Most people wouldn't let Judge Ike Oden drive a car, much less a bus.
So, uh, how about we "play"…bus driver?
If you have a child under the age of eight, you know of Mo Willems' wildly popular Don't Let The Pigeon… book series. The plotline follows a childish pigeon who, breaking the fourth wall, asks the audience if he can do any number of things. These include having a puppy, staying up late, and (as chronicled on this DVD) driving the bus. The answer is invariably "No" (or silence, depending on your kids reading preferences), hence, comedy ensues as the pigeon grows more desperate in his schemes to get what he wants.
Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! brings this to animated life along with two other stories. Willems' autobiographical Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale chronicles Mo's daughter who loses her treasured bunny doll on a trip to the laundry mat. Leonardo, the Terrible Monster tells the story of the titular monster whose failed career path spurs him to target the world's scarediest kid for one last shot at glory.
There isn't a lot to criticize here. I came in expecting little more than a sloppily thrown together montage art from each book overlaid by dry author narration. After all, that's the bulk of what I got in these "storybook cartoons" as a kid. Thankfully, times have changed, and what we have are three fully realized short cartoons, narrated and voiced entirely by Willems, with a guest appearance by Mo's daughter Trixie on Knuffle Bunny.
The animation is smooth and fluid, perfectly breathing new life into Willems' cartoons. Most impressive of the set is Knuffle Bunny, which combines a cartoon aesthetic overlayed on black-and-white photos of New York. The effect is not only loyal to the book, but also gives the cartoon a fun, documentary style feel that's truly unique. Pigeon and Monster are equally solid and sparse, focused on the subjects over setting and space, a choice that reflects the author's sketchbook drawing style.
Willem's narration is adequate at worst and hilarious at best. He brings his iconic Pigeon to life with the most ease in a performance, recalling both an impetuous child and a used car salesman who won't take no for an answer. On the flipside, his Leonardo feels forced and hamfisted in its obviousness, making for more a caricature than a fully dimensional cartoon. Thankfully, Willems acts primarily as a narrator for Knuffle Bunny, letting his daughter do most of the acting, creating an uninhibited, childish charm that recalls the iconic voice work of the Charlie Brown TV specials.
In terms of his presence on the set, Willems' voice work can be construed as critical; he's the author of the books and knows these characters better than anyone. At the same time, he's not a voice actor, and one can't help but imagine how someone like Frank Welker (Scooby-Doo, Where are You!) could improve Leonardo. Heck, Frank's voice could improve Citizen Kane, but that's a topic for another review. We can only credit Willems' enthusiasm to be involved with the DVD. Aside from his pigeon's adventures, he should refrain from further acting jaunts.
The DVD, while short, represents a great way to help those too young to read engage themselves in the books of Mo Willems. Whether it's a read-a-long or simply watching the cartoons, the stories are represented in their fullest and make a great addition to any educational video library.
The 1.85:1 widescreen transfer is clean, sporting sharp lines and shadows free of noticeable blemishes, and the Dolby 2.0 Stereo track is more than adequate.
In the supplements, we're treated to alternate versions of these cartoons. Don't Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus: The You Yell Version allows the kids at home to play along in tormenting the Pigeon. A Spanish language version of Knuffle Bunny is also included, though why this option isn't offered on other cartoons is beyond me.
"Mo and the Pigeon Visit A School" is by far the most interesting extra on the DVD, wherein Mo talks about his inspiration, creative process, and the overall impact of The Pigeon on the children's literary world in interviews juxtaposed against a live, instructional version of "Don't Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus" Mo performs for an elementary school class. Finally, "Read-Along" options are offered for each to cartoon and "Talk About The Stories" quizzes your kids (or class) on the contents of each story. You know, for fun.
Don't let the pigeon plead guilty; he most certainly isn't.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Scholastic Video
• Alternate Versions
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