trivia and insight into the shorts during the commentary and seem to really enjoy what they do. Although they're obviously pleased with SHR's success and popularity, they refrain from the usual "back slapping" commentaries found ever so often on other titles. Two featurettes appear on this disc as well. A featurette on the Emmy awards SHR has won includes footage from the Emmy shows as well as interviews with the creators. The second featurette is about the making of "I'm Gonna Send Your Vote to College." The first half of this featurette actually covers the history of SHR in general while the second half features rehearsal and recording footage for the new song. The challenge of creating SHR in general as well as creating the new song is discussed along with various tidbits along the way. It's a very light, breezy, yet entertaining featurette (and it's the only place on the entire DVD where Bob Dorough and Jack Sheldon's faces are actually seen).

Finally, four music videos are included. The songs are I'm Just a Bill performed by Deluxx Folk Implosion; Conjunction Junction by Better Than Ezra; My Hero, Zero by Lemonheads; and Electricity, Electricity by Goodness. The first three are simply just re-recordings put to the original SHR animation. The last one is done like a normal music video with footage of the band intercut with the original animation footage. None of these versions really stood out, though the version of I'm Just a Bill is hilarious due to the fact that Bill's voice is a purposely dead and annoyed monotone that contrasts the original raspy voice.

Some easter eggs appear, too. On disc 1 select "Set Up" and highlight the caricature of SHR creator Tom Yohe. This opens up a menu which contains a few doodles made by Yohe on his office papers and napkins, as well as a portrait of himself. On disc 2 select the light switch under the Emmy Awards Featurette to turn the lights off and see what happens to the skeleton from Them Not-So-Dry Bones.
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Next, select the water fountain under Audio Commentaries to flood the menu and see some new animation featuring the girl (and her turtle) from Unpack Your Adjectives as well as Noah from Elementary, My Dear.

All of the menus feature background music as well as narration by Bob Dorough who explains what's on the menu as well as how to play the two games. New animation has been created for whenever a selection is made, and in a nice touch, all of the bonus features contain subtitles for the hearing impaired.

Closing Thoughts - Schoolhouse Rock has become pure nostalgia for adults and great fun for kids. Not only are the tunes catchy, but they educate in the process. The 30th Anniversary DVD features varied video and audio quality, but the fact that it includes every SHR song ever created and contains a nice array of bonus material makes this a must buy for anyone who's even remotely interested in this series.

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Reviewed November 17, 2002.