Paramount // 2002 // 96 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Counsel Rob Lineberger (Retired) // April 18th, 2005
"Max, you used everything for your wormcake! Now I can't plant marigolds in Dolly's garden." -- Ruby
The envelope of screeners arrived. I pulled out Max and Ruby: Springtime for Max and Ruby and handed it to my 2 1/2-year-old. He went rigid with excitement and did a jig around the living room, keening an unearthly croon of delight. Like many parents, we have read some of Rosemary Wells's Max and Ruby stories to our toddler, and as soon as he saw Max's memorable mug on the DVD cover, he instinctively knew this was the disc for him. All household operations ceased as we settled in to watch.
If you've read the stories on which this DVD is based, you're aware of the rather sparse dialogue in the books. In fact, the stories are as bare-bones as can be while retaining a narrative structure. This collection of animated tales honors that sparsity while filling in the corners with observations of childhood antics. Max and Ruby play and argue realistically, reminding me of my own childhood.
The stories are sweet and simple. They take a similar form: Ruby wants to practice her bunny scout badge/play house/open a beauty salon/hunt Easter Eggs, but Max wants a popsicle/apple/ice cream/chocolate chicken. While Ruby tries to cajole Max into behaving, he sneaks off and performs some minor mischief. Everyone meets up in the last frame to laugh together. That's about all that fits into the eight-minute run time of these episodes.
Max can barely talk, so the brunt of dialogue is borne by Ruby, voiced by Samantha Morton (In America). Her voice is pleasant and laced with big-sister bossiness. The show lives or dies with her vocal performance; though we may occasionally find the character annoying, Morton does a fine job maintaining the proper tone. Ruby is self-centered, to be sure (what seven-year-old isn't?), but she is never shrill. I particularly liked her interactions with her friend Louise and her doll Curly Shirley. These bits of verisimilitude help sell the show.
Max is a little ball of id. He usually repeats one word over and over, which Ruby tends to ignore. Max is all about expression. His eyes narrow craftily as he sneaks off to dine on chocolate, or take a trip to Grandma's, or ruin Ruby's merit badge practice. The moments when the camera zooms in on Max's conniving face usually sparked a chortle of laughter from my son.
Max and Ruby: Springtime for Max and Ruby seems to have been rendered in Flash, at least if the artifacts are any indication. The characters are formed in bold colors and black outlines, while the backgrounds are slightly hazy and lack outlines. Both characters and backgrounds are executed with fine detail. The problem is a constant twitter caused by entire outlines disappearing and reappearing. This is a widespread, distracting effect. Otherwise, the disc has no visual or audio blemishes.
We get six regular episodes and six bonus episodes, which is an arbitrary distinction: The episodes are identical in length, tone, and quality. The "regular" episodes on this disc are:
* "Max's Chocolate Chicken"
* "Ruby's Beauty Shop"
* "Max Drives Away"
* "Camp Out"
* "Ruby's Clubhouse"
* "Max's Picnic"
The "bonus" episodes are:
* "Ruby's Merit Badge"
* "Max's Apple"
* "Quiet, Max!"
* "Max Misses the Bus"
* "Max's Wormcake"
* "Max's Rain Day"
The bottom line for a disc such as this is, does it entertain your toddler without cramming negative messages into his brain? On that score, the disc is a success. It is free from objectionable content, is grounded in reality, and entertains just fine. My son sat enthralled for the entire six episodes (we cleverly did not engage the bonus episodes) and wailed pitifully when they were over. He walks around the house with the DVD case clutched in his hands, as though it will magically start playing if he holds it tight enough. Safe to say this one's a hit. As with any good kids' DVD, the real battle becomes deciding how much TV is enough for the wee ones.
Review content copyright © 2005 Rob Lineberger; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Max and Ruby Nick Jr. Site
* Rosemary Wells