Schoolhouse Rock! Election Collection: Limited Edition
R1 - America - Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James Teitelbaum (1st October 2008).
The Show

Cultural touchstones. There are a lot of them. Every generation has their share of them, from the obvious to the obscure. Be they wars or political events or mass-media entertainment, each decade brings a new cache of crucial shared memories. Kids growing up in the early 1970's, for example, weren't around when Kennedy and King were shot, and D-Day is something only their grandparents remember. But ask someone currently in their thirties or early forties about the space shuttle Challenger blowing up, or about the first time they saw "Star Wars" (1977), and you'll see the light in their eyes and you'll hear their tale.

This is the same generation that was weaned on "Schoolhouse Rock!" Originally airing on nationwide ABC affiliates from 1972 to 1986, the forty-seven songs that had been recorded by 1979 are permanently burned into the grey matter of hundreds of thousands of adults - and soon, due to DVD releases, their children as well. Note that between 1983 and 2002, seven more shorts were created, bringing the total to fifty-four. These songs were accompanied by animation, and were shown at the top of every hour during the Saturday morning cartoon rituals. It is astounding to contemplate, in this era of unchecked greed among networks and their advertisers, that ABC was willing to devote a full three minutes of every hour to the completely unimportant task of trying to educate our nation's children, right in between brain-numbing episodes of "Hong Kong Phooey" (1974-1975) and "Far Out Space Nuts" (1975-1976). Let us not praise ABC entirely however: General Foods, Nabisco, Kenner Toys, Kellogg's, and McDonald's sponsored the segments, so they are to thank as well.

Looking back on the fourteen cartoons that make up "Schoolhouse Rock! Election Collection", it is amazing how well the songs really do hold up. They were produced and performed with a level of competency rarely found in kids music, then or now.

This should not come as much of a surprise, actually, given the talent involved. Bob Dorough - the voice behind The Shot Heard Round the World and the first-ever "Schoolhouse Rock!" song, Three is a Magic Number - is a highly regarded jazz songwriter, who worked with luminaries like Miles Davis and Beat poet Allen Ginsberg. Lynn Ahrens (singer of No More Kings and others) is a Broadway lyricist who worked on Once on This Island and Ragtime, which were nominated for twelve and eight Tony awards, respectively. Grady Tate (singer of Fireworks, Mean Old Number Nine and lots more) is a legendary jazz drummer and vocalist. A small fragment of his resume includes: Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughan, Ray Charles, Cal Tjader, Peggy Lee, Bill Evans, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Quincy Jones, Jimmy Smith and Stan Getz. So in other words, nothing really important! Jack Sheldon (I'm Just a Bill, Conjunction Junction, and others) is a jazz trumpeter best known for being Merv's sidekick on the "Merv Griffin Show" (1962-1986), and is the subject of a 2008 documentary about his six decades in jazz.

These people, along with many others, created a body of quality songs that have educated several generations of kids, and which are absolutely worthy of being considered classics.

Failing to balance the skill and talent present in the musical performances is the animation, which is miserable, by anyone's standards. I suppose that little kids in 1973 would not have noticed much, but the images here define crude, with backgrounds magic-markered in sloppily, and characters rendered with - apparently - as little effort or consistency as possible.

Still, as either nostalgia or as a legitimate education tool for grade schoolers (or adults?), "Schoolhouse Rock! Election Collection" is a timeless bit of Americana that deserves to have survived this long.

This collection contains fourteen of the shorts (the box says fifteen, so someone needs to watch a companion DVD of Math Rock), centering on the workings of the government and politics. The first segment on the disc opens with a sick and sad anthropomorphic planet Earth begging us all to look for alternative energy sources and to stop polluting the planet. Every word of it holds up just as well - if not better - now as it did in the 1970's. Amazing that this short was made before the 1970's energy crisis, but still comes across as thoroughly contemporary today. If nothing else, our kids all need to see this short every Saturday morning, in lieu of that extra three minutes of otherwise vapid programming or advertising.

Video

Aspect ratio is the original television ratio of 1.33:1. The 'toons are a bit crusty looking, but given the already low quality of the animation, I can't see what the advantage of cleaning them up would be. There are no major scratches, dust, or other damage, but the images are soft and can be a bit dim. Running time is 43:22, divided into fourteen chapters (one per song).

Audio

"Schoolhouse Rock! Election Collection" is supposedly presented in English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. The music does not appear to have been remixed at all - it feels as if the original production masters were cleaned up a little bit and used here. Or, in other words, it sounds like reasonably well-presented stereo takes of music made for 1970's television. If the disc were mastered in surround, there is no real reason to have done so.
There are optional subtitles in English for the hearing impaired.

Extras

Buena Vista has included two promos plus a collection of bonus trailers below is a closer look.

The only extras here are two versions of a promo encouraging people to vote and runs for 1 minute each - do these count as the fifteenth cartton? So are there really sixteen? Math Rock, please!

The following bonus trailers are also included:

- "Sleeping Beauty" which runs for 58 seconds.
- "High School Musical 2" which runs for 1 minute 30 seconds.
- "School House! Rock Earth" which runs for 32 seconds.
- "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" which runs for 52 seconds.
- "Little Einsteins: The Christmas Wish" which runs for 1 minute 3 seconds.
- "Disney Movie Rewards" spot which runs for 21 seconds.
- "Disney DVD Games" spot which runs for 36 seconds.
- "Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" which runs for 45 seconds.

Overall

The Show: A Video: B- Audio: B+ Extras: D- Overall: C+

 


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