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Kids' Stuff - Blu-ray selections for the kids

March 10, 2009 By Dennis Burger

Show Off your system without having to shuffle the kids out of the room with this fantastic collection of family-friendly flicks

Most of the time, the land of Show-Offs can be a rather unfriendly place for the little ones, what with all the sex and language and adult situations (whatever those may be) that so often go hand-in-hand with the car crashes, action scenes, and great big earth-shattering kabooms that look and sound so good in a well-tuned home theater.

But that doesn’t mean the rug rats, or the faint of heart, have to be left out of the fun altogether.

Nor do you and your system have to suffer through a less-than-spectacular Show-Offs experience just to treat your children to a safe cinematic experience.

Pop in any of these discs for a delightful home theater demo that the whole family can enjoy together.

Best Chapters: 11 & 12

WALL•ETruth be told, it’s hardly fair to call WALL•E a kids’ movie at all. Beneath the surface, it’s actually one of the most mature and moving science-fiction morality tales to hit the silver screen in decades — a brave and poignant piece with hardly a stitch of dialogue in its first 40 minutes.

On the surface, though, it’s simply one of the most gorgeous cinematic experiences you’ll ever see—undoubtedly Pixar’s finest artistic achievement so far, and that’s saying a lot.

One look at the film and you’ll swear your projector has been set to “Stun.” Every frame drips with a level of authenticity that’s at times downright disturbing. Even grit and grime come across as charmingly picturesque in this spectacular direct-digital transfer.

Unsurprisingly, the movie’s most memorable sights come when our titular hero finally flees the filth-ridden Earth aboard the exterior of his inanimate inamorata’s rocket ship.

As the ship blasts off, the bass rumbles so low that your ears will only know about it vicariously through your rump. What follows is a whirlwind tour of the solar system and the galaxy beyond that would have made Carl Sagan weep.

The sun’s golden corona negating the pitch blackness of space, billowing forth flares that erupt in torrents of sight and sound; the rings of Saturn reduced to their tiny, icy elements, scattered across the screen; the Milky Way itself stretching beautifully luminous blue-white arms into the expanse of the gorgeously textured cosmos, all bolstered by Thomas Newman’s majestic, room-filling score.

Kung Fu Panda
Best Chapter: 20

Kung Fu PandaIn stark contrast to the gritty reality of WALL•E — its first half, anyway — DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda revels in its cartoonishness from frame one, with a one-two punch of spot-on character design and over-the-top aesthetic that at times hearkens back to the classic hand-drawn animation of old.

That hearkening back doesn’t keep it from pushing the latest 1080p displays to their limits, though. Animated or not, the action here is rendered so vividly you’ll swear a foot (or paw) is sure to rip right through the screen at any second.

Don’t worry, your screen is safe. But you might want to pull the pictures off the wall and bolt down your subwoofers before the action really cranks up, especially during the film’s penultimate action sequence, the battle between the villainous Tai Lung and his old master, Shifu.

As the scene unfolds, a storm brews overhead. Shadows deep and dark enough to suck the light right out of a black hole roll across fabric and fur so detailed they seem to defy their own pixel count.

Thunder cracks hard enough to make lesser speakers whimper, then slides down the back wall like two tons of Silly Putty thrown by King Kong’s grandkid on a steamy summer day. And so it goes for the next few breathtaking minutes: sticks and stones and swords and spears slice through the air from speaker to speaker while furry foes face off in a Technicolor dreamland onscreen.

If it all doesn’t leave you gasping for breath, and your little ones giggling with glee, your system isn’t doing its job very well.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
Best Chapter: 17

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince CaspianThis stunning sequel to the massively successful religious fantasy tale The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe one-ups its forebear in every way, with a more epic story, more fantastic vistas, more action, more adventure, more wonderful fairytale creatures—tigers and bears and a lion, oh my!—and more Show-Off sequences than you can shake a witch’s wand at.

The world of Narnia, though slightly more tattered since we last saw it, leaps off the screen with a yummy palette of colors certain to leave your projector huffing and puffing and begging for seconds.

Let’s be honest with ourselves here: No religious allegory, even one for children, is complete without a great big battle at the end of it all, and that’s what we’re really here to see, isn’t it?

If so, you certainly won’t be disappointed, although your neighbors may put up a big of a fuss. A battle this big is sure to spill over onto their property a bit. Trebuchet arms slice through the air in the room like a hot knife through nothing; every thrown stone sends the foundation into terrified tremors upon landing.

Every fallen hoof sounds like an atomic bomb blast. And as the very ground of the battlefield gives way, sight and sound come together in such sumptuous synchronicity you’ll swear your chair is about to fall out from under you.

Best Chapter: 11

MirrorMaskThe last time we took a look at MirrorMask, back in the good old days of standard-definition DVD, I oooh’d and aaah’d at the off-kilter imagery: the striking contrasts; the sumptuous, inky black levels; the unexpected splashes of warm, audacious color.

This beautifully British film, a sort of arthouse fairy tale by way of an acid trip through the eyes of creators Neil Gaiman, David McKean, and Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, ended up being one of my all-time favorite DVDs. If you were one of the few to see it, you no doubt agreed.

But until you’ve seen the film on Blu-ray, well, “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet,” as they say in the parlance of our times.

The film’s most jaw-dropping sequence still comes right in the middle of the film—Helena’s death-defying acrobatic escape from the flying spider-bird-tar-eyeball things, thanks to her big gorilla-bird-snowmen friends named Malcolm and The Bobs.

Before you queue the scene up for the kiddies, you might want to stand up to give your jaw a little more room to drop. No more are the villainous flying shadows reduced to an incoming cloud as the scene opens. Now, every individual beast stands out against the peachy sky.

Owing to the increased clarity of the Blu-ray transfer, the high-flying, roller coaster chase that follows is even more dizzying than before. And the Dolby TrueHD surround sound mix is so thick you’ll be scrubbing squashed tarry, shadowy goop out of your speakers for weeks to come.


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