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Case Number 02233

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Schoolhouse Rock! 30th Anniversary Edition

Disney // 2002 // 221 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Justice Michael Stailey // September 24th, 2002

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All Rise...

Editor's Note

Our review of Schoolhouse Rock! Election Collection, published September 25th, 2008, is also available.

The Charge

"Conjunction Junction, What's your Function?"

Opening Statement

Hallelujah! The definitive Schoolhouse Rock! collection has finally arrived. Throw out those old VHS tapes, pour yourself a bowl of Sugar Smacks, and return with us to those Saturday mornings of yesteryear. Cue the music…"As your body grows bigger, your mind must flower, it's great to learn 'cause knowledge is power! It's Schoolhouse Rocky, a chip off the block, it's your favorite schoolhouse, Schoolhouse Rock!"

Facts of the Case

Schoolhouse Rock was the brainchild of advertising executive David McCall, whose son Davey couldn't remember his multiplication tables to save his life, but had no trouble regurgitating the lyrics to every Rolling Stones song ever recorded. As a sideline to their regular account work, McCall and his team kicked around the idea of creating an educational album leveraging music to help kids learn. When the agency's jingle writer came back with less than impressive results, team member George Newall turned to composer and jazz pianist Bob Dorough, whose unique lyrical talents seemed a perfect fit for the project. Diving into his daughter's math textbooks, Dorough came up with "Three is a Magic Number" and blew everyone away. While recording the demo tape, staff artist Tom Yohe doodled a storyboard and the animated concept sprang to life. Account executive Radford Stone, responsible for the agency's biggest account—ABC—set up a meeting with the network's new Vice President for Children's Programming, Michael Eisner (now big cheese at the House of Mouse), who brought along legendary animator Chuck Jones to the presentation. By the time the song was finished, the deal was sealed and the rest, as they say, is history! The series debuted January 6, 1973 and ran through 1985, producing 41 episodes and four Emmy awards, before falling into television oblivion—the animation cels dumped, the musical arrangements lost, and the original recordings boxed up in someone's barn. However, as the show's original audience reached college age, a nostalgia movement began to surface. Soon, petitions were being circulated across college campuses to have the show brought back to television. Someone must have listened. In 1992, ABC relaunched the series with 10 new episodes, interspersed amongst the now classic originals. Today, Schoolhouse Rock celebrates its 30th anniversary with the release of a brand new episode—"I'm Gonna Take Your Vote to College"—and the uncovering of one that, due to legal problems, never made it to air—"The Weather Show."

The Evidence

To date, there are a total of 52 episodes of Schoolhouse Rock. Only one episode did not make it onto this DVD—and that's only because nobody seems to know where it is. Here's the breakdown…

Multiplication Rock

My Hero, Zero [1973]
Soft and soothing, the music and voice of Bob Dorough and the simplistic designs of Tom Yohe skillfully convey a young boy's tribute to his favorite number.
Grade: A

• "Elementary, My Dear" [1973]
This tale utilizes the animals on Noah's ark to express the power of two. Be careful—you'll have a hard time shaking this Dorough tune. Designed by Jack Sidebotham.
Grade: A

• "Three, is a Magic Number" [1973]
The very first Schoolhouse Rock song ever recorded. Another beautifully touching Bob Dorough performance. Designed by Tom Yohe.
Grade: A

• "Four Legged Zoo" [1973]
Inspired by a Dorough family trip to the zoo. Daughter Aralee sings backup on the song. Cute, but not as good as I remember. Designed by Bob Eggers.
Grade: B

• "Ready or Not, Here I Come" [1973]
This classic game of hide and seek was inspired by a Dorough family reunion . The first evidence of Jazz influence in the series. A great tune and a personal favorite of mine. Designed by Tom Yohe.
Grade: A+

• "I Got Six" [1973]
One of the things I love about the series is its ethnic diversity. Very few cartoons of the time showed this kind of social maturity. Performed by renowned Jazz drummer Grady Tate. Tom Yohe displays a sketchier, more engaging style.
Grade: A

• "Lucky Seven Sampson" [1973]
A rabbit takes center stage and creates havoc with his antics. The tune is not one of Dorough's more memorable pieces. Designed by Rowland Wilson.
Grade: C

• "Figure Eight" [1973]
A dreamlike performance by cabaret singer Blossom Dearie, this episode stands with "Three is a Magic Number" as the most beautiful in the series. Designed by Tom Yohe.
Grade: A

• "Naughty Number Nine" [1973]
The censors had a problem with this tobacco-laden billiard episode. Jazzy vocals by Grady Tate with a nod to The Hustler by Tom Yohe and Bill Peckmann.
Grade: A

• "Good Eleven" [1973]
Angelic simplicity and agency in-jokes dot this Jack Sidebotham designed episode. My least favorite of the Multiplication Rock songs. Left off the original ABC video release.
Grade: C

• "Little Twelvetoes" [1973]
My favorite Multiplication Rock tune, this often forgotten episode features a digitally challenged alien who apparently had a thing for The Cat in the Hat. Also left off the original ABC video release. Designed by Rowland Wilson.
Grade: A+

Grammar Rock

• "Conjunction Junction" [1973]
The most beloved episode in the entire series. The first performance by legendary horn player and jazz singer Jack Sheldon, whose voice will be forever identified with Schoolhouse Rock. Designed by Tom Yohe and Bill Peckmann.
Grade: A+

• "A Noun is a Person, Place, or Thing" [1973]
The first episode composed by singer and songwriter Lynn Ahrens (Broadway's Ragtime), who went on to create 15 more songs for the series. Note the "bubblegum pop" influence. Designed by Jack Sidebotham.
Grade: A

• "Verb: That's What's Happening" [1974]
Another personal favorite of mine. Dorough cuts loose with the jazz riffs and Zachary Sanders provides the soulful vocals. Designed by Yohe and Peckmann.
Grade: A+

• "Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here" [1974]
A fan favorite, Dorough provides the vocals for all three Lolly's courtesy of Chipmunks-esque speed variations. Designed by Jack Sidebotham.
Grade: A

• "Unpack Your Adjectives" [1975]
The amazing thing about designer Tom Yohe is the emotion he could generate with such simple character designs. The first song composed by producer George Newall. Another great performance by singer Blossom Dearie.
Grade: A

• "Rufus Xavier Sarsparilla" [1977]
Agency copywriter Kathy Mandry wrote the lyrics to this Bob Dorough tune. Another great performance by singer Jack Sheldon. But the rudimentary design style of Paul Kim and Lew Gifford takes away from its enjoyment.
Grade: B

• "Interjections" [1974]
This Lynn Ahrens tune combined with more great work by Tom Yohe and Phil Kimmelman's animation team make this another personal favorite. Performed by singer Essra Mohawk, with support from Tom Yohe's children, son Tom Jr. and daughter Lauren, who voiced the classic line "Darn! That's the end."
Grade: A+

• "Busy Prepositions" [1992]
In a word…yuck! One of the first new episodes for the series relaunch does not fit the style or stylings of its predecessors. Music by Bob Dorough and Jack Sheldon. Designed by Bill Peckmann. I never liked prepositions anyway.
Grade: F

• "The Tale of Mr. Morton" [1992]
Closer in style and tone to the originals, but something is still lacking. The Lynn Ahrens song is forgettable and the slicker computer animation takes away from the nostalgia feel of the originals. Although I do remember now what a predicate is. Designed by Tom Yohe Jr.
Grade: D

America Rock

• "No More Kings" [1975]
These episodes were created to honor the country's bicentennial celebration. This particular Lynn Ahrens tune tells the tale of the Pilgrims coming to America and our later fight to free ourselves from the rule of King George. Designed by Paul Kim and Lew Gifford.
Grade: B

• "The Shot Heard Round the World" [1976]
Bob Dorough returns to form with one of the series more memorable tunes, as the rebel colonists take on the British in the battle for America's freedom. In the very last shot of the people-filled country, look for designer Jack Sidebotham's naked woman in Southern California. Who said this series was just for kids?
Grade: A

• "The Preamble" [1976]
Thank you, Lynn Ahrens, for helping me pass my eighth grade Constitution exam—although I think I screwed up by writing down "welfarence." The first song Ahrens wrote for the series. Designed by Tom Yohe and George Cannata.
Grade: A+

• "Fireworks" [1977]
Trying to do for the Declaration what "The Preamble" did for the Constitution, this Ahrens tune falls a little short. You still have to enjoy Tom Yohe's designs.
Grade: B

• "Elbow Room" [1976]
Who knew the Louisiana Purchase and the population's migration west could be this much fun? Ahrens provides another great tune, this time with vocals by Sue Manchester. Designed by Paul Frahm and Lew Gifford.
Grade: A

• "The Great American Melting Pot" [1977]
The best of Lynn Ahrens' work on the series, standing with Bob Dorough's "Figure Eight" and "Three is a Magic Number" as beautiful and compelling. Designed by Tom Yohe, who outdid himself on this one as well.
Grade: A+

• "Mother Necessity" [1977]
Now it gets fun. Bob Dorough and Jack Sidebotham's tribute to the innovative American spirit, the song is performed by four of the series' most recognizable voices—Jack Sheldon, Blossom Dearie, Essra Mohawk, and Dorough himself. I especially like the bit with the Wright Brothers.
Grade: A

• "Sufferin' Til Suffrage" [1976]
A unique episode in that artist Tom Yohe wrote the lyrics to this Bob Dorough tune. The resulting performance of Essra Mohawk is hands down the most rousing of the series. Designers Paul Kim and Lew Gifford's deft use of historical photographs to drive the action make this a treat to watch.
Grade: A

• "Three Ring Government" [1979]
To be honest, I don't even remember this one. Lynn Ahrens provides the music and Arnold Roth the designs for this bastard child of the series. I get the concept of likening the three branches of government to a circus, but on the whole the episode goes nowhere.
Grade: C

• "I'm Just a Bill" [1975]
Next to "Conjunction Junction," the second most beloved and recognized episode in the series. Composed by LA songwriter Dave Frishberg, Jack Sheldon and the band recorded this tune on the same day as "Conjunction Junction." Coincidence? Something unique was going on in that studio. Sheldon's son John provides the voice for the little boy. Tom Yohe's classic character designs will live on forever.
Grade: A+

• "I'm Gonna Take Your Vote to College" [2001]
I didn't think it possible, but this new episode recaptures everything great about the original series, with the team of Dorough and Sheldon back in rare form. The most pleasant surprise of all are the near identical design styles of Bill Peckmann and Tom Yohe Jr. who steps in to fill the shoes of his late father. Tom Yohe passed away in late 2000 after losing his battle with cancer. A fitting tribute to a man who gave so much to so many.
Grade: A+

Science Rock

• "Telegraph Line" [1979]
Once again, Tom Yohe's simple yet comical designs put this episode among the best. Apparently, even medical schools use it to teach students about the nervous system. Another great Ahrens composition, with vocals by newcomers Jamie Aff and Christine Langer. Note Yohe's nod to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid at the end.
Grade: A

• "Do the Circulation" [1979]
Eh…a nice attempt at explaining the circulatory systems, but there is really nothing memorable about this Ahrens/Yohe episode. They can't all be home runs.
Grade: B

• "The Body Machine" [1979]
On the other hand, here's one that works on all levels—musically exceptional work by Ahrens, Dorough, and Sheldon—and artistically by Yohe and Kimmelman.
Grade: A

• "Them Not-So-Dry Bones" [1979]
Yet another fun and jazzy tune composed by producer George Newall and performed by the great Jack Sheldon. Tom Yohe's images continue to teach and entertain.
Grade: A

• "A Victim of Gravity" [1978]
Lynn Ahrens and Tom Yohe pay tribute to the styles and sounds of the 1950s with this episode, performed by the Tokens, who hit it big with their recording of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." Some classic images, but nothing special.
Grade: B

• "The Energy Blues" [1978]
It surprises me, watching this socially conscious episode, just how little progress the world has made in implementing alternative fuel sources. This George Newall, Jack Sheldon, Tom Yohe collaboration is as fresh and relevant today as it was 24 years ago. Note: Biz Markie did a dead on version of this tune for the 1995 Schoolhouse Rock! Rocks tribute album.
Grade: A+

• "Electricity, Electricity" [1979]
Bob Dorough's jazz stylings and Zachary Sanders vocals once again drive the action. Entertaining designs by Paul Kim and Lew Gifford.
Grade: B

• "Interplanet Janet" [1978]
Another of the series' most memorable episodes, Lynn Ahrens and Jack Sidebotham helped many kids remember the order of the planets in our solar system. Worked for me!
Grade: A

• "The Weather Show" [1978]
This episode got hung up in court over the use of the line "The Greatest Show on Earth." It seems a certain family circus had a problem with lyric, but now it has been returned to its rightful place in SCIENCE ROCK. The episode itself was not one of the best anyway.
Grade: B

Money Rock

• "Dollars and Sense" [1992]
This new group of episodes help relaunch the series in the early '90s, recapturing the original style. The first Dave Frishberg tune with a country twang teaches kids the importance of saving your cash. Designed by Tom Yohe.
Grade: A

• "$7.50 Once a Week" [1992]
As my wife pointed out, did anyone ever get an allowance that was not a whole dollar amount? I know I didn't. In any case, this catchy Dave Frishberg tune shows just what you can accomplish by using that allowance money wisely. Designed by Jack Sidebotham.
Grade: B

• "Where the Money Goes" [1992]
This Rich Mendoza song, sung by the great Jack Shelton, shows a kid just where his parents spend all that money he claims they make. Designed by Bill Peckmann.
Grade: B

• "Tax Man Max" [1992]
Similar in style to the missing "Weather Show," this Stephen Flaherty/Lynn Ahrens episode teaches kids not to listen to their parents complain about paying taxes. Just look at all the things that money pays for. Like that's going to stop people from complaining. Designed by Phil Kimmelman.
Grade: B

• "Walkin' on Wall Street" [1992]
Just what is this place called Wall Street and what do people do there? Dave Frishberg explains in this somewhat unique episode. There's a certain maturity here that hasn't been seen since the best episodes of AMERICA ROCKS. Designed by Bill Peckmann.
Grade: B

• "This for That" [1992]
Ever wonder how the barter system got started? Did you know it's still in use today? Does anyone care? This George Newall/Bob Dorough episode falls somewhere in the middle of the pack. Designed by Phil Kimmelman.
Grade: C

• "Tyrannosaurus Debt" [1992]
The best of MONEY ROCKS, Tom Yohe composed and designed this episode tackling the ever-increasing problem of government spending with comedic style and grace. A true gem!
Grade: A+

• "The Check's in the Mail" [1992]
Bob Dorough and Luther Rix show us just how to pay our bills through the mail. Designed by Bill Peckmann. By this point, the idea engine was running out of fuel.
Grade: C

Scooter Computer And Mr. Chips

A stepchild of the Schoolhouse Rock series, these episodes were commissioned in the mid-1980s by ABC program executives who felt children would be afraid of using computers. Yeah, right! These are extremely dated and not very entertaining. There were four original episodes, but the very first one—Introduction—has been lost and no one can seem to find it.

• "Software" [1983]
Oy…no offense to composer Lynn Ahrens or designer Tom Yohe, but these shorts are just bad. The only educational value I can see here is helping kids understand the difference between Bits and Bytes.
Grade: C

• "Hardware" [1983]
Oh the pain, the pain of it all. Composer Dave Frishberg had to pore through textbooks to understand just what computers were. Do yourself a favor and skip through this one.
Grade: D

• "Number Cruncher" [1984]
Today's lesson is all about data processing. It should be on how Scooter could find a way to unplug Mr. Chips and find something else to do with his time. My apologies to composer Dave Frishberg.
Grade: D

Okay, that covers the meat of the disc. Now onto the extras—and there are a lot of them. First and foremost, the menus, introductions, and bumpers are all brand new, courtesy of George Newall, Bob Dorough, Bill Peckmann, and Tom Yohe Jr., who has captured his father's style perfectly. The first disc takes place in the Conjunction Junction Diner, where the menu consists of all 46 original series episodes (including the '90s relaunch) as well as the new "I'm Gonna Take Your Vote to College." There are a variety of ways in which you can play the selections, including the diner's jukebox, which has the series Top Ten. The second disc takes place in the little schoolhouse from "Figure Eight" and contains a wealth of special features, including several Easter eggs. I'll separate the extras into three categories—Must See, If You Have Time, and Don't Bother…

• "Must See"
• The lost episode "Weather Show"
• New episode "I'm Gonna Send Your Vote to College" in Dolby 5.1
• Behind the Scenes of "I'm Gonna Send Your Vote to College"
• Emmy Awards Featurette
• Audio Commentaries by George Newall, Tom Yohe Jr, Phil Kimmelman

• "If You Have Time"
• Top 20 episode countdown
• Schoolhouse Rock trivia game—"Earn Your Diploma"
• Puzzle game for the kids—"Arrange a Schoolhouse Rock Song"

• "Don't Bother"
• The three episodes of "Scooter Computer and Mr. Chips"
• Nike Commercial—"Three is a Magic Number"

Amid all this reminiscing, I almost forgot the physical evidence. This two-disc set, as a whole, is beautiful. The new animation done specifically for this release captures every nuance of the series. In fact, looking at the grainy, faded 1.33:1 full-frame presentation of the original 1970s and '80s episodes might make you wish they would have reanimated everything. Despite the somewhat poor quality of the transfers, these classics were on the shelf for many years. I don't know if more time and money spent on additional restoration would have improved my enjoyment of this series one bit. The audio remains surprisingly good, although you can tell the difference between the original mono tracks and the recently recorded 5.1 track for the new episode. I cannot fault Disney for anything on this project, except perhaps for subjecting us to those damn "Scooter Computer" shorts.

Closing Statement

It's amazing the imprint these three-minute animated shorts have made on my life and the lives of so many of my contemporaries. Even now, whole new generations of kids continue to learn from these songs. Hats off to the entire creative team behind Schoolhouse Rock. You've done more for educating children than many of the public school systems. Despite the $29.99 price tag, this two-disc set gets a buy recommendation for every age group. Treasure it—because we aren't likely to see anything like it for a long time to come.

The Verdict

Schoolhouse Rock is absolved of any accusations ever leveled against it. This series showcases the power of creative thought in educating children of all ages. I hope all educators, current and future, can learn from its example. This court now stands in recess.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 85
Audio: 90
Extras: 100
Acting: 95
Story: 95
Judgment: 95

Special Commendations

• Golden Gavel 2002 Nominee

Perp Profile

Studio: Disney
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• English
Running Time: 221 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Genres:
• All Ages
• Animation
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• All New Episode "I'm Gonna Send Your Vote to College"
• Long Lost Episode the Weather Show
• Top 10 Jukebox
• Top 20 Countdown
• Play-All Feature
• Shuffle-All Feature
• Never-Before-Released "Scooter Computer and Mr. Chips" Episodes
• Audio Commentaries By George Newall, Phil Kimmelman, Tom Yohe Jr.
• Behind the Scenes, With Introduction by Michael Eisner
• Emmy Awards Featurette
• "Earn Your Diploma" Trivia Game
• Arrange-a-Song Puzzles
• Four Music Videos From "Schoolhouse Rock! Rocks" Tribute Album
• Nike Commercial: Three Is a Magic Number
• 5.1 DTS of "I'm Gonna Send Your Vote to College"

Accomplices

• IMDb
• Schoolhouse Rock Official Site








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