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The Bluegrass Special DVD Review

Disney's The Bluegrass Special DVD cover - click to buy from Amazon.com The Bluegrass Special
Episode & DVD Details

Original Air Date: May 22, 1977 / Running Time: 48 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Director: Andrew V. McLaglen

Cast: William Windom (Phil Wainright), Celeste Holm (Deirdre Wainright), Devon Ericson (Penny Wainright), Davy Jones (Davey), James Gleason (Billy Joe), Shug Fisher (Harvey)

1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Aspect Ratio)
Dolby Digital Mono (English)
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned
DVD Release Date: April 26, 2009 (Disney Movie Club Exclusive in April 2006)
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)
Standard Club Price: $14.95
White Keepcase

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By Ed South

Walt Disney's landmark anthology television series ran for an unprecedented twenty-nine seasons, taking on many different names and airing on all three (pre-Fox) networks.
The series is best known as "The Wonderful World of Disney" but it debuted under the title "Disneyland" in 1954 and left the airwaves in 1983 simply known as "Walt Disney." It would essentially return three seasons later with a new title and 2-hour timeslot and lives on -- sort of -- even today, forty years after Walt's passing.

With the series being an iconic piece of television history and Americana, it is somewhat surprising that full season DVD sets have not begun to show up on retail shelves. In fact, the popular show has only popped up on DVD with a few select episodes in the Walt Disney Treasures collectible series and as bonus material on a handful of Disney film titles. In April 2006, the Disney Movie Club increased the number of episodes DVD buyers can add to their collection by exclusively offering two different single-episode discs: The Yellowstone Cubs and The Bluegrass Special. Each was given a comparable general retail release, with ever so slightly modified artwork, in 2009.

In 1977, the anthology program was called "The Wonderful World of Disney" and was airing Sunday nights on NBC. One of the Disney studio's strong points had always been stories featuring animals. An episode guide of the Disney series reads like a who's-who of the animal kingdom, as almost every four legged creature was the star of one installment or another. It was near the end of the 1976-77 season that The Bluegrass Special took viewers inside the world of horse racing.

Penny (Devon Ericson) and her pet chicken, Clucker, calm down the wild Woodhill. Penny shares her dreams of being a jockey with her Aunt (Celeste Holm).

At the top of the program, we meet Penny (Devon Ericson), a teenaged girl growing up on a horse farm. She is surrounded by equestrianism so it's no wonder that she has dreams of becoming a famous jockey herself. In those days, the thought of a woman riding a horse and winning races was simply unheard of and her father (William Windom) practically laughs in her face when she approaches the subject.

When a rough and unpredictable horse named Woodhill is acquired by the farm, it looks like no one can tame this savage beast. After her father is unable to control the horse, Penny uses her patience (and her pet chicken Clucker) to calm Woodhill down. Of course, Penny falls instantly in love with this new horse and sets out to prove that she can be a jockey and that she can tame Woodhill. Penny takes the unruly creature to the beach, where he lets her ride bareback. We're then treated to over two minutes of slow-motion footage of girl and horse galloping along the shore, splashing all the way.

Penny continues to train with Woodhill against her father's wishes. When her father sees how quickly the pair moves around the track, he's on board for letting Penny ride the horse in the opening day special race. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the racing secretary (Edward Faulkner), who doesn't object to a woman jockey but to having the wild Woodhill on his track. It turns out the horse has a bad reputation of starting trouble and acting up; he is not a welcome addition to the opening day festivities.

Woodhill lives up to his reputation as being difficult to work with. Jealous jockeys Billy Joe (James Gleason) and Davey (Davy Jones of "The Monkees") stir up trouble for Penny.

Upset that her dreams have gone up in smoke, Penny takes Woodhill for a ride where she runs into trouble-making jockeys Davey and Billy Joe (played by ex-Monkee Davy Jones and James Gleason).
The two boys taunt Penny, rubbing it in her face that she won't be racing in the special. Penny is angered to the point where she challenges the seasoned pros to a race to prove just how good her equine friend is. This race serves as the episode's climax. We never make it to the actual Bluegrass Special, but the competition between Penny, Davey, and Billy Joe ties up loose ends and makes way for the trademarked Disney happy ending!

The storyline here was probably done a dozen or so times before and a million times since. The acting is a bit over the top, the situations - predictable, and the characters - familiar. Even though you practically know all that is going to happen before it happens, the charming style in which the story is told makes it fun to watch. The pacing of the story is relaxing and comfortable. The musical score is straight out of 1970s AM radio, and the attitudes towards women jockeys are ridiculously outdated rather than offensive.


The presentation of this 29-year old random television episode is mediocre. While nothing has been visibly done to the program in terms of restoration, it appears to have been preserved quite well. The picture and sound are not poor, as the source material appears to have been kept in a well-ventilated section of the mythical Disney Vault.

Since produced for television, the original aspect ratio is kept intact with a 1:33:1 full screen transfer. The picture quality is not excellent as colors are a bit faded and bland, but the film does not suffer from an abundance of artifacts or scratches on the master.

The audio is presented in Dolby Digital Mono, there's no sweeping surround-sound score to be found here. Your home theater won't get a workout with this DVD, but it also won't have trouble delivering a clear presentation of all that is offered on the soundtrack. The dialogue comes through clearly while the music and sound effects stay in their place in the background.

The not-so-honest plans of two jealous jockeys are overheard by Penny and her family. Bonus features, set up options, and even chapter stops are nowhere to be found on the very basic DVD presentation of "The Bluegrass Special."


Like most other Disney Movie Club exclusives, The Bluegrass Special DVD offers nothing special for those who buy it. Not only are there no bonus features, the main menu contains only one lone selection: "Play Movie." This episode has been released to VHS twice before,
both times accompanied by the 1974 "Wonderful World of Disney" episode Runaway on the Rogue River. The bonus episode was originally advertised as part of this DVD release, but for whatever reasons, it ended up not being included, keeping this disc's running time well below that of a standard movie.

The program kicks off with the syndicated "Wonderful World of Disney" title sequence and then jumps right into the story. There is no host segment that would go with this episode since Walt's host segments were dropped after his death in 1966.

Other episodes of the Disney anthology series that have made their way to DVD have featured the original teaser for the next episode and the voice-over promos during the closing credits. None of these historical gems are included on this DVD presentation.

Penny proves to her father that she has what it takes to ride Woodhill. Penny takes Woodhill for a very extended run along the beach.


It's strange that this seemingly random episode of a show that ran for 29 years keeps popping up on home video. There is nothing spectacular or noteworthy about it, but The Bluegrass Special does illustrate the Disney studio's love of animal stories and sports stories. All the elements here are familiar, but that's what makes some Disney productions dear to our hearts...their familiarity. It's fun, it's sweet, it's wholesome; there are worse ways you could spend 48 minutes in front of your television set.

The $14.95 price tag for a single episode release makes this DVD really hard to recommend. If you're a serious Disney DVD collector, it's neat to have a few titles in your collection that the average Joe can't run down to Wal-Mart and buy. It's a little pricey, but it will look swell sitting on your DVD shelf.

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UltimateDisney.com | DVD and Blu-ray Reviews | Vintage Disney TV Movies & Specials (1954-1979) | Disney Movie Club Exclusive DVDs | Search

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* - subsequently released to general retail in near-identical DVD

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Reviewed August 15, 2006.