Judge Jeff Robbins's idea of a "BunnyTale" usually features Barbi Benton and Joey Heatherton.
Our reviews of Max And Ruby: Everybunny Loves Winter (published September 29th, 2010), Max And Ruby: Rainy Day Play (published May 8th, 2011), Max And Ruby's Christmas (published November 2nd, 2004), Max And Ruby's Halloween (published September 14th, 2005), Max And Ruby: Springtime For Max And Ruby (published April 18th, 2005), and Max And Ruby: A Visit With Grandma (published June 15th, 2010) are also available.
Despite a misleading title and stories that are achingly simplistic and often repetitive, the collection Max & Ruby: BunnyTales still manages to succeed thanks largely to the undeniable charm of Max, a three-year-old bunny, and the pleasures of seeing his sister, the insufferable seven-year-old Ruby, repeatedly get her comeuppance.
Facts of the Case
Max & Ruby: BunnyTales features twelve vignettes from the Nickelodeon preschool series starring the sibling bunny characters initially created by children's book author Rosemary Wells. Max and Ruby live alone but are often joined in their adventures by their loving Grandma, who doesn't hide her affinity for the put-upon Max; Ruby's sycophantic friends Louise and Valerie; and neighborhood stud Roger. The collection's title refers to the opening trio of stories, which are adaptations of famous fairy tales.
The best current children's television programs—from The Backyardigans to Yo Gabba Gabba!—walk the tricky line of presenting varied content (that can be enjoyed by children of a relatively wide age range) within a predictable format (that can be easily digested by even the youngest viewer). Fans of The Backyardigans, for instance, know that each episode's adventure will begin (as the outgrowth of imaginative play) and end (when one of the characters gets too hungry to continue) in the main characters' backyard. The heart of the story, however, can be wildly different episode to episode.
In contrast, Max & Ruby: BunnyTales points out all too clearly that Max & Ruby episodes are not wildly different but are instead usually slight variations on the same plot: Ruby is attempting to play a game or work on a project, only to be stymied by the interruptions of her brother Max and his vast toy collection. After getting frustrated with her brother, Ruby discovers that Max and his toys have actually helped her to complete her task or win her game, and Ruby is no longer angry at Max.
This plot device is exemplified by the third trio of stories on Max & Ruby: BunnyTales: In "Max's Castle," Ruby and her friend Louise are attempting to build a castle out of blocks. Their creation is boring until Max's toys invade their workspace to create interesting deviations in the design. That is followed by "Bunny Hopscotch," where Ruby's and her friend Louise's attempts to play hopscotch are interrupted by Max and his cement mixer full of stones. After angrily picking up Max's stones, Ruby discovers that Max has inadvertently helped her to learn the game. Then comes "Max's Grasshopper," in which Ruby's "measuring experiment" involving bean plants is ruined by Max's hungry pet grasshopper, only to discover that Hoppy's behavior has led her to much more fruitful research.
These episodes in and of themselves are all clever and charming, but when taken together, they clearly point out Max & Ruby's limitations. Those limitations are not likely to bother the show's target audience—and in fact preschoolers who like Max & Ruby probably enjoy it largely because of its predictability—but the episodes' simplistic sameness do serve to limit the show's appeal to all but the very young.
Ironically, it is in the disc's opening trio of "BunnyTales," stories that are variations on centuries-old fairy tales, where the program successfully breaks free of those conventions and is at its most original. In "The Princess and the Marbles," a cute retelling of "The Princess and the Pea," Ruby is cast as a long-lost princess who seeks shelter at the castle of "Queen Grandma" and "Prince Max." Only one of Max's marbles can help determine whether Ruby is indeed a real princess. "The Emperor's New Clothes" is retold as "Emperor Max's New Suit," as Ruby is frustrated in her attempts to get Max to try on some new formalwear. (What bunnies need with formalwear is an issue sadly not explored here.) And finally, "Max and the Three Little Bunnies" casts Max as the "Big Max Wolf" intent on "puffing" down the homes of Ruby and her friends.
All three of the "BunnyTales" are hugely entertaining; it is a shame, therefore, that only a quarter of the disc is devoted to these stories. (For the record, there are some similar-themed stories in the Max & Ruby canon, but "Max and the Beanstalk" and "Ruby Riding Hood" have already appeared on the 2008 DVD Max & Ruby: Berry Bunny Adventures. Those vignettes could and should have been repeated here, perhaps as "bonus episodes.")
There are a couple of other vignettes included here that break the mold, if only more slightly than the superior "BunnyTales." Best among these is the disc's final story, "Super Max's Cape." This episode, in which Ruby is put in charge of a baby bunny, most expertly and comically gets at the heart of the interplay between the two siblings: Here Ruby is positive that she can keep the baby entertained, all the while unaware that Max's "Super Bunny" alter-ego is what is really causing the baby to coo and giggle.
"Super Max's Cape" works, like most of the vignettes on Max & Ruby: BunnyTales, because we enjoy seeing the charming Max succeed and the self-absorbed Ruby made to look silly. But the trio of "BunnyTales" proves that Rosemary Wells's creations are more versatile than that. Perhaps future Max & Ruby collections will more thoroughly take advantage of that fact. But in the meantime, preschoolers—if not necessarily their parents—will undoubtedly find much to enjoy in Max & Ruby: BunnyTales.
The twelve stories on Max & Ruby: BunnyTales are presented as four episodes with three stories each. All are in 4:3 "full screen format" befitting their original television exhibition. There are no bonus features apart from four trailers for other Nickelodeon DVDs, which play automatically when the disc is inserted and which can also be accessed via the disc's "Previews" menu. Kudos to Nickelodeon for limiting the opening trailer roll to just four (most of their DVDs have several more) and for wisely programming the disc so the episodes start up very quickly after the main menu appears. This self-starting feature comes in handy if the disc is being watched in the back of a minivan, eliminating the need for the driver to mess with the player while trying to navigate through traffic.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It's bad enough that Ruby is selfish and self-absorbed, but here the creators behind Max & Ruby have made her aggravatingly pretentious and a know-it-all as well. In "Max's Castle," for example, she blithely tosses off dictionary-quality definitions of "turrets" and "bunting" (causing her sickeningly sycophantic friend Louise to gleefully remark "You know everything about castles!"), and in "Max's Water Lily," she leads her friends in a grandiose routine in the pompous sport of synchronized swimming. Ugh.
Though it's sadly short on actual "BunnyTales," Max & Ruby: BunnyTales triumphs over its familiarity largely on the strength of the impossibly charming Max. Preschoolers (and their parents) partial to Max & Ruby will undoubtedly find much to enjoy here.
Hare ye! Hare ye! (Get it? I'm bringing the funny here.) Max & Ruby: BunnyTales is hereby decreed to be a hopping (more funny brought) good time. Not guilty!
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