Review: "Chuck and Friends: Monster Rally" and "Dinosaur Train: Big, Big, Big" == Big Family Fun
The Adventures of Chuck and Friends: Monster Rally provides another 10 episodes of fun with the Hub’s anthropomorphic dump truck and his assorted automotive friends. While I wasn’t quite as impressed with this disc as I was with the first one, Chuck and Friends is still consistently fun, gentle, and family-friendly for everyone in the household. Kids (and especially boys) will dig the trucks’ antics, while adults will find sufficient entertainment value to sit and watch with the kids instead of dumping it into the DVD player and abandoning the room.
Chuck is still a boisterous young dump truck who spends his days playing around with his many automotive friends: Biggs the monster truck, Boomer the fire truck, Handy the tow truck, Rowdy the garbage truck, Soku the tricked out coupe, and more. Like most shows targeted at younger audiences, Chuck and Friends aspires to teach lessons on socialization and civilized group behavior: be nice to your friends, share, don’t tell lies, etc. It is pretty successful at teaching these lessons without managing to suck all the fun out of any given episode, since there is plenty of opportunity for slightly exaggerated mayhem as Chuck (and the audience) learn the lessons. For example, an episode like “Attack of the 50-Foot Chuck” is about Chuck learning not to be selfish, but it does so when his impatience leads him to test-drive the giant robotic auto/dinosaur he and his friends built before all the safety checks have been done. This leads to a relatively harmless rampage before Chuck’s parents and friends figure out how to disable the mechanical beastie. Kids can get a laugh out of Chuck’s antics and the surprisingly safe destruction, while adults can chuckle at the reference in the episode’s title and in little bits like the ways Chuck passes a sleepless night anxious to get back to his new toy (which also includes another film reference likely to whip right over the kids’ heads).
As with the first disc, Monster Rally is a fine presentation of the material, with a sharp anamorphic widescreen presentation and a solid Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. I also appreciate the chapter stops on the disc that allow you to skip the opening and closing credits, although the opening theme song is jaunty and contagious enough that I don’t mind sitting through it repeatedly. The only bonus feature on the disc is a sing-along karaoke video for one of the songs in an episode. Like most kidvid, Monster Rally is more a soccer mom release than a complete, sequential season set, but with a running time just shy of 2 hours, it certainly can’t be accused of being insubstantial or a poor value for the money.
If I was marginally less well-inclined towards Chuck and Friends on its second DVD, I find I’m a bit more well-inclined towards the latest Dinosaur Train DVD, Big Big Big, which contains 8 more episodes of the popular PBS Kids show. The show’s roots with the Jim Henson Company and PBS mean that Dinosaur Train is much more overtly educational, but the fact that the lessons are about dinosaurs makes the educational material far more palatable. And, as mentioned in my last review of the show, the fact that kids love trains and kids love dinosaurs means they’ll forgive a whole lot of sins in a show about dinosaurs riding trains.
The core of Big Big Big are a brace of episodes that anchored “Big Dinosaur Week,” as the Pteranadon family (Tiny, Shiny, Dot, and their adopted T-Rex brother Buddy) visit some big, big dinosaurs, including a Brachiosaurus, a Diplodocus, an Apatosaurus, and an Argentinosaurus (a beastie too big to even ride the Dinosaur Train!). Each episode is pretty successful at depicting the truly massive scale of these enormous extinct animals, and each one gets a distinct personality to keep the story moving. My personal favorite was probably the adventuresome Apollo Apatosaurus, a dinosaur would-be Indiana Jones as his vivid imagination turns a trip through the forest into a grand adventure. Apollo even uses his massive tail as a whip as paleontologists speculate real Apatosauruses did (though Apollo is using his for dramatic sound effects while the real ones might have done so for communication or self-defense). I also have to admit no small amusement that the show was willing to spend an entire episode on dinosaur poop, and have little doubt that this episode will be a favorite among the show’s youthful fans.
This DVD also gives little to complain about presentation-wise, with the same anamorphic widescreen video and Dolby Digital 2.0 audio as the Chuck DVD. Unfortunately, this disc still hasn’t picked up the chapter stops it was missing on the last disc, although the country-inflected theme song is fun enough to make it tolerable to sit through multiple times. My one complaint is that the last episode, “All Kinds of Families,” was recycled from the last disc. While the episode fits with the “Big Big Big” theme, it still seems kind of cheesy to include a repeat instead of finding another appropriate episode from among the two seasons and 60-odd episodes the show has aired so far.
Dinosaur Train definitely comes out ahead in the bonus features department, with the live-action educational material by Dr. Scott the paleontologist detailing the science behind each episode (yes, including the episode about dinosaur poop). There are also a number of interactive features available by slipping the DVD into a computer and accessing the DVD-ROM features, including a game (for Mac and PC), coloring pages, and several informational PDFs about the show and dinosaurs for parents or teachers.