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"Wishbone" DVD Review

Wishbone DVD cover art - click to buy DVD from Amazon.com Wishbone
Show & DVD Details

Creator/Executive Producer: Rick Duffield / Supervising Producer: Stephanie Simpson / Producer: Betty Buckley / Directors: Ben Vaughn, Rick Duffield, Fred Holmes; Jackie Martin Kaptan (dog work) / Writers: Jack Wesley, Stephanie Simpson, Adam Felber; Miguel de Cervantes, Victor Hugo, Jules Verne (novels)

Regular Cast: Larry Brantley (voice of Wishbone), Jordan Wall (Joe Talbot), Christie Abbott (Samantha Kepler), Adam Springfield (David Barnes), Mary Chris Wall (Ellen Talbot), Angee Hughes (Wanda Gilmore)

The Wishbone Players: Randy Moore (Don Quixote), Lanell Pena (Don Quixote's Niece, Esmeralda), Matthew Thompkins (Hans, Little John), Sean Hennigan (Dom Claude Frollo, Sheriff of Nottingham), Christopher Carlos (Seρor Carrasco, Policeman), Jenny Pichanick (Housekeeper, Female Reveler), Sonny Franks (Innkeeper, Male Reveler), Lynn Mathis (Lord Piggleby), Jeanne Simpson (Maid Marian), Billy E. Jones (Barber, Guard), Jonathan Brent (Axel), Joe Nemmers (King Richard) / Guest Stars: Joe Duffield (Damont Jones), Codie Brooks (Robin), Bob Barrazza (Coach Menendez), Steven Eng (Mr. Kim), Justin Reese (Nathaniel Bobelesky), Beverly Renquist (Ellie), Vince Davis (Mr. Bison), Cynthia Dorn (Principal Leonard)

Running Time: 108 Minutes (4 episodes) + 5 Minutes (behind-the-scenes) / Rating: Not Rated

1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Aspect Ratio) / Dolby Surround 2.0 (English, Spanish)
Subtitles: None; Closed Captioned; Extras Not Captioned
DVD Release Date: February 15, 2011 / Suggested Retail Price: $9.98
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5) / Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase

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What's the story, Wishbone? If you were a kid in the 1990s, you may already know.

"Wishbone" was a children's television series that aired afternoons on PBS. The show's title hero is a little dog with a big imagination. Voiced by former standup comedian Larry Brantley, Wishbone the Jack Russell terrier shares his thoughts with viewers as they pertain to suburban life
with his teenaged owner Joe Talbot (Jordan Wall), Joe's best friends David (Adam Springfield) and Sam (Christie Abbott), Joe's mother Ellen (Mary Chris Wall), and eccentric neighbor Wanda (Angee Hughes). The kids' modern-day adventures remind the remarkably well-versed Wishbone of famous novels, which are brought to life with the pup in a leading role surrounded by a cast of human adults. These adaptations are interwoven with Joe and friends' reminiscent experiences.

As that premise should make clear, the show strove to promote reading and to find relevance in centuries-old classics using parallel storylines. "Wishbone" bounces back and forth between present-day grade school issues and the boundless fantasy and action of literature and folklore. Among the dozens of international stories dramatized on the show were Homer's Odyssey, Washington Irving's Rip Van Winkle, Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers.

The "Wishbone" title logo uses a very 1990s color palette. As the deformed Quasimodo, Wishbone draws ridicule from the people of 15th century France in "The Hunchdog of Notre Dame."

I logged start and stop times for the segments on a couple of the episodes featured on this DVD and it came out to almost a perfect 50/50 split of screentime devoted to the contemporary story and to the Wishbone-narrated tale. Despite that even divide and the fact that we always open and close in the present-day, the show's design implicitly prioritizes the famous, enduring tale to which the episode title more typically refers.

And yet, I've always preferred the contemporary content. Nostalgia might be a factor now, but I feel like the show is truly stronger in its real-world bits. There are characters and dynamics to appreciate and invest in, and Wishbone's brand of humor (heard by us, but not his human pals) is a winning fit. Sure, those writing for children's public television some fifteen years ago won't ever receive the attention and acclaim that authors like Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, Jules Verne, and Mary Shelley have. But they weren't writing their works to play around "Arthur" and "The Magic School Bus." They also weren't envisioning a Jack Russell terrier portraying one of their leads.

That design remains silly and unacknowledged, as the dog dabbles in archery and other derring-do while thwarting menacing humans six times his size. Of course, it's all in good fun. With their modest troupe of recycled performers and shoestring effects budgets, Wishbone's compact versions are designed to merely whet one's appetite for the complete, unabridged text (or maybe a decent feature filming). Since most scenes run less than five minutes before returning us to the other universe (sometimes with terrifically inspired dissolve transitions), the fragmented retellings are a bit of a challenge to warm to. I say that while having nothing but admiration for the series and its approach.

Wishbone's teenaged owner Joe Talbot (Jordan Wall) attempts to break a free-throw shooting world record. As the famed English outlaw Robin Hood, Wishbone demonstrates his archery expertise in "Paw Prints of Thieves."

The acting may be limited, the stylings already remarkably dating, and the adaptations some slight form of sacrilege, but "Wishbone" is a great time and continues to qualify as that today to my adult eyes and ears.

"Wishbone" never seemed to have the devoted fan following of its commercial television contemporaries (try finding original air dates online), but it was widely seen and clearly enjoyed by many of those who knew it. That is confirmed by the wealth of merchandise that was created for the show and its beloved title character in their heyday.

Copyright dates pinpoint the series' run to 1995-98 and Wikipedia claims its reruns went off the air in 2001. That same year, HiT Entertainment acquired Lyrick Studios, producing division Big Feats! Entertainment, and a catalog that also included "Barney & Friends" and "Bob the Builder." In 2004, HiT issued a couple of single-episode "Wishbone" DVDs. Similarly, two other episodes quietly trickled out in subsequent years, unlikely to be found in stores. In 2008, HiT picked Lionsgate as its new distributor. And now, just two weeks ago, on February 15, 2011, HiT and Lionsgate released a DVD titled simply "Wishbone", holding all four of the episodes previously released on their own at the low list price of just $9.98.

Let's take a closer look at the episodes featured here, which all seem to emanate from the show's earliest batch...

Wishbone takes a supporting role in "The Impawssible Dream", enabling Wishbone Player Randy Moore to play bowl-helmeted Don Quixote himself. David (Adam Springfield), Joe (Jordan Wall), and Joe's mother Ellen (Mary Chris Wall) try to uncover the secret of a dug-up medal in "Hot Diggety Dawg."

1. The Impawssible Dream (28:12)
Joe wants to crack the world records book by sinking 86 consecutive free throws in five minutes, and so does his nemesis Damont Jones (Joe Duffield, son of creator Greg Duffield).

Somehow, the situation reminds Wishbone of Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote, in which he plays Sancho Panza, the level-headed squire to the armored, chivalrous old dreamer of La Mancha (Randy Moore). (This episode loses authenticity points for having two seemingly average boys in the same school be able to make over 80 free throws in a row. 80? In a row? Back to back? One try each? Not buying it.)

2. The Hunchdog of Notre Dame (26:24)
Sam temporarily abandons Joe and David to help skating-challenged klutz Nathaniel (Justin Reese) improve at hockey. Wishbone relates to Nathaniel as deformed Parisian laughingstock Quasimodo in a telling of Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

3. Hot Diggety Dawg (26:19)
What begins as an Arbor Day observation of tree-planting with Wanda turns into a quest to identify the Latin-inscribed medallion the kids have found buried in Joe's lawn. Meanwhile, Wishbone plays one of three explorers unlocking the fantastic mysteries at the planet's core in an adaptation of Jules Verne's A Journey to the Center of the Earth.

4. Paw Prints of Thieves (27:00)
Joe helps thoughtful lunch lady Ellie (Beverly Renquist) donate week-old cafeteria items to a food bank, against the orders of nasty superintendent Mr. Bison (Vince Davis). The situation is not unlike the justifiable theft of English outlaw Robin Hood, whom Wishbone portrays.


"Wishbone" looks like a new VHS here. I don't think that's the DVD's fault. The show probably just wasn't produced with cutting-edge technology and a high budget. The DVD's 1.33:1 fullscreen transfer reflects that, always looking soft and just a tad blurry. While I imagine that a minimum of effort went into this DVD (and the old DVDs whose masters seem recycled here) and that the show could look better than this, the picture quality is acceptable considering the age and modest origins. The soundtrack is similarly assessed. The Dolby Surround 2.0 track echoes the front channels in the rear, with sufficient but far from boastable clarity. New to this DVD are Spanish dubs for all four episodes. Subtitles are sadly not provided, but English closed captions are. Unsurprisingly, Lionsgate's presentations look and sound very similar to HiT's old single-disc releases, save for one significant change addressed below.

The show's signature behind-the-scenes segments -- like this one on an extras-multiplying Hunchdog of Notre Dame crowd sequence -- have been lopped off episodes and called bonus features. The DVD's menus are simple, scored, and fast.


One kind of bonus feature is provided here and it's a cheat. "Tail-Ends" are clips that aired as the conclusion of episodes. Here, they've been cut out of the episodes and placed in this separate section to give the illusion of value to this DVD. The 1-2 minute behind-the-scenes segments
derive from "Paw Prints of Thieves" (on safely staging fight scenes), "The Hunchdog of Notre Dame" (on populating a crowd scene with a visual effect and repeatedly-shot extras), and "Hot Diggety Dawg" (on cave design). "Impawssible Dream" doesn't have one because it must not have had such a segment; accordingly, it runs a couple of minutes longer than the other episodes.

The material is cool, especially since it's not self-promotional and predates the boom of DVD making-of materials. It'd be really upsetting if it wasn't included here. As is, it's somewhat annoying you've got to access the bonus features to see footage that should have remained part of the episodes it was intended for. Also, the original transitions are lost, with the introductory computer-animated Wishbone book now materializing and disappearing in front of blackness.

The DVD opens with promos for Thomas & Friends: Misty Island Rescue, Angelina Ballerina: Love to Dance, "Bob the Builder" DVDs, and Barney DVDs. The same four ads repeat after a "Play All" session (apparently, a perk to the DVD's "Auto Play" feature). They also can be collectively accessed from the Bonus Features' "Trailers" listing.

Maintaining the cover design, the basic, the few static menus all play an instrumental version of the catchy theme song. The episodes themselves also have far fewer chapter stops than they did on HiT's old DVDs.

Axel (Jonathan Brent) and his canine uncle Professor Lidenbrock (Wishbone) survey the wondrous sights around them in this telling of Jules Verne's "A Journey to the Center of the Earth." Samantha (Christie Abbott) thanks Wishbone for revealing the hidden talent of her fellow product of divorce.


"Wishbone" ran for forty-eight episodes and one Showtime TV movie, so diehard fans wanting to own it all on DVD will have to keep on waiting.
This collection's lack of a subtitle suggests it will not be a short wait. With that said, Lionsgate's DVD offers a big improvement over HiT's old single-episode ones, serving up all the content released on DVD in one case and for less than $10. The disc could have easily held another three episodes and some real bonus features would have been nice (instead of the cutting and relocating done here), but as thus far the best release given an enduringly delightful show, this low-priced compilation still earns an easy recommendation.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com

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Reviewed March 2, 2011.

Text copyright 2011 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1995 Big Feats! Entertainment and 2011 Lionsgate and HiT Entertainment.
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