Blu-ray Discs have been around for a good couple of years now, but it was really only during 2010 that the format really took hold of the wider general public. The HD-DVD format war hadn’t produce a clear cut winner between the two during 2007 and, to an extent, 2008, and dragged on to cause the (required) conflict in customers in choosing which high-definition format to place their bets on. By the end of 2009, Sony’s winner was victorious, the result of Warner Home Video acting like a grown up mediator between the two and making a firm choice in backing Blu-ray all the way. Disney was another big proponent of the BD format from the beginning, releasing their prestigious animated classics alongside their new titles and select catalog films – most notably from Pixar – really helping to propel the hi-def format into family homes.

Although by the end of 2009, consumers could choose between a huge range of titles, many still hadn’t updated their players: something that would happen as a result of end-of-year holiday sales. In 2010, Blu-ray sales figures leapt up, as more and more saw the advantage of hi-def images on larger screens, and the Studios responded with a torrent of classic catalog and contemporary releases in all genres.

Disney again powered the market, pioneering the Combo Pack, which included BD, DVD and Digital Copy discs with portable files of the films on them, and Warner jumped in, announcing that all new releases would double-up BD and DVD discs in a single package. And then, just as a majority had bitten the bullet and Blu-ray had finally taken hold? The promise of 3D images in the home came true, meaning a re-buy in one of the worst economic slumps of recent times – great move, guys!

Take up has been predictably slow, not helped by only a handful of beneficial titles made available to the market, and not all of them the premium-grade ones that will make the required waves and ripple-effect translate into actual sales. It’s ironic that Sony, a big investor in the technology, doesn’t seem to be doing the heavy lifting, leaving Disney again to push the family aspect almost single-handedly, with the most noticeable titles coming to stores.

There have been others, as noted below, and it will be interesting to see how the sales figures hold up after the Christmas rush – and who knows? This time next year we may be more accepting of the format as the genuine next leap forward in home viewing, though the jury is most definitely still out for now.

All this is not to say that good ol’ DVD has gone away! TV season box sets have proved elusively difficult for the studios to shift on Blu-ray, and the lower prices of DVD remain a big pull to consumers who want to catch up on their favorite programs or own outright full series collections. Likewise, DVD remains the format of choice in the booming rental market and generally lower pricing make a blind buy more attractive in these tough economic times. The format also still provides some exclusives too: releases of niche titles unlikely to sell millions of BD units and the continuation of manufactured on demand discs that provide a platform for many obscure movies – and, this year, classic animated series – to be owned, even if a notable lack of any new releases of classic short cartoon collections on any format was sadly unfortunate.

It’s been a terrific year for new theatrical animated movies too, where 3D has (sadly for some) now become the norm. King of the CG hill Pixar capped off (for now?) their signature Toy Story trilogy with a fine third film, and DreamWorks built on their Kung Fu Panda depth to really surprise with the multi-layered, pop-culture (and almost fart-free) How To Train Your Dragon. Perhaps more impressive, Disney bounced back with their first true classic in a decade, Tangled, the retelling of the Rapunzel story that, after a very troubled production history, could have been a complete mess. Instead, it’s still wowing them in theaters critically and commercially, providing Disney Animation with a firmer footing as they head into the future.

Independently, numerous features made their marks as well, most notably proving traditional animation certainly remains viable in The Illusionist and Chico And Rita. There was a lot more to celebrate, too, and so as is becoming tradition at this time of year, we begin with our top ten home video choices and invite you to return again, for…

1. Beauty And The Beast: Diamond Edition

Walt Disney Home Entertainment (October 5 2010)
2 Blu-ray Discs plus DVD, 92 mins plus supplements, $40

The most praised of the new generation of Disney artists’ films, Beauty And The Beast made movie history when it became the first fully animated motion picture to gain an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. Disney Studios had been honored with nods before, of course, from Walt’s almost regular winning of the Best Animated Short Subject and Snow White’s famous special achievement award in the 1930s to the Best Picture nomination (and various wins) for Mary Poppins in 1964, but Beauty was the game changer. Signalling the animation renaissance of the 1990s that would bloom into the boom of the 2000s, the Academy couldn’t help but take notice, initiating the Best Animated Feature award in 2001, which arguably ghetto-ized the medium until Up broke the barrier again with a nomination last year. In Beauty And The Beast’s case, the recognition was all very much deserved: the film, often compared to Snow White in terms of its impact, was a certified classic by the time it hit home video a year after its theatrical release. Previously one of Disney’s better Platinum DVD editions, the new Blu-ray Diamond Edition series really made its mark as far as the stunning HD image went. Other aspects of the release may have had a few minor drawbacks, but overall it retained all the good ingredients of before and added plenty new, including a never before seen look at the film’s original conception. Although yet another theatrical reissue is upcoming in 3D, the tale as old as time was new again in this release, for once truly definitive as well as setting a benchmark for the Diamond Editions to follow.

Read the full Beauty And The Beast Animated View here!

2. Disney Documentaries: Walt & El Grupo, The Boys, Waking Sleeping Beauty

Buena Vista Home Entertainment (November 30 2010)
3 individual single discs, 109, 102 and
86 mins plus supplements, $30 each

The sheer fact that the subject matter may not quite be to everyone’s taste means that Beauty And The Beast won out in terms of animated entertainment value, but as hugely informative feature films, the three “Disney Documentaries” that arrived alongside Fantasia to make up an unofficial plug for the Walt Disney Treasures gap this year are very close seconds. Although perhaps it does focus so tightly on Disney’s trip to South America as to omit general information outside of that remit, Frank Thomas’ son Ted’s Walt & El Grupo did an excellent job of whisking us back in a time capsule to the 1940s, when el gaucho Walt took on the task of promoting Good Will relations with the region, resulting in a wealth of material for future films. The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story revealed the sad truth behind Richard and Robert’s hitherto non-revealed animosity as well as the stories behind much of their most significant work, including their ventures outside the mouse house walls, and Waking Sleeping Beauty provides the perfect accompaniment to the likes of Beauty And The Beast with the inside story of life at the Studio during the highs and lows of the Disney Renaissance in the late 1980s and early 1990s. All in all, three very distinct documentaries, all told in unique, distinctive ways, but adding up to a comprehensive examination of the Studio’s history in successive twenty-year apart eras, and although only single disc DVDs, the superb extras – including an uncut Saludos Amigos and plenty from the new generation’s own vault – easily satisfy the most ardent of Disney fans. More!!

Read the full Walt & El Grupo / The Boys / Waking Sleeping Beauty Animated View here!

3. Toy Story Trilogy

Disney Home Video (March 23 2010, November 2 2010)
3 individual Blu-ray and DVD Combo sets, 81, 92 and
103 mins plus supplements, $40 and $45

Nope, not the overpriced, pretty tacky 10 disc box set that sounded great until you realized that there were only four Blu-ray Discs inside and the other discs were just DVD and Digital Copy repeats of the same material, but the three individual releases of each film. The first two groundbreakers came out in the run-up to part three’s theatrical release, but thankfully they weren’t stop-gag editions that we all rushed out to purchase – hey, Toy Story in HD! – before wishing we’d waited for the trilogy box. These were fully fledged Special Editions that provided excellent new transfers for the original first two films combined with as much content from the previously terrific Ultimate Tox Box that was humanly possible. There was some new stuff too, including some retrospective extras that had only previously appeared in the 10th Anniversary Editions after the Toy Box had been stored up in Disney’s attic. Reminding us what we loved about the characters, those releases had us pumped for summer’s Toy Story 3, a fitting (if not always as groundbreaking as its predecessors) end to the adventures of Woody, Buzz and company that became the biggest animated film of all time and arrived in multiple versions on Blu-ray and DVD. Forgoing a 3D option (for now), there was the BD, DVD and Digital Copy set that we reviewed – although did we really need two Blu-rays when the movie was repeated on both discs? – plus a 2-disc BD set whose cover matched more the first two films’ Special Editions (a single disc DVD was also available). All of them packed everything they could into the toy box, providing as ultimate editions for all three films as we could hope.

Read the full Toy Story / Toy Story 2 Animated View here!

Read the full Toy Story 3 Animated View here!

4. How To Train Your Dragon

DreamWorks Home Entertainment (October 15 2010)
Blu-ray plus DVD, 98 mins plus supplements, $40

Although also passing on including the third dimension in its initial general home video release, How To Train Your Dragon really didn’t need it as DreamWorks’ unexpectedly marvellous second release of the year proved to feature unique visuals that transcended the usual approach from the Studio and went on to kick Kung Fu Panda into touch! The story itself provided a change from DreamWorks’ customary pop-culture tinged product: being set in Viking times omitted the chance – and the need – for anything but good old fashioned storytelling, and in the hands of Lilo And Stitch’s director/producer team of Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, it delivered without the formulaic pits that it could have so easily have fallen in to. With new landscapes to explore, the artists and animators surpassed themselves, creating a beautiful world that sometimes felt like Avatar’s Pandora – but more real! Thankfully, we didn’t have to watch the nauseating Jay Baruchel on camera (there was enough of that in the undignified Nicholas Cage team-up The Sorcerer’s Apprentice), but as lead voice he gave an engaging performance even if, as is animation’s magic, the “Viking” accents came from all points of the globe! With a fresh spin on a “Reluctant Dragonslayer” story, the film proved a deserved hit with audiences, and suitably makes the cut here for coming to disc with a dragon’s lair worth of good supplements, including the Studio’s usual kid-friendly extras and now-standard new animated short, plus interest for collectors with a picture-in-picture commentary and more. DreamWorks has a way to go to top this!

Support Animated Views and buy How To Train Your Dragon from now!

5. Fantastic Mr. Fox

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment (March 23 2010)
Blu-ray Disc plus DVD, 87 mins plus supplements, $40

A top-three theatrical release for us last year, it’s perhaps a less than packed serving of supplements that didn’t see Wes Anderson’s take on Roald Dahl climb higher in our chart here. Joining the growing list of live-action directors making inroads to animation, Anderson overcomes hints that he was hardly on set during the UK’s stop-motion shoot in London with such a solid directorial hold on the vocal performances, design and shot angles that it seems impossible to think of anyone else who could have taken the credit. Taking liberties with the source, the film diverts somewhat to include roles for Anderson’s regular players, including Bill Murray, and even goes as far as to have George Clooney voice the otherwise very British fox of Dahl’s original and a practically unrecognisable Meryl Streep as Mrs Fox. But the stop-motion technique and wonderfully detailed props and environments bring it back to the English countryside, with a laid-back, relaxed fairytale feel that occasionally – and intentionally – blows up in your face when you least expect it! Not everyone thought the film was as so deserving as those that Oscar nominated it, but in this time of cookie-cutter CGI animal critter comedies, it’s refreshing to see a totally new angle on some much-loved source material. The Blu-ray Combo release included the prerequisite DVD and a small but perfectly formed selection of extras; it would have been great if The World Of Raold Dahl had been a lengthy retrospective, and a commentary from Anderson or lead crew members would have been nice, but a 45 minute collection of documentary featurettes covered all the bases in most of those respects.

Read the full Fantastic Mr. Fox Animated View here!

6. Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures

Paramount/CBS (January 5 2010)
3-disc DVD set, 455 mins plus supplements, $30

Don’t get excited for Paul Terry’s original, undervalued TerryToon series, or even Filmation’s late 1970s/early 80s Saturday morning television revival, but be energized for totally different reasons…Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures brought bad boy of animation Ralph Bakshi back to the small screen after the original Spider-Man animated series of the 1960s and a series of theatrical features (Fritz The Cat, Coonskin, Wizards) that ran the gamut between passable and indifferent. Bakshi found himself running a studio without a project and, in a fit of creative inspiration, pitched CBS, hungry for fresh shows, a new take on an old character they already owned. The old Mighty Mouse rulebook was thrown out, and in came the kind of sensibilities that had carried Jones, Clampett and Avery through Warner’s Looney Tunes: smart, subversive anarchy with a real edge made for the animators’ own enjoyment (future big names John Kricfalusi, Bruce Timm, Andrew Stanton among them) that flew right over the heads of the kid demographic – and the CBS execs! Bakshi’s experience with superhero characters gave him an insight into creating crazy spins on classic heroes: Bat-Bat being a favorite. Predating the kind of humor Animaniacs and Freakazoid! would make more popular by over a decade, the series was cancelled after two seasons, both of which are collected here, including the infamous The Littlest Tramp “cocaine sniff” episode, the revolutionary Don’t Touch That Dial! and a heap of extras including an excellent half-hour retrospective. Cartoon Network, Adult Swim and their like started right here!

Support Animated Views and buy Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures from now!

7. The Princess And The Frog

Walt Disney Home Entertainment (March 16 2010)
Blu-ray Disc plus DVD, 97 mins plus supplements, $45

A somewhat strange title to include here, as The Princess And The Frog already feels so 2009! Of course that’s when Disney’s much heralded return to traditional animation was released in theaters, in many ways the culmination of what the Save Disney campaign was all about and all the more touching for Roy Disney to have seen the film debut to a such a warm reception from fans before his passing just a few short weeks later. Generally, however, the film wasn’t quite regarded as a true return to form, the result being something akin to the later 1990s animated pictures the studio was releasing, not least down to the directing pair of John Musker and Ron Clements, who infused perhaps a little too much of that brand of Disney fairy dust into the mix, unlike the current Tangled which offers a new spin on the classic musical fairytale and has resonated with audiences. But Princess And The Frog provided an important stepping stone for audiences to reacquaint themselves with the Disney ethos, much as Oliver And Company did in the 1980s before The Little Mermaid came along, even if the overlong script sometimes came close to recalling some of the redundant scene diversions found in the 1970s films. On Blu-ray and DVD, Frog’s bonuses were a mixed bag, from a fine audio commentary to a frustratingly viewed storyboarded version of the film and a rehash of internet and press featurettes. As such, the film certainly warrants more than just an honorable mention and, even if it doesn’t find itself near the top of our list, there’s no denying that it found Disney Animation getting back on track.

Read the full The Princess And The Frog Animated View here!

8. Despicable Me, Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs, Shrek: The Whole Story

Universal, Sony, DreamWorks Home Entertainment
(December 14, January 5, December 7 2010)
Mutli-disc sets, 95, 90 and 369 mins
plus supplements, $40, $40, $77

Contemporary animation also took on new dimensions from other studios this year, in the form of 3D theatrical presentations and home video releases. A big hit during the summer, Despicable Me channelled the superhero shenanigans of The Incredibles (a popular inspiration also to be found in DreamWorks’ current Megamind) into an unexpectedly warm and funny audience hit, finally providing Universal with a certified CG animated hit and new kids on the European block Illumination with a multi-picture contract. Along with Disney’s A Christmas Carol, Despicable Me was the first animated film to be released day and date in regular “flat” BD and DVD configurations as well as in the new BD-3D format, offering the dimensional experience in the home (if you don’t mind cutting yourselves off from the rest of the family via those pesky glasses). Although released some months after its January BD debut, format developer Sony’s Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs – the bright and breezy comedy about food falling from the sky – was the first animated BD-3D release, but dropped some of the better extras from the earlier disc which is the one we’ve selected here. Last but not least comes DreamWorks’ venerable Shrek franchise: the fourth and final chapter (until spin-off Puss In Boots!) released to theaters in 3D this past summer, but as a regular release just out on disc both as a standalone and as part of Shrek: The Whole Story, providing Blu-ray debuts for the Oscar-winning first film, blockbuster second and unfortunate dreck the third. But three out of four ain’t bad, and all of them for $40 online is a great HD deal!

Support Animated Views and buy Despicable Me (non-3D) from now!

Support Animated Views and buy Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs (non-3D) from now!

Support Animated Views and buy Shrek: The Whole Story (non-3D) from now!

9. Warner Archive Collection

Warner Home Video (new titles released each month)
Single and multi-disc sets, Average retail of $20 – $35

We’re not suggesting you rush to pick up the entire collection of Warner’s hugely popular manufactured on demand discs, but we couldn’t resist a major shout out for the line that unexpectedly and so welcomingly brought so much obscure, rare and long thought never to be seen again animation to DVD. This year the Collection’s doors were kicked open for a rush of Hanna-Barbera series, including requested favorites Pirates Of Darkwater, Josie And The Pussycats In Outer Space, Funky Phantom, the almost forgotten animated Addams Family and The Dukes shows and a trio of made for television Yogi Bear movies: late releases that can’t have done much to drum up business for the Studio’s current live-action/CG hybrid dud. Warners got a little liberal in splashing out the Hanna-Barbera branding on other producers’ titles (Ruby-Spears’ Thundarr The Barbarian), but still provided ways for fans to collect long-unavailable titles, a format that could mean a way for Tiny Toons and Animaniacs fans to complete their collections, perhaps? Film fans could add Ray Harryhausen’s effects in The Animal World, George Pal’s The Power and Atlantis: The Lost Continent, and the kitschy antics of The Green Slime and Legends Of The Superheroes to their shelves. Even better, theatrical animation made its first showings with the Hyperion feature Rover Dangerfield (voiced by comedian Rodney, the “dog who gets no respect”), and the long-requested debut for Chuck Jones’ The Phantom Tollbooth. Pricing remains a sting, but deals do turn up throughout the year.

Explore the Warner Archive Collection and keep checking back for new titles here!

10. Batman: Under The Red Hood

Warner Home Video (July 27 2010)
Single disc, 75 mins plus supplements, $30

One of DC Comics’ biggest characters gets excellent animated treatment in the publisher’s 75th anniversary year; a milestone also celebrated in the retrospective documentary Secret Origin, essentially a DVD bonus given its own release. We’ve often saved our last vote for a notable direct to video title and this year Under The Red Hood makes it as our Best DTV Of The Year, nudging out the Tinker Bell franchise and returning the title to the DC Universe Animated Movie line after Justice League: The New Frontier bagged this very honor in 2008. The DC movies haven’t always been super-powered: Doomsday truncated the original Death Of Superman comic books into a series of lowlights, origin stories for Wonder Woman and Green Lantern were well received if nothing spectacular, and Gotham Knight was really just a tie for the big screen Dark Knight. Bruce Wayne’s alter ego returned in Public Enemies, which saw fan appreciation evaporate, leaving Crisis On Two Earths a decent attempt to get back into the fans’ good books after New Frontier. Building on that good work was Under The Red Hood, based on the A Death In The Family story but fixing many of the plot issues, in which Robin meets an end and mysterious new forces turn up to make life tricky for the masked avenger. With good vocal performances, better than average animated action, and a mature tone that offers an unexpected complexity between the characters and themes of conflict and tragedy, Under The Red Hood’s disc also offered outstanding video and audio specs, and worthwhile extras.

Read the full Batman: Under The Red Hood Animated View here!

Honorary Mentions

Despite the selections in our Top Ten listing above, it’s actually been a slightly odd year in terms of really, really standout releases. There have been a lot of them, that’s for sure, but it sadly does seem the glory days of DVD are well and truly behind us, the future of the home video disc splitting greatly in two directions. One is the continuation of programs like the Warner Archives, scraping the dregs from the bottom of the library barrels (occasionally digging up real gems), and the other is the high-end Blu-ray market, where only the most popular of classic catalog and brand new releases make the cut, though shining like never before as a result.

However, there have still been some titles of note that didn’t make our top ranking, but still deserve a hearty mention, such as Disney’s The Black Cauldron: 25th Anniversary Edition, presenting the much derided 1985 feature effort from the mouse house in a long-awaited, cleaner than ever digital transfer. There was no Blu-ray, a real shame, and the additional deleted scene was from an earlier cut from before Jeffrey Katzenberg infamously wielded his scissors in the cutting room, but it was still nice to be able to award the film a new appreciation, even if we’re all secretly still wishing a bonus-packed edition with the earlier workprint version intact!

There was also new respect for another sword and sorcery epic of roughly the same era, Ralph Bakshi’s 1978 animated take on the first half of JRR Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings. The film, which abruptly ends mid-way through the second book, has an obvious influence on Peter Jackson’s later and more deserved blockbusters whether that acknowledgement is credited or not, with some scenes and characters that seem to have been lifted out for the live-action films. Not at all always successful, Bakshi’s film contained some good effects and, yes, even some fine animation…in among the rotoscoped scenes and clumsily abbreviated storytelling, but at least we did get a Blu-ray disc in the pack that made the film look better than ever.

Looking good and providing us with a different kind of animated experience, The Secret Of Kells: Special Edition wasn’t perhaps everyone’s cup of Irish tea, but there was no denying the achievement of the film and its uniquely animated design. Proving that traditional animation remains a compelling medium of choice, especially among independent producers, was Kells’ surprise Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature, and although Pixar’s Up eventually and inevitably took the award, it was still great to see hand-drawn material gaining such support. The Blu-ray and DVD pack was strong, too, proving again that the film deserved to be on the same field as the big players, with all the features one would expect from a much bigger release all in check.

Warners also did good by collecting previous discs in two of their most popular animated television franchises and serving them up as special collectors’ editions. Following in the footsteps of The Flintstones, another Hanna-Barbera classic show returned as the Scooby-Doo: Where Are You! Complete Series set, with the discs housed neatly in a non-too-shabby replica of the Mystery Machine, complete with spinning wheels and Scooby and Shaggy riding up front, even if any collector wouldn’t let their kids get their hands on it – it’s our toy! Matching the release of Batman: The Animated Series, that show’s sequel was collected in Batman Beyond: The Complete Series. Even better, heeding complaints made on previous releases, Warners tossed in exclusive bonus discs, including DC Comics documentary Secret Origin in the Bat-set.

Disney didn’t do too badly with reissues of some other catalog titles either – that being the case when it came to handling the Studio Ghibli library. Three previously released titles got the upgraded 2-Disc Special Edition treatment, including fan favorite Kiki’s Delivery Service in a more faithful dub, the epic Castle In The Sky and My Neigbor Totoro, all newly remastered in a World Of Ghibli collection that sported consistent packaging and welcome new supplements. Joining them on DVD and Blu-ray was Miyazaki’s latest Ponyo, inspired by Hans Andersen’s Little Mermaid, looking beautiful but slightly lacking the depth of extras. When it came to handling perhaps their most anticipated release of the year, Disney added the long-awaited Destino to their Fantasia package, but dropped the ball in so many other ways…

The Un-Mentionables: Worst Of 2010

Like always, the year brings us the very good and the not so good, but occasionally there’s simply the very, very bad. And while adequate was the name of the game in 2010, mediocrity was always ready to rear it’s not so pretty head. We got reissues of discs that dropped supplements from previous editions, “brand-new” titles that did little to rehash old transfers and ask us to pay highly for them, and a small bunch of discs that were plainly disappointing.

We can’t believe we’re saying this, but heading up our list is the Fantasia: 2-Movie Collection, from occasional serial offenders Disney. How about three different and valid cuts of the original masterpiece, with the film’s impressive sequel, additional shorts created for the abandoned third film and a wealth of new and archive documentary material from the fantastic Fantasia Anthology from almost a decade ago? Fat chance! Originally announced as the be all and end all definitive home video release, the cracks began to appear almost as quickly as Roy Disney passed away late last year. Suddenly the announced multi-disc “Fantasia World” collection became the much more standard “2-Movie Collection”, and heaps of bonuses were seemingly dropped.

Plus points were added for including the long-awaited disc debut of Destino, the 2003 completion of Walt and Salvador Dali’s 1946 short, but the quality of it and an accompanying feature documentary – itself overproduced and padded to fill time – fell far short of what was expected, and apart from that token inclusion there was none of the looks at Dali’s original art that we had been promised. Sure, the two Fantasia films looked and sounded (if one can skip over the re-dubbing of the first film’s host Deems Taylor) excellent, but that was about it: Destino felt dumped out on home video after Roy’s passing and worst still were the extras proper: hidden away online at the end of an internet cable in the so-called Virtual Vault. What was the anticipated release of the year quickly and easily became the biggest disappointment, and certainly a nasty shambles considering the material.

Disney also disappointed with its Blu-ray “upgrade” (read: Alice In Wonderland cash-in) of James And The Giant Peach: Special Edition which, since the film was shot frame by frame on digital SLR cameras, should have looked spotless. Imagine our surprise, then, at the dark and murky transfer that over contrasted the cinematography, the total lack of any new bonus features (and what there was from the DVD were slim to begin with) and a pathetic still frame gallery that couldn’t be bothered to even present itself at a decent screen size. Not much better was The Great Mouse Detective: Mystery In The Mist Edition that didn’t even come to Blu-ray. A new cleaned-up transfer was welcome, but this wasn’t anything more than a last ditch chance for Disney to shift some DVDs before an inevitable HD reissue.

The Studio’s big family movie summer hopes evaporated with the releases of Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, both produced by Jerry Bruckheimer but distanced from by him when they tanked in theaters. Both attempted to redeem themselves on disc with more-than-necessary extras, especially Persia, which was packed with overwrought bonus features that made an already interminable film run twice as long. Over at Warners, their Tom & Jerry Deluxe Anniversary Collection failed spectacularly to mention the cat and mouse’s 70th birthday year while selecting a seemingly random collection of cartoons to illustrate their career “highlights”, and their DC Universe Animated Movies hit a new low with Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, a mediocre movie of an already bad comic that suggests they need to select better stories to adapt (we’re liking the bonus shorts program though).

Warners also faltered with their handling of the Looney Tunes, perhaps the most painful turnaround of all. Far from the classic goodness that the Golden Collection sets brought us each year, fans were almost insulted with the offerings in 2010, including a series of lone television compilation specials (actually welcome, but bare bones and way overpriced when three or four of these specials should be on each $15 disc). An “essential” disc dedicated to Bugs Bunny wasn’t as bad as the deluxe Tom & Jerry set, although it didn’t bring us much new either, but the nadir for collectors were the Looney Tunes Super Stars releases for Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Tweety & Sylvester and Foghorn Leghorn which, by all accounts, actually cropped Academy framed classics for a fake widescreen appearance. We bemoaned this from the likes of the poor Gulliver’s Travels release last year, but to have that come from a major distributor like Warner Bros. when they have been among the most careful with their vast catalog? Just what the heck is going on in their classics and animation division at the moment!?

Best Non-Animated Disc Of The Year

With Blu-ray really making an impact in 2010, fans were treated to a continuing wealth of classic and contemporary releases, with early quality standards now pretty much consistent across the board. New releases are always guaranteed to look and sound great, but what’s really fun is when an old favorite is given such good treatment that it feels brand new again, as is the case with our final picks below…

Ben’s Pick: Back To The Future: 25th Anniversary Trilogy

This year has been phenomenal for the titles I want in high-definition. I’d originally promised myself that I wouldn’t fall into the trap of re-purchasing the majority of my DVD library on Blu-ray, but the lure of authentically upgraded transfers and – particularly – the pull of copious new extras, meant I couldn’t resist a certain few. Top of the bunch were the early year releases of The Music Man (a film I’d waited for years to buy and held off on given that Warners were always promising a restoration) and A Star Is Born – a restoration of the 1983 reconstruction that included so many extras that I’m still dipping in almost a year later! – and some worthy Criterion improvements: The Red Shoes and Black Narcissus among them.

Others were more routine but irresistible upgrades: the Apocalypse Now: Full Disclosure Edition packed everything in (finally!) and the reconstruction of The Complete Metropolis was a given – though I’d suggest the even better UK Steelbook Edition which was more faithful to the original film and had even more extras – plus more showy musicals: Baz Luhrmann’s exuberant Moulin Rouge! and Cubbi Broccoli’s Disney-esque production of Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (a far, far way from Bond!) featuring the Sherman Brothers’ wonderful song score. Also on the list was The Sound Of Music: 45th Anniversary Collectors’ Edition, created much in the same style as Warners’ Gone With The Wind and Wizard Of Oz big gift sets from last year. And even though I couldn’t see how the original DVD edition couldn’t be plussed, the Alien Anthology managed to do it, with fresh transfers and extra extras that, going by Randall’s pick below, impressed him even more than me!

Of the new releases, and just to quickly mention another animation title, for those that like their films with a maturity that doesn’t go for sex and violence to be “grown up”, I was impressed with Mary & Max: it could have just as easily been done in live-action, but the emotions and thematic resonance took on a further dimension in claymation. On a totally different level, I was among the few that saw the brilliance of Tim Burton’s trip down the rabbit hole for his take on Alice In Wonderland (even if the disc failed to serve up a Mad Tea Party’s worth of extras) and I smiled profusely through the summer’s big screen update of The A-Team, a big dumb silly blockbuster that’s simply bags of fun.

But it’s another relic from the 80s that drives into the top spot as my pick of the year: the Back To The Future: 25th Anniversary Trilogy was everything and more than I was hoping for. Disappointingly, I never saw the original film on the big screen, but became a slave to the VHS after I heard how great it was, running it over and over and memorizing the lines. The sheer invention on every level, from the visuals to the sparkling script and perfect performances, just gets me every time, and when the back-to-back sequels came out, I was right there to see them where they belonged this time.

From before the time co-writer/director Robert Zemeckis gave up on real locations, these three films find him at the height of his imagination and the Blu-ray set managed to make the films feel fresh again – even after my multiple, multiple views! I’m seemingly among the few that really marvels at the intricacies of Part II’s fantastic plotting (if this was an arthouse series, a sequel about time travel going back to the original movie for an alternate view would be heralded as a masterpiece).

Even better was the Limited UK Edition tin set (now sold out), which packed in a fun selection of printed extras for the hardcore time traveller. But in either configuration, get your Flux Capacitors fluxing: man this was heavy!

Rand’s Pick: Alien Anthology: Blu-ray Edition

Before getting into the genre stuff, I would also mention The Sound Of Music Collector’s Edition. Similar in style to last year’s landmark Wizard Of Oz and Gone With The Wind sets, this beauty includes a simply terrific hi-def transfer, crystal clear sound, a bevy of new and vintage extras, and a box full of goodies including a book, postcards, and other materials.

A shout out also needs to go out to two special effects milestones that include stop-motion animation. The original 1933 King Kong got released on Blu-ray with all of its excellent DVD bonus features intact. There was nothing new to offer, and the video and audio improvements may have been modest, but the Digibook packaging helped to make this a mandatory upgrade for fans regardless.

Jason And The Argonauts did not get any fancy packaging, but it did get a few new bonus features, and the best video transfer we’re ever likely to see for this classic that heavily used optical effects work. It’s Ray Harryhausen’s masterpiece, and worthy of any Blu-ray collection.

As a final choice, It’s hard to imagine a more complete and all-around impressive set than the Alien Anthology on Blu-ray. Each of the four films comes in two versions, all in amazing hi-def quality – with Aliens especially looking better than any of us dared hope. Plus, the extras are simply astounding in their comprehensiveness.

You get audio commentaries, tons of featurettes and documentaries (including, at long last, the uncensored “making of” for Alien 3), TV specials, deleted scenes, all of the extensive bonus material from the legendary LaserDisc sets, tons of stills, and even isolated scores for each film!

It could take you a month’s devotion to get through it all, even if you skip the last film or two. The packaging for the set is high quality as well, with the discs all housed in a very sturdy and attractive book format, fitting inside a heavy slipcase. It’s beautiful!

2010 On The Big Screen: The Theatrical Toon Review

Another banner year for animated releases in movie theaters, 2010 again brought every medium to the screen, from stop-motion and CGI to motion-capture and traditional hand-drawn, with an impressive list lining up for Academy Awards consideration this year. It’s this higher quality output that had James scratching his head when it came to ranking his top three, each one deserving of the top spot for different reasons. We weren’t going to buy his equal-billing, three-way tie for a second, but do keep in mind that this was a very close race. So, without further ado, here’s what James nailed down as the theatrical highlights of the year:

1. Toy Story 3

June 18, 2010
Director: Lee Unkrich

Pixar apparently does not know how to make a bad film. And Toy Story 3 is some of their best work to date. It is without a doubt one of the most touching films put on screen this year. A beautiful homage to the end of childhood, a moving tribute to loyalty and friendship, a powerful memorial on facing death with dignity, and a poignant testimonial that it’s OK to move on with life and let go of your past – all wrapped up in a funny, exciting story with some of our favorite characters.

Read the full Toy Story 3 theatrical Animated View here!