Monday, August 24, 2009


Written by Fantasma el Rey

The Batman vs. Dracula
and The Batman/Superman Movie are previously released gems now available together for the first time. They are from different television series with very different animation styles, and each has a different feel but both are equally well done. The dual-sided DVD actually presents them in reverse of the advertised billing, which makes sense because that is the way they were originally aired and released.

TBSM aired first in 1997 as a three-part episode entitled “World’s Finest” (a nod to the comic books) from Superman: The Animated Series which followed the classic Batman: The Animated Series, known for its dark, art deco style (dubbed “dark deco” by the animators) and adult appeal. Superman: TAS features much of the same crew from the Batman: TAS. Here, we have a new take on the heroes’ first get-together, making for great fun as they are almost literally different as day and night. Not only do they clash as costumed crime-fighters but also in their personnel lifestyles with the quiet, low-key Clark Kent (Tim Daly) versus the millionaire, international playboy, and businessman Bruce Wayne (Kevin Conroy).

As the initial animosity gets set aside and both use their skills/powers to figure out the secret identity of the other (very clever as Superman uses X-ray vision and Batman bugs Superman and follows him back to his apartment), the story gets rolling when we find out why the Bat has come to Metropolis. The Joker, short on funds, and his sidekick Harley Quinn plan to make a deal with Lex Luthor to kill his nemesis Superman. Yet, as always, the Dark Knight is not far behind and the two heroes team up to stop the mad threat of the insane Joker, backed by Lex’s latest robot monsters. More fun ensues as Lois Lane falls for the smooth charms of the mysterious Gothamite, Wayne.

Not a bad little film, running barely over an hour. With help from the voice work of Dana Delany (Lois Lane), Mark Hamill (Joker), Clancy Brown (Lex Luthor) and even Efrem Zimbalist Jr (Alfred), the story moves along well and holds the attention of all ages. Special features for TBSM include The Joker’s challenge game as the viewer is taken you through the movie’s highlights looking for clues, a “get the picture” segment showing how to draw both superheroes, and a quick conversation with producer Bruce Timm.

The Batman vs. Dracula takes a different turn in its animation and overall darkness, playing more like a feature-length chiller than part of a cartoon series. Released in 2005 as a direct-to-video DVD during the third season of The Batman, this 84-minute thrill ride is a dark pleasure to view at a late hour of the night with the lights turned low. Yes, it’s that creepy. The characters are much darker as well. Batman appears younger yet more brooding; Joker seriously insane and wild, far more than just his out-of-control hair and ragged appearance, which is a change from the more polished villain we’re used to seeing; and Penguin, the dark, not-so-fortunate opposite of Bruce Wayne.

Speaking of Bruce, for this series the production team decided to change up the dashing, handsome Bruce a bit and gave him a boxer’s flat nose that appears to have been broken a few times, which makes total sense as the young Bruce learning to fight and handle himself would have been beat to hell more than once.

And so the story goes that somehow Dracula (Peter Stormare) was brought to a Gotham cemetery where he would be far away from his native soil and in a place that no one would find him. Oops. After learning of a hidden fortune stashed in the cemetery, both Penguin (Tom Kenny) and Joker (Kevin Michael Richardson) manage to escape the confines of Arkham Asylum and make a run at the treasure. Joker gets sidetracked by The Batman (Rino Romano) while Penguin manages to stir up the undead granddaddy of all super villains and creatures of the night, the one and only Dracula. As he regains full strength Dracula begins to build an army of darkness to do his bidding, an army that now numbers Penguin and a vampire Joker among its ranks. Vampire Joker is much more scary and creepy as he now has super-strength and a Renfro-like lunacy and passion for blood.

True to previous Dracula tales, the Prince of Darkness walks and mingles among the city’s well-to-do citizens and in Gotham that includes Mr. Wayne. Once introduced to “Dr. Alucard,” who makes a great entrance via mist, Bruce begins to sense there is more to this cape-clad doctor than a mere air of darkness and that he may be connected to the rash of disappearances troubling the city. Now the hunt is on, not only to find a way to stop this super-beast but to cure those that he has turned into his servants which now include two of Batman’s greatest foes. As the two rulers of the night face off, they not only run through the streets of Gotham but the caves and catacombs that link together under the city, providing even more darkness and classic horror movie atmosphere.

Extras include closer looks at the voice work, a “science vs. superstition” featurette examining the fact and fiction of the Dracula legend and a “City of Knight” interactive map of Gotham that reveals making-of segments.

Both movies are entertaining and well done, the latter being darker and in some ways not so much intended for younger children. Each provided different takes on the Dark Knight and his world of villains and allies. The two styles of animation are great tributes to the comic book artists that created, envisioned, and painted Batman in many different ways through the years, from wearing blue to black to donning long ears and an extra-long flowing cape to short ears and bigger eyes and from square chin to a boxer’s nose. They all present wonderful portraits of a lasting and iconic figure of the American night and imagination.

Sonny with a Chance - Sonny's Big Break: Volume 1

Written by Pirata Hermosa

This latest release from the Disney Channel is from their Sunday night lineup that also features The Wizards of Waverly Place, Hannah Montana, and Jonas and is mainly geared for a teen audience.

The show’s main character is Sonny Munroe, played by Demi Lovato, who most people remember from the Disney movie, Camp Rock, which also featured the Jonas Brothers. Sonny is about to live every person’s dream, and is leaving her small hometown in Wisconsin for the bright lights of Hollywood. Her Internet broadcasts have caught the eye of television network executives looking to replace a cast member from their hit comedy sketch show, So Random!

The DVD contains four of the episodes from the first season.

“Sketchy Beginnings”: It’s Sonny’s first day on the show and it’s time for her to meet her fellow cast members. Nico (Brandon Smith) and Grady (Doug Brochu) are the typical guys. They like monster trucks, greasy food, and are best friends. Zora (Allisyn Arm) is the strange little girl with the nasally voice, who enjoys hanging out in the sarcophagus or in the air ducts. And finally the last member of the show is, Tawni Hart (Tiffany Thornton), who is the spoiled prom queen and says that she is both the “funny one and the pretty one.” While Sonny is welcomed by most of the cast, Tawni wants nothing to do with the new girl. But Sonny is the nice girl from Wisconsin who wants to get along with everyone, so she tries anything she can think of to win over the pampered princess. Unfortunately, everything she does has the opposite effect. She ends up ruining one of Tawni’s sketches, ripping her favorite cape, shredding her favorite stuffed animal, and knocking her out at the end of the first live TV show.

“West Coast Story”: In this episode Sonny runs into Chad Dylan Cooper (Sterling Knight). He’s the biggest teen heartthrob on the number-one TV show Mackenzie Falls that is filmed in the sound studio next door to So Random! At first this seems like a good thing, but as Sonny quickly learns the two casts hate one another. They’ve had a long standing rivalry for years. Sonny tries to get the two groups together to make peace once and for all, but ends up caught up in the feud. While Chad is the nicest guy on TV, in real life he is the biggest self-centered, egotistical jerk who will do or say anything to get what he wants. In order to teach him a lesson, Sonny challenges him to a contest of the one thing that the cast of So Random! is really good at, musical chairs.

“Cheater Girls”: After a lot of sucking up and ego stroking, Sonny and Tawni have become a little closer and with the new characters that they created called the Check-it-out Girls they have visions of action figures, lunch boxes and feature films dancing in their heads. With things going so well, what could go wrong? Sonny is failing her math classes and her mother (Nancy McKeon) is coming down hard on her. If she doesn’t ace her next math test then she’s no longer going to be on the show. That means the Check-it-out Girls are going to be played by Grady and Nico. Unable to concentrate on her studies, Sonny realizes that she’s not going to pass the test and lets Tawni talk her into cheating. Before the test begins Sonny begins to panic and confesses, resulting in her being taken off the show. As Tawni and Sonny sit around feeling sorry for themselves Sonny suddenly discovers that the answers she wrote on her arm have actually stuck in her brain and the two rush off to take the test before their sketch goes on the air.

“Sonny at the Falls”: Still trying to get revenge from being beaten at musical chairs and to make sure his show remains number one, Chad sees an opportunity to drive a wedge between the cast of So Random! after Sonny pitches an idea for a sketch that is rejected by everyone. Pretending to be on her side, Chad invites Sonny to participate in all the benefits that the Mackenzie Falls cast receives, steak and lobster dinners, pedicures, manicures, massages and they even have their own meditation room. Chad’s plan begins to work as they have a falling out, but shortly afterwards they learn how much they need each other.

The DVD contains three Special Features:

Mackenzie Falls Season Finale Cliffhanger Short” – Mackenzie Falls isn’t just a faux show on Sonny With A Chance; it has actually been made into webisodes that you can watch on your computer. They have actually turned the finale to a DVD exclusive. Like the webisodes, the acting is really bad and overdramatic. But that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Mackenzie Falls is supposed to be a spoof on other teen shows like Dawson’s Creek, Gossip Girl, and One Tree Hill.

“Sonny in the Middle” – This is a never-before-released episode. Nico and Grady are the best of friends, such good friends that they even share the same birthday. Knowing how solid their relationship is, and because Tawni won’t help kick in for the present, Sonny buys them the most hi-tech gaming chair on the market and expects them to share it. Of course, her plan completely backfires as the two squabble over the chair resulting in them breaking off their friendship. To make matters worse, the two end up turning to Sonny for companionship and start driving her crazy with their juvenile jokes and by constantly embarrassing her in public. Sonny is forced to come up with one of her crazy plans to bring the two back together and restore their broken friendship.

“Demi’s Big Break” - A brief audition clip for the role of Sonny Munroe interspersed with some scenes from the show. I watched it, and I still don’t understand how a casting director can make a decision based on audition clips. They always seem very odd, and this one is no exception.

Sonny With A Chance is a typical Disney show that is family friendly and contains some good messages. It’s also not just for kids; adults can enjoy it as well even though it has its silly moments. Some of the best aspects of the show are the comments made by Tawni who believes anything can be resolved by how pretty she is and the interaction between Sonny and Chad as they try to one-up the other while dancing around some underlying feelings they have for one another. Those three characters are what make the show interesting, but Sonny truly is the star. She’s a little over the top and a little geeky, but it makes her more relatable to the viewers.

I’ve also noticed that Disney likes to release its shows in volumes instead of seasons. It’s kind of annoying to get a DVD that only has four episodes and not an entire season. I’m not sure if they think it’s more affordable for it to be broken down, but if you end up having to buy five or six volumes I could see the overall price tag being dramatically higher than what you’d buy for one regular season set.