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Schoolhouse Rock!: Earth DVD Review

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Program & DVD Details

Executive Producer: George Newall / Producer: Radford Stone / Director of Animation: Phil Kimmelman / Creators: Tom Yohe, George Newall, David McCall

Music Director: Bob Dorough / Music and Lyrics: George Newall, Lynn Ahrens, Bob Dorough, Sean Altman, Barry Carl, Andy Brick, George Stiles, Anthony Drewe, Bob Kurtz, Jack Johnson / Vocals: Bob Dorough, Jack Sheldon, Lynn Ahrens, Val Hawk, Vicki Doney, Nancy Reed, Bob Kaliban, Barry Carl, Sean Altman, Luther Rix, Eric Weissberg, Elliott Kerman, Tituss Burgess, Inna Dukach, Jon Spurney, Patti Rothberg, Eric Booker, George Stiles, Shoshana Bean, Barrett Foa, Matthew Nardozzi, Mitchel Musso

Designers: Tom Yohe, Phil Kimmelman, Bob Kurtz, Candy Kugel, Bill Peckmann, Philip Pignotti, Jack Sidebotham, David Wachtenheim / Animators: Vincent Bell, Howard Basis, Kurtz & Friends, Buzzco, 8 Hats High Animation, Paul Kim, Lew Gifford, W/M Animation, Michael Sporn Animation

Running Time: 45 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated
1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish; Closed Captioned
DVD Release Date: March 31, 2009 / Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5) / White Keepcase

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Has anything in the history of television been more effective and entertaining than "Schoolhouse Rock!" at teaching grade school topics to youths? Maybe not. So the idea of ABC making more of their musical, animated, educational shorts should excite. But then you consider that the series hasn't been fully active in over twenty years. If that's not enough to give you pause, then perhaps the subject matter should.

In case you can't guess from the title Schoolhouse Rock! Earth, this new direct-to-DVD revival centers on the environment, that often preached-about universal cause that many have unfortunately lost sight of. Would the nostalgia-oozing brand so fondly remembered by children of the '70s, '80s, and '90s become just another player in Corporate America's typically hypocritical and PR-driven push to "go green"? With some trepidation, I went to find out.

Arctic polar bears Jack, Bob, and Lou, plus their friend the ace cub reporter, show their love for planet Earth with big bear hugs. The Trash Can Band -- Box, Can, and Bottle -- teaches viewers how to dispose of household items that may resemble them. Just recycle, ya turkey!

Earth exhibits no restraint in promoting its plainly commendable pro-planet agenda. Whereas the old Schoolhouse Rock cartoons educated on subjects pertaining to math,
grammar, American history, science, the economy, and technology, this new program disregards anything but encouraging young people to be good to the place that houses life and the ecosystem that keeps it running.

Clocking in at 45 minutes, the presentation consists of 13 songs, 11 of them never-before-heard creations set to animation. We also get one classic song/short and a new twist on an old favorite that elevates a tween-friendly Disney Channel "crossover star" pop music video to live-action finale.

Serving as hosts for this outing are Jack, Bob, and Lou, a trio of Arctic polar bears who briefly set up each number with some kindred banter. Excluding the bears' intros (easy to do with the Songs selection menu, which replaces them with title cards), the songs here uphold the line's 3-minute standard.

Even an ordinary family like Mr. Morton, his son Norton, his cat Orton, and his wife Pearl can help out, as seen in "The Little Things We Do." You haven't lived until you've been told to conserve water by doo-wop group Dewey Drop and the Drips.

"Report from the North Pole"
Our polar bear hosts sing of the dangers of global warming, while their cub reporter learns how other bears around the world are affected.

"The Little Things We Do"
Mr. Morton (of 1993 Grammar Rock "The Tale of Mr. Morton") and his family demonstrate how energy can be saved with some simple actions.

"The Trash Can Band"
Box, Bottle, and Can of the All-American Trash Can Band advocate reducing, reusing, and -- you guessed it -- recycling, with a special appearance by Dolly Carton.

"You Oughta Be Savin' Water"
Dewey Drop and the Drips, a doo-wop group consisting of a hip drop of water and his three backup singers, tell us about a number of ways you can conserve water.

If you don't save The Rainforest, how will creepy frogs stay refreshed? Fat Cat Blue has both a message and a surprise in "The Clean Rivers Song."

"The Rainforest"
The disc's least typical cartoon uses a '90s world music sound
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the songs of Schoolhouse Rock Earth:
and stylized animation to explain why the rainforest needs protecting.

"Save the Ocean"
Aquatic creatures who like to spell urge us to save the ocean, with some rapping assistance from a walrus and turtle.

"FatCat Blue: The Clean Rivers Song"
Fat Cat Blue (a relative of Multiplication Rock's Naughty Number Nine?) sheds light on sources of water pollution.

"A Tiny Urban Zoo"
This Broadway-sounding ditty celebrates the joy of planting a small garden in your backyard.

"The Energy Blues"
The one vintage creation resurfacing here, this 1978 cartoon features an anthropomorphic Earth (also seen briefly in the new polar bear intros and claiming prime cover art placement) who encourages energy conservation with a short historical perspective.

Interplanet Janet has taken an unusual interest in Solar Power on Earth. Windy looks down upon this gas-guzzling Dad but smiles at kite-wielding children in "Windy and the Windmills."

"Solar Power to the People"
Interplanet Janet (of the great, eponymous 1978 Science Rock short) is excited by the possibility of using solar power to fuel life on Earth.

"Windy and the Windmills"
Another logical energy source -- wind power -- is extolled by a cloud of wind and some kites.

"Don't Be a Carbon Sasquatch"
Giving us some of that old Schoolhouse Rock hyperbole, this piece tells us how we can leave a carbon footprint that isn't Yeti-sized.

"The Three Rs"
In this closing music video, "Hannah Montana" sidekick Mitchel Musso covers a Jack Johnson Curious George soundtrack song that turns the beloved "Three Is a Magic Number" into an anthem about reducing, reusing, and recycling. While the video practices what it preaches by reusing a 36-year-old song and recycling clips from this DVD's new shorts, it fails to demonstrate reducing despite the perfectly viable target that is Musso's overly shaggy hair. I don't think he'll win any new fans with this.

Boy and man try to figure out how to reduce their Sasquatch-sized carbon footprint. Three was a more magical number before I watched Mitchel Musso's "Three Rs" video turning it into a pitch for reducing, reusing, and recycling.

The nice thing about Schoolhouse Rock! Earth is that Disney's "original creators" claim is true. The voices familiar from your favorite SHR songs -- Jack Sheldon ("I'm Just a Bill", "Conjunction Junction"), Lynn Ahrens (the original "Interplanet Janet"), and Bob Dorough ("Three is a Magic Number") -- indeed lend their writing and vocal talents to these new creations. And though they're currently in their 60s, 70s, and 80s, they sound and think just as you remember them. Most of the nearly twenty credited performers
who supplement them are new to the series but adept at embracing the established stylings. (I'm not considering Musso part of this class.)

The program also remains faithful to the line visually. The animation here is cleaner, smoother, and in the widescreen format, but if not for those evident facts, you could mistake all the cartoons but "The Rainforest" for being 2-3 decades old (in a good way). Goofy-looking humans and anthropomorphic animals are still fine song subjects and they're adequately used per simple, repetitive tradition.

Where the disc disappoints is the subject matter. It's not that environmentalism is unimportant; as far as the human race is concerned, it's sort of a bigger deal than multiplication and parts of speech. But informative and substantial though they may be, the messages conveyed here amount to one-track preaching. The didactic methods might be somewhat lost on kids who have little power or say in many of the areas covered. Even if the knowledge should be absorbed on some level, being lectured for 45 minutes on saving water, electricity, and therefore the world is nowhere near as much fun as the old Schoolhouse Rock works, whose quirky stories became mnemonic devices refreshing or clarifying a classroom topic.

This seemingly eyeless gardener seems really happy to have given insects a home in his backyard's "Tiny Urban Zoo." These darn lumberjacks denude the forest in the disc's lone vintage/windowboxed short, "The Energy Blues."

In that sense, this may have worked better as a Saturday morning television special than as a commercial product. Sure, the songwriters, animators, and network will be more fully compensated this way, but the program comes across as something that should be finding people and not asking to be purchased alongside the new "Hannah Montana" DVD. As a persuasive piece of entertainment, Earth may be much more exciting than An Inconvenient Truth but it is far less memorable than 1990's masterful anti-drug special Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue.


As it should, the DVD presents the new animation in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen (the case mistakenly gives a 1.66:1 aspect ratio) with perfectly satisfactory clarity and sharpness. Say goodbye to the shortcuts and anomalies of the vintage Schoolhouse Rock cartoons because you won't find them here outside of "The Energy Blues" (which is windowboxed to 1.33:1). Suggesting the disc uses fewer bits than it should, you may notice some ringing and other minor compression artifacts on large displays or close computers.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is crisp and lively, making use of the surrounds in creative ways that don't detract from the musical format. You may not appreciate the mix's potency until it is contrasted with the quiet, simple sound of the older number.

The Polar Bears appear among snowy mountains as part of the animated main menu. The song selection menu not only gives you the chance to jump to a specific number, it also replaces the polar bear intros with a simple title card.


Since the Mitchel Musso music video is played as the end of the feature, there are no bonus features of any kind found here. Gee, with the 2.77 GB that the disc's content takes up,
there definitely wasn't room for any of the 50 or so vintage "Schoolhouse Rock" songs to be included. Oh wait, there was. But then if you buy this, you must already have the 30th Anniversary set and all that it contains.

The reassembling of the original creators and musicians would seem to lend itself to a parent-oriented featurette establishing the upheld legacy, but I would guess that such a thing is being saved for the inevitable new complete collection that this disc necessitates.

The FastPlay-enhanced disc loads with promos for Disney, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Earth, "Handy Manny": Manny's Green Team, "My Friends Tigger & Pooh": Tigger & Pooh and a Musical Too, and Disney Movie Rewards. The Sneak Peeks menu adds the post-feature ads for "Hannah Montana": Keeping it Real, "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse": Mickey's Big Splash, Disney XD, Princess Protection Program, the Dadnapped/Hatching Pete Double Feature, and Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure.

The main menu moves from one natural setting to another, showcasing characters from the feature while sampling a pleasant folksy score. The few other menus are not animated, save for the long-to-load Sneak Peeks menu.

Logical though it may have been, no WALL•E-type ecological stunt has been pulled for this DVD's packaging. Earth is housed in a standard white plastic keepcase. The studio's current paper/cost conservation practice continues, however; the only insert is a Disney Movie Rewards code/promotion.

Polar bears Jack, Lou, and Bob cling to an iceberg that global warming threatens in their "Report from the North Pole." The cast of "Save the Ocean" come together for the final verses of the song. No one tells them they forgot the "the."


Schoolhouse Rock! Earth does an admirable job of recreating the winning line's sensibilities, from the catchy lyrics and varied musical styles to the visuals and sense of humor. Unfortunately, the environmental design doesn't merit too much fun.
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The educational value is strong but different and not as applicable to the classroom. The disc is also pretty slim, especially compared to all that the 30th Anniversary Schoolhouse Rock set provides at the same price. Diehard SHR fans, particularly those with kids, may find their curiosity too piqued not to buy this DVD. But it really strikes me as a one-time viewing worth renting or borrowing from your local library. It's something that'd make a worthy addition to a new complete collection of the series, but I'd be shocked if today's children are delighted to revisit these shorts a few decades from now.

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Reviewed March 24, 2009.