Judge Kristin Munson loves ponies. Pretty, pretty ponies. With their fluffy manes and their fuzzy flanks, and their adorable little horsy noses as they stomp on snakes, gallop for help when someone's hurt, and miraculously recover from life-ending injuries just in the nick of time. Sorry, what were we talking about?
Come with us, we'll have a magical time
While aimed squarely at the tween set, The Saddle Club is also a siren for the horsey set, luring you in with the promise of magnificent animals and then mesmerizing you with its awfulness. The show takes place in an enchanted, unnamed land where accents of all kinds existed in oblivious harmony, sometimes within the same character, and feelings are emoted in connect-the-dots fashion (I am angry; therefore I frown). The first season was so cheesy, so simplistic, it was impossible to look away.
But the times, they are a changing at Pine Hollow. Fake accents have been dropped for the second season (when they were there at all), the kids have taken some acting classes, and everyone has been hit with a puberty stick (like a regular stick, but pimpled and angsty). The girls are getting a bit long in the hoof for stories about trail rides and jumping fears, so the new plots have the ladies trying to start a girl band while lusting after the barn staff and saying things like "Max isn't as hot as that," to let you know how and menstrual and mature they are.
In the first five minutes of The Saddle Club: Storm at Pine Hollow a new barn manager/male role model arrives and informs everyone that old manager Max has left to take a training course in France. This is done with all the sincerity and believability of a parent telling their kids that Sparky has gone to live on a farm, where he'll be much happier (It doesn't help that new guy Drew looks like a 19-year-old who's fashioned a crude moustache/goatee combo out of hair clippings so that he can buy beer). From there on, it's all about Lisa's attempts to train an untamable foster horse in the way only an inexperienced pre-teen truly can. Oh, and a few romantic subplots, some moneymaking ventures, a runaway pony, and a possible foreclosure on the stables. Nothing major.
If that sounds like an awful lot to cover in just over an hour, that's because Allumination Filmworks has decided to continue the Saddle Club DVD tradition of fusing multiple episodes into a single "movie," presumably to make parents feel they're getting their money's worth. It also renders plot and pacing a hot mess of horse poo. At 70 minutes, the story jumps all over the place and still manages to drag. This isn't helped by the addition of musical numbers. You see, the actresses are a bit of a pre-teen phenomenon in Australia, where the show is filmed. This means lots of scenes written solely to showcase the tunes off their albums. These songs will burrow into your soul and play on a loop—a perky, endless nightmare of positive thinking.
Life is easy with no grown-ups around,
That's grrl, not GRRL
Coconut shell solo:
Cloppity cloppity clop clop-clop!
All these up-tempo numbers mean even less screen time for the horses than usual. On the other hand, The Saddle Club series is a throwback to a time when and shallow, materialistic, mean girls weren't the people little girls wanted to emulate. The heroines here have their priorities straight and their midriffs covered and are generally good role models and likable characters. Even though the show is currently airing on PBS, don't expect Storm at Pine Hollow to be much of a teaching tool. In addition to messages of self-confidence, support, and friendship, this disc also teaches us that guinea pigs breed like wet Mogwai and tripping over a log will instantly render you unconscious.
Video and audio—the basic full-frame, two-channel stereo—get the job done. Extras include a picture gallery and a music video for another innocuous but infuriatingly hummable pop tune. There are also some trailers for more Filmworks kiddie fare that show you exactly what caliber bullet you dodged by picking up The Saddle Club instead.
Storm at Pine Hollow is a decent enough DVD for its intended audience, although it would have been better off in its original, episodic form. There's not a whole lot of horsey action going on outside the training story, but the horse-crazy daughters, siblings, or nieces you'd pick this up for aren't truly going to be satisfied unless fuzzy fillies come galloping through the screen on a rainbow paved with glitter. Or maybe that's just me.
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