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January 2007 Reviews

The new year means catching up on video releases that swamped store shelves during the holidays, yielding a veritable smorgasbord of treats. The December bumper crop issued by Walt Disney Home Entertainment weighed anchor with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, Johnny Depp’s mega-successful pirate flick and the second salvo in the yo-ho-ho trilogy set for its grand finale next summer. The PG-13 outing is available in single- and double-disc packages.

Also on the shelves from Disney, Air Buddies (G) is the umpteenth sequel to 1997’s Air Bud, this time with a squadron of chatty pups who ask the inevitable question, “Where’s the fire hydrant?” Patrick Swayze and Reba McEntire lend their voices to The Fox and the Hound 2 (G), a direct-to-video sequel to the 1981 cartoon, which was hailed in its time as a return to old-school Disney basics. And a pair of Disney Channel TV movies, The Cheetah Girls 2 with Raven Symone and a “remix edition” of High School Musical, will surely be embraced by tween-age fans.

The Mouse House continues to plumb the archives for material to be included in the collectible Walt Disney Treasures tins of two-disc DVD sets. The recent excavation features More Silly Symphonies of early cartoon shorts; a second volume of The Complete Pluto; the 1950s serial The Hardy Boys culled from the old Mickey Mouse Club show; and Your Host, Walt Disney, featuring the famed animator-mogul from his Disneyland TV series. And a new “legacy collection” series features four volumes of True-Life Adventures, a batch of nature documentaries from 1948 to 1960. Speaking of legacy, however, the DVDs for the classics Bambi and Lady and the Tramp, as well as the recent Lady and the Tramp 2 and the four-disc special edition of Chronicles of Narnia will be placed on indefinite moratorium starting Jan. 31.

For families who don’t mind that queasy feeling, How to Eat Fried Worms (New Line Home Entertainment; PG) is a surprisingly digestible kids comedy, with life lessons regarding tolerance and bullying, and a final screen credit proclaiming that no worm was harmed during production. For kids harboring a 007 jones, Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker (Genius Entertainment/Weinstein Company; PG) presents junior-grade espionage with hammy villainy (provided by Mickey Rourke) and flashy stunts. (At the very least, this movie got my 10-year-old daughter, Amy, to start reading the Stormbreaker books.) Mildly satiric jabs at celebrityhood punctuate Material Girls (MGM Home Entertainment; PG), with Hilary and Haylie Duff as wealthy but clueless sisters who quickly go from the penthouse to the poorhouse.

More traditional family-oriented fare comes with Lassie (Genius; G), a widescreen weepie with the collie attempting to reunite with her human family at Christmas. Barnyard (Paramount Home Entertainment; PG) is an udderly silly animated romp with voices by Kevin James and Sam Elliott. And Lost in the Woods: The Movie (Carl R. Sams II Photography) is an award-winning nature documentary about forest animals watching over a seemingly lost fawn. 

Just try and keep older couch potatoes away from the dance-crazy, separated-by-class teens of Step Up (Buena Vista Home Entertainment, PG-13). My Super Ex-Girlfriend (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment; PG-13) is a sometimes droll special-effects farce with caped crusader Uma Thurman exacting comic vengeance on her former boyfriend (Luke Wilson) who can’t put up with her smothering affection. Invincible (Disney; PG) has Mark Wahlberg suiting up as Philadelphia Eagles football player Vince Papale in this uplifting biography. And just like at the multiplexes last summer, Invincible will soon collide with Gridiron Gang (Sony; PG-13; Jan. 23), in which the Rock coaches a gaggle of youthful knuckleheads to provide some pigskin penance.

That’s not the greatest segue into January’s DVD releases. Nevertheless, it’ll be a month of plentiful cartoon features, topped by the vocal interplay between Martin Lawrence and Ashton Kutcher in Open Season (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment; PG; Jan. 30). A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, Vol. 5 (Warner; Jan. 9) offers a quartet of episodes from the TV series, while The Invincible Iron Man (Lionsgate; Jan. 23) is part of a continuing series of action-packed animated adventures from the Marvel Comics line. And Paramount’s Nickelodeon Home Entertainment fields a foursome of collections from the cable network’s popular kids series: Go, Diego, Go: The Great Jaguar Rescue! (Jan. 16); Avatar: The Last Airbender: Book 2, Vol. 1 (Jan. 23); Blue’s Room: Knights of the Snack Table (Jan. 30); and SpongeBob SquarePants Season 4 Vol. 2 (Jan. 9), with 20 episodes featuring the voice expertise of East Syracuse’s own Tom Kenny.

Disney Home Entertainment offers two releases on Jan. 16: That’s So Suite Life of Hannah Montana is a crossover conceit involving characters from the Disney Channel’s most popular sitcoms, while Read It and Weep has Kay and Danielle Panabaker fronting a cautionary tale of what happens when the contents of a teen’s diary are discovered. Rounding out January’s releases is One Night with the King (Fox Faith; PG; Jan. 23), which has nothing to do with Elvis or even Clark Gable, instead offering a religious epic with co-stars Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif. Thank heaven Mel Gibson isn’t the director.       


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