By Ty BurrMarc BernardinSteve Daly and Will Lee
December 10, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

Animated Disney DVD Masterpieces

Because Disney cartoons are made up in good part of delicate outlines, they improve on DVD like few other programs. And there’s no denying the excitement of seeing a whole passel of Disney classics dumped onto DVD all at once. But if you wished upon a star, you’d never wish for a stingy package like this one. Granted, the nine-DVD set contains pinnacles of animation artistry (Pinocchio, 101 Dalmatians, Lady and the Tramp), along with several of Disney’s most charming musicals (Peter Pan, The Jungle Book, The Little Mermaid, Hercules, Mulan). But who decided a piece of junk like The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride should stand alongside these keepers? And hello—where are the bonus goodies to justify the price? From the vast archive of terrific supplementary material that Disney has already released in earlier VHS and laserdisc ”special editions,” the studio has here chosen to include…nothing. There’s merely a trailer and the odd music video tossed in (along with the usual foreign-language soundtracks), and one not especially good program on the making of Hercules. At a time when DVDs with huge annexes are selling at $20 to $25, Disney’s list price of $39.99 per title seems like the work of Scrooge McDuck. DVD: C

Monty Python’s Flying Circus
A&E, VHS: $119.80, DVD: $179.80

The combined effect of watching these 26 episodes in sequence and with little interruption is akin to saying the same word—for instance, Spam—a thousand times out loud, after which a basic comprehension of what it actually means becomes more or less impossible. Which, in the case of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, is less a criticism than an empirical illustration of the randomness that the Pythons so gleefully pursued—and achieved—on the BBC 30 years ago. This particular set comprises the first two series of Flying Circus, which aired in the U.K. from 1969 to 1970, and what was funny then is still lethally so now. The DVD versions don’t abet the party greatly—a digitally remastered Ipswich shop front is still a drab one—though a glossary of Pythonisms and a minor selection of favorite sketches done live are amusing additions. But, in either format, so as to help the Pythonic brand of unbridled unpredictability remain fresh, take this set only in measured doses. VHS: B+ DVD: A-

The James Bond Collection
MGM, VHS: $89.92, DVD: $199.92

Seven movies, 007…get it? These sets, perfectly timed to exploit the success of The World Is Not Enough, are but a sampler of Bond’s adventures: Sean Connery’s Goldfinger and Thunderball, Roger Moore’s Live and Let Die and For Your Eyes Only, Timothy Dalton’s Licence to Kill, and Pierce Brosnan’s Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies. The VHS editions are nothing special; they’re nice transfers, but you could’ve bought these movies on tape any time over the past few years and been just as happy. The DVD set, however, is the lion’s roar: The newly created menus are the finest I’ve seen (except for the Brosnan discs, lines from each film accompany menu selections—e.g., when you choose the Special Features option on the Licence to Kill disc, amid all the computer-generated whizbang, you hear Dalton utter, ”These’ll keep you busy for the next few days”), and the image quality is so crystal clear that you’ll see (body) parts of Goldfinger that you never could before. The movies themselves, of course, vary in quality, but the DVDs will leave you shaken, stirred, and hungry for more. VHS: B DVD: A

The Man With No Name Trilogy
MGM, VHS: $34.98, DVD: $59.98

Film history is rarely so enterttaining. The three movies in this set—A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly—retooled the Western into pop art, destroyed the moral pieties of Hollywood narrative, introduced the modern mythic antihero, made a case for Sergio Leone as a world-class director, unleashed the full-on kitsch melodism of composer Ennio Morricone, and, oh yes, made Clint Eastwood a massive star overnight. None of which you need to know to enjoy these stark, hilarious fables of vengeance, greed, and fate. Those with DVD players win the shoot-out: The disc versions deliver Leone’s breathtaking wide-screen shots with enough clarity to see every follicle on Clint’s unshaven neck—plus theatrical trailers, and, on the TGTB&TU disc, 14 minutes of scenes cut for U.S. release. The appropriate response to the tapes, however, would be ”hang ’em high,” since MGM is making them available only in pointless cropped-for-TV transfers. In this case, half a gift is definitely worse than none. VHS: C DVD: A

The Judy Garland Show Collection
PIONEER, DVD: $119.98

Highlights from Garland’s fatally low-rated 1963-64 CBS TV series have been excerpted plenty of times before. But until now, few complete episodes were available. Wade your way into these 14 hour-long shows, culled from the full run of 26 (the selection jumps around, and the gaps will be filled in by a second box next year) and you can see why. A lot of this material dates badly. From Mickey Rooney’s tired burlesque in episode 1 to a clearly intoxicated Peter Lawford fluffing lyrics in episode 18, there’s an air of the funereal to the proceedings; it’s no wonder the Beatles’ appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show spelled doom for entertainers of Garland’s generation. That’s the bad news. The good news is that Garland’s best segments still rattle the rafters, especially in remastered 5.1-channel sound. Cooing elegantly alongside guests Peggy Lee and Lena Horne, or cracking up at the TV debut of impressionist Rich Little (his James Mason is killer), Garland gets back something here that she lost in previous compilations: her winning sense of humor. She laughs off the fizzles—and seems all the more talented for it. DVD: B+