The World of Peter Rabbit and friends Review
The story: Beatrix Potter's stories seem to have an incredible longevity to them: it's now been a hundred years since she first published the tale of Peter Rabbit and how he almost wound up in a pie just like his father and to celebrate this Carlton are releasing 9 short animated films of her books onto DVD. Just like Quentin Blake's collaborations with the late Roald Dahl helped cement Dahl's stranger stories in many children's imagination, Potter's original artwork is also intrinsically linked to the stories themselves. Thankfully the art director's for this series understood that and have perfectly managed to bring Beatrix Potter's still drawings to life: all of the frames were painted by hand and the entire series was produced in the UK making this the most expensive animated series ever produced here. Also the voices used keep quite well to what I would have expected them to sound like and feature some top UK actors (Ian Holm and Derek Jacobi) and some notable TV stars (Patricia Routledge, Richard Wilson, Hugh Laurie, Prunella Scales, Rik Mayall). Potter's own Victorian upbringing comes through in many of the stories and may seem to modern audiences as rather passé but the stories themselves are replete with intricacies that we may have forgotten and are worth rediscovering.
Each episode is bookended with Niamh Cusack playing Beatrix Potter in her cottage in the Lake District; this could be seen as a cynical method of padding the films' length at little cost but I suppose it does serve the purpose of introducing us to the writer behind the stories, the source of her inspiration and the era in which they were written. That said it's always possible to skip to the beginning of the story with the a chapter stop nicely placed at the start of the animation. All in all the animation can be seen as very traditional and the stories old-fashioned but that's what it unashamedly set out to be and it has been very successful in doing so.
The boxset is comprised of the following 3 DVDS (which are also available individually):
DVD 1: The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends
- The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny
- The Tale of Flopsy Bunnies and Mrs. Tittlemouse
- The Tale of Tom Kitten and Jemina Puddle-duck
DVD 2:The Tale of Pigling Bland and other stories
- The Tale of Pigling Bland
- The Tale of Samuel Whiskers or The Roly-Poly Pudding
- The Tailor of Gloucester
DVD 3:The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle and Mr. Jeremy Fisher
- The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle and Mr. Jeremy Fisher
- The Tale of Mr. Tod: The Further Adventures of Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny
- The Tale of the Two Bad Mice and Johnny Town-Mouse
The DVDs:The image:The transfer is naturally fullframe so of course there's no anamorphic enhancement. On the positive side, the colours keep nicely in line with what we were used to in the books and artifacting was not really visible in the dark scenes (which were few and far between!). On the other hand, there were frequent occurrences across the DVDs of white speckles and other blemishes and quite a high amount of digitalisation and edge enhancement. This does get in the way of the viewing experience and is quite distracting especially in scenes with a great deal of movement in them. It's a shame greater care wasn't taken in this area but I suppose they are well aware that children are not as obsessive as (some) adults when it comes to picture quality and felt they could get away with it. Not a dreadful transfer but a disappointing one.
The sound:We just get the original English mono which is nice and clear. Nothing to showcase your system but no-one would be expecting that. Also English subtitles are provided for the hard of hearing.
The menus: On the basic side: they're not animated but they do feature the theme song from the series on top. One can't really complain at this as they have evidently kept their target audience in mind as they are easy to navigate and clearly labelled.
The extras: Each animated film has a written introduction to it regarding the time it was written and the source of Potter's inspiration in that story which is a simple but nice addition to the episodes. Each DVD also features a stills gallery which are in fact excerpts from the original books. There are also some disc specific extras which are as follows:
DVD 1: The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends- Featurette: "the story letters" - a five minute documentary on the genesis of Peter Rabbit and Potter's letter writing - worthwhile watching once at least.-The Tale of Peter Rabbit: notes talking about Potter's inspiration for Peter Rabbit.
DVD 2: The Tale of Pigling Bland and other stories- Featurette: "Beatrix Potter the conservationist" - a five minute documentary on Beatrix Potter's successful attempt to safeguard the lake district from being spoilt and a look inside her house which has now been turned into a museum - a very nice addition and definitely worthwhile having a look at.- Potter's Victorian childhood: a series of pages summing up shortly Beatrix Potter's childhood and upbringing.
DVD 3: The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle and Mr. Jeremy Fisher- Nursery Rhymes: a series of illustrated pages of nursery rhymes.- Making the series: a short series of notes regarding how and when the series was made.
Conclusions:Despite the letdown on the transfer front, the artwork itself and Potter's original stories are quite beautiful to watch. The extras are few but are relatively interesting so if you're not too obsessive about image quality this is a fine set