- The Washington Times - Friday, November 14, 2008

Wall•E (Disney, $29.99 for DVD, $39.99 for three-disc DVD, $35.99 for two-disc Blu-ray, $40.99 for three-disc Blu-ray) — This Disney-Pixar animated film is, at its heart, a simple love story centering on two robots and told with hardly any words. The DVD release of the film is a lot more complicated than that.

Four different versions of “Wall•E” are coming out — five, if you count a two-disc Canadian French version. The single-disc edition contains the film and a small number of extras. The three-disc version contains those and quite a few more. The two-disc Blu-ray expands the extras to a mind-boggling amount. The three-disc Blu-ray has all of that plus a digital copy of the movie you can watch on your computer or portable device. (The three-disc DVD also contains a digital copy.)

They aren’t laid out in the most obvious way. The disc labeled “special features” doesn’t have them all — some also are on the disc that has the feature film. Likewise, the menus aren’t too helpful. Extras are listed under two categories: “Robots” and “Humans.” It wasn’t until I read the press release that I discovered the former is meant for families and the latter for older film buffs.

If you can make it through the menus, though, you’re in for a treat. Disney has rewarded this year’s top-grossing animated film (and 2008’s fifth-best-grossing film overall) with a nice collection of extras. There’s the usual audio commentary (with director Andrew Stanton, winner of the 2004 best-animated-film Oscar for his previous Pixar picture, “Finding Nemo”), deleted scenes and no fewer than seven making-of featurettes, which delve into the film about a robot who continues to clean a trash-filled Earth even after all humans have evacuated it.

Even these are special. Mr. Stanton takes the time to walk viewers through those deleted scenes, for example, speaking both before and after each one. It’s quite something that he found the time to do so because he reports that it takes a full three to four years to make a Pixar film. Imagine how he — and Pixar suits — must have felt when, during an early screening of the film, he decided he had made a big mistake in a crucial scene. It’s one of the few deleted scenes in a completely finished state, animationwise.

The best extras, in fact, feature Mr. Stanton and other members of the Pixar crew — on the Blu-ray release. The Geek Track is a pop-up in-movie commentary featuring four of the filmmakers. They talk about the movie’s influences — that pet cockroach was named after both “Our Gang” producer Hal Roach and the malevolent computer of “2001: A Space Odyssey.” They also joke about the film’s “environmental message.”

Mr. Stanton, in a commentary track that’s accompanied on the Blu-ray disc with behind-the-scenes visuals, claims to have taken a different tack: “Those are noble things to support,” he says of the environmental issues many critics saw in the film, “but to be honest, I had no agenda.” Mr. Stanton does admit, though, that he first titled the film “Trash Planet.”

Clearly, there’s plenty here for fans of animation and sci-fi, but this is a children’s film, after all. The Blu-ray release has an Axiom Arcade with a handful of games. On the other hand, skip the 3-D Set Fly-Throughs — they’re not as visually interesting as the film itself. Most charming are “Burn•E,” a new short in which a fixer-upper robot can’t get his job done with the exuberant Wall•E around, and the “Lots of Bots Storybook.” This latter is read by “King of the Hill” voice star Kathy Najimy and “Cheers” star John Ratzenberger, who both voiced characters in the film.

Miss Najimy (known for her roles on TV’s “Veronica’s Closet” and in the “Sister Act” films) is particularly talented. Once children hear her imaginative reading of the cute little rhymed tale, they might not be willing to settle for mom and dad telling bedtime stories anymore.

Firefly: The Complete Series (Fox, $89.98 for Blu-ray) — “Firefly” is one of those series that got canceled early in its run but has found a fan base on DVD. It even resulted in “Serenity,” a movie released in theaters in 2005. Now the sci-fi Western, the brainchild of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel” creator Joss Whedon, is making an appearance on Blu-ray — where it belongs.

Fox canceled the series after just 11 of its 14 episodes aired during the 2002-03 season. They’re all here in high definition, so you can follow the crew of the spaceship Serenity, the losers in a civil war in the year 2517. As with the best sci-fi, “Firefly” explores social and political issues that we all suspect will linger long into the future.

The three-disc set offers some new content, including a reunion round-table discussion and new commentary with Mr. Whedon and some of the cast.

Kelly Jane Torrance

The Hannah Montana DVD Game and High School Musical DVD Game (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, $29.99 each) and Hannah Montana: The Complete First Season (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, $39.99) — To most of us, the “The Hannah Montana DVD Game” and “High School Musical DVD Game” are way too inside baseball with all their Zac Efron and Miley Cyrus et al trivia.

But to tween devotees these new releases probably will become top Christmas gifts and slumber party activities.

You can quiz your buddies on trivia or sing along — a la karaoke — to “The Boys are Back” with “Troy” and the other HSM kids.

The only problem is there are no clips from the movies. If you were a tween, wouldn’t you want to see your favorite song-and-dance girls and boys in action?

Against this backdrop, “Hannah Montana: The Complete First Season,” could be the perfect companion DVD. It features 26 episodes of the mega-hit television show that started when Miss Cyrus was only 13 years old (she looks teeny).

The premise — probably known in the far reaches of Mongolia at this point — is geeky high-school girl Miley Stewart (Miley Cyrus), who’s picked on by mean girl Amber (Shanica Knowles), turns into glamorous Hannah Montana when the curtain goes up. It’s the perfect get-back-at-the-mean-girls fantasy.

But Miss Cyrus (who celebrates her sweet 16 next week) — between her slapstick, many wardrobe changes and cutesy expressions like “sweet niblets” — also offers what has helped make her brand seem wholesome: mature, turn-the-other cheek life philosophies when facing the mean girls.

Says Miss Ciley in episode 26:

“When you fight fire with fire … all you get is a bigger fire.”

Gabriella Boston


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