In 10 Words or Less
Broadway meets kids television
Loves: Avenue Q
Likes: John Tartaglia
Hates: Pandering kids shows
Avenue Q was a revelation on Broadway, mixing adult humor, puppets and great songs to create an incredibly entertaining show, even for people who don't enjoy Broadway. Part of its appeal was the lead, John Tartaglia, a highly charismatic, high-energy performer who gave voice and life to two of the leads. A veteran of the world of Sesame Street, and a naturally engaging personality, it made perfect sense for him to get a chance to carve out his own part of the childrens television universe, which is exactly what "Johnny and the Sprites" delivers.
Johnny (Tartaglia) is a songwriter who inherits a house with a backyard inhabited by magical creatures called Sprites, who only Johnny (and the viewers) can see. They have fun together, as the Sprites learn about Johnny's world, and Johnny learns about the Sprites. The shows usually center around some sort of misadventure on the part of the Sprites that eventually works out in the end, with a sprinkling of life lessons that don't have the in-your-face preaching of some series aimed at kids. This show is more about having fun with your friends and singing songs, as Johnny goes about his days, and tries to hide the Sprites from his friend Gwen (fellow Avenue Q alumna Natalie Venetia Belcon.)
The four main Sprites have well-established personalities of their own, including tomboyish Ginger, hippie latina Sprite Lily, geeky Basil and baby Sprite Root, while the oldest and wisest Sprite, Sage (voiced by Tartaglia), lives in Grotto's Grove, a fantasy world that exists on the other side of a portal in Johnny's yard. A large part of the show focuses on the Sprites trying to work out some human intrusion into their Sprite world, like a mysterious metal object that appears in the backyard, or deal with a personal issue, such as Ginger's problems with her curly antennae. But then you also get stories like "Root's Dadoots," in which the little guy is suffering from what appears to be the Sprites' version of hiccups, so it's just about dealing with the problem and trying to help Root. While there are some morals in here, like appreciating who you are and being a good friend, they are more naturally integrated into the plot than many other kids shows.
Of course, the reason that most people over the age of 4 will take a look at the show is the music, which is provided by a dream team of Broadway composers, represented on this disc by Stephen Schwartz (Godspell, Wicked), who created the theme song, and Gary Alder and Michael Patrick Walker (composers on Alter Boyz.) The songs cover a range of themes and emotions, with fun songs and heartfelt compositions making up the soundtrack. Unfortunately, the best song of the show's first season, the outstanding Adler tune "Time to Wake Up," wasn't included, though "Head's Up," a song played between stories on the show, has been included as a final scene.
Though there are five episodes included here, the term episode isn't quite correct, as episodes of "Johnny and the Sprites" are 22-minutes long, and made up of two stories. Here, episodes means just one half of an aired show, so you're essentially getting two and a half episodes, and you aren't getting the pairings seen on TV. Now, that view is purely held by an adult, as there's no themes or storylines that connect the halves of the shows, and kids would never know that it's not the same. All that matters is that they have a good time, which they certainly will, as the show is highly entertaining, no matter how old you are.
A one-disc release packed in a white, single-width keepcase, the DVD features an animated, full-frame main menu with options to play all the episodes, select individual shows, adjust languages, check out the special features and activate FastPlay, Disney's hands-off viewing option. There are no audio options, while subtitles are available in English SDH.
The full-frame video on these episodes looks good, with vivid colors that are appropriately saturated and an overall crisp image that features a rather high level of detail, though in some wide shots, the backyard backgrounds are a tad soft. There are no issues with dirt, damage or digital artifacts.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks are as you would expect, as the sound comes right down the middle, with clear dialogue and strong music.
I don't expect much from Disney kids discs, because they aren't aimed at an audience interested in bonus material, but I was pleasantly surprised here. "Music Time" allows you to watch the episodes with karaoke-style on-screen lyrics displayed whenever the show breaks into song, which helps when trying to decipher the occasional misheard word, and which lets the younger viewers sing along.
The other extra is more in line with traditional bonus material, as you can watch the five original shorts the series is based on. These may still run in between shows on the Disney Channel, but they aren't that easy to catch (I've never seen them before), so it's a treat to see the show's original format. There are just two sprites at this point, Basil and Ginger, while the tone of the short five minute stories is a bit different, and thankfully, they dumped the concept of the creepy neighbor who keeps interrupting the fun. Though the disc is obviously in no way complete, the inclusion of these shorts is hugely welcome. These can be viewed separately or in a bunch, and have optional karaoke lyrics for the songs.
The disc wraps with a selection of 11 previews, including a promo for Wall-E, the new Pixar film. These can be viewed individually or as a group.
The Bottom Line
"Johnny and the Sprites" is a fun, harmless series for kids to enjoy, straying away from the usual blunt messages, instead focusing on short stories and solid musical moments thanks to the wealth of Broadway talent involved, starting with Tartaglia, who is hugely entertaining, for both children and adults. The DVD looks and sounds as good as the show ever has on TV, and the few extras are a nice touch, but in the end, you're still just getting an hour of content, which makes the value of the disc directionally proportional to what you pay for it. Either way, it's a fun series that won't be annoying to adults in the room, as long as you enjoy a Broadway showtune, that is.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.