Two bunnies. A snow woman. Sibling rivalry. Judge David Packard takes a close look at what can happen when you throw all of these things together.
Our reviews of Max And Ruby: Bunnytales (published February 6th, 2011), Max And Ruby: Everybunny Loves Winter (published September 29th, 2010), Max And Ruby: Rainy Day Play (published May 8th, 2011), 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.
Celebrate with Max and Ruby!
Having made the successful hop from book to animated television series, author-illustrator Rosemary Wells' tales of two bunnies now arrives on our favorite medium with Max & Ruby's Christmas. This compilation of 12 episodes (six episodes plus six "bonus" episodes) from the Nickelodeon cable network series follows the adventures of seven-year-old Ruby (the bossy and perpetually-happy big sister) and three-year-old Max (the playful little brother with a penchant for mischief).
The six episodes are as follows:
• "Max's Christmas"
• "Ruby's Snow Queen"
• "Max's Rocket Run"
• "Ruby's Figure Eight"
• "Ruby's Surprise Party"
• "Ruby's Tent"
The six bonus episodes are as follows:
• "Ruby's Tea Party"
• "Max Is It"
• "Ruby's Science Project"
• "Ruby Writes a Story"
• "Max's Dominoes"
• "Grandma's Attic"
Let's begin with the positives, starting with the art and animation. The Max & Ruby series sports very sharp, colorful artwork. Characters are outlined in black and filled with bright, bold colors. Backgrounds lose the distinctive black marker-like outlines of the characters and are rendered in detailed patterns and shades rather than solids. This artistic contrast puts the appropriate focus on the bunnies and gives them an almost three-dimensional feeling as they move about in the foreground. Wells' illustrating talents give Max and Ruby—with their large, non-threatening eyes and long whiskers—a unique, cuddly appearance that proves irresistible to young ones. The animation itself is not the smoothest you'll find on television, but it works well here. These characters originated in book form, and the animated technique used, in combination with the contrasting artistic styles between the characters and the backgrounds, conveys the feeling that these characters have popped off the printed page and come to life. The episodes are visually appealing and sure to attract and hold a young one's attention.
The Dolby Digital stereo offering is more than suitable for this genre; dialogue is crisp if not occasionally annoying (yes, Ruby, that means you). The video is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio which, again, is suitable for this type of programming. Kids will be so glued to Max's antics that they'll not question the lack of an anamorphic widescreen presentation. And quite honestly, the children who will most enjoy this series probably won't even be able to pronounce the word "anamorphic."
Before we award this DVD a Bunny Scout badge, a few nitpicks require mention. As the title of the disc indicates, this is Max & Ruby's Christmas. On the cover, Max is dressed in a festive Santa hat, eyeing his present with glee. Ruby, looking a bit wary of the contents that might lie in Max's gift, stands in front of a Christmas tree. A few flurries, along with a snow-covered house and trees in the background, complete the Christmas theme. It may surprise you that exactly ONE of the twelve episodes on this DVD centers around Christmas (and yes, that would be the first episode—"Max's Christmas"). Okay, I'll give you that "Ruby's Snow Queen" could be considered a Christmas episode, but because Ruby won't let Max enjoy his new Christmas gift due to her own selfishness and desire to build that damned snow queen, that would be quite a stretch. I don't consider the Christmas-related extra ("Christmas Morning Match-Up") to count, either—it's an extra (and a weak one at that), not an episode of the series. This isn't to say it's a bad disc; I just find it misleading to blatantly market this as a Christmas DVD when only one episode on the disc really has anything to do with Christmas. That's a whopping 8.3% of the episodes, so caveat emptor if you're looking to pick up some holiday programming for your little one.
Furthermore, I'm at a complete loss to explain how episodes were chosen as regular episodes versus bonus episodes. Assuming the four winter episodes are supposed to tie into the Christmas theme (again, a stretch), that leaves two regular episodes that could just as easily been swapped with any of the six bonus episodes. The "bonus episodes" concept is a marketing ploy designed to make you think you're getting more for your money; I'd much rather see these twelve episodes listed together, especially when there's neither rhyme nor reason as to what differentiates regular from bonus episodes.
The "Special Features" are hardly worth noting. "Christmas Morning Match-Up" displays a silent, static screen of Max and Ruby, surrounded by a bounty of toys. It's your job to decide which toys belong to Max and which toys belong to Ruby. There's no interaction with the disc; you simply look at the toys and mentally note which item belongs to which bunny. Clicking the "More" option takes you to another static screen, showing the toys matched up to Max and Ruby so you can see how well you did. It's a shame that the lively antics and chipper music of the Max & Ruby series, combined with a minimum level of interactivity, weren't applied to this extra. As a result, it's lifeless and boring.
"Nick Jr. Baby Video Sneak Peek" and "Previews" are the typical self-promoting fluff you find on most DVDs today. You'll miss nothing if you skip it. I should also mention that the box trumpets "Full Screen Format" and "Dolby Digital English Stereo" as Special Features, which just goes to show that it's easy to get into the Marketing business these days.
Aside from these strange quirks and weak extras, I still recommend Max & Ruby's Christmas, although I do so for the extremely kid-friendly characters, attractive artwork, and overall fun of the simple stories. It's also a good value: At roughly twelve dollars retail, you're getting over an hour and a half of content sure to keep your little one entertained. Just remember that you're adding what is essentially a bare-bones disc with very little Christmas-related entertainment to your DVD library, regardless of what the box suggests.
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