Handy Manny: Fixing It Right:
There's a big storm brewing in my house. This intergenerational tempest roils not with clouds and rain, but nails, hammers, saws and screwdrivers. Yeah, it's that dangerous. It's a battle between Handy Manny and Bob the Builder, and only the most entertaining and educational fix-it man will prevail. So the daughter, the wife and I have our claw hammers bared and our eyes closely watching the TV screen.
Handy Manny is Disney's construction creation, an affable Hispanic gentleman with a toolbox full of talking animated friends and connections throughout his beautiful town. Everyone seems to have a problem of some type (usually caused by not thinking things through, and exacerbated by pride) and all of them know just who to call; Manny. Rendered in bright but gentle-hued CGI animation, with the large, oval heads and big shining eyes popular in Disney animation currently, Handy Manny always manages to work the right fix, through a positive attitude and cooperation. The tools in particular are big on cooperating, as they all have specific uses and distinct personalities that are sometimes susceptible to foolish pride, embarrassment, or simply not being sure of the right thing to do.
Each 12-minute episode features one mild challenge, a simple lesson, and a little catchy singing and dancing, generally the Handy Manny theme song and the song about working together. The five episodes on this disk (Fix It Right) include:
Manny To The Rescue: (never before seen): In which Manny helps get a cat out of a tree.
Felipe Strikes Out: Felipe the Phillips head screwdriver takes undue credit for a bowling alley fix.
Pat's Big Idea: Pat the hammer thinks outside the box to un-stick a forklift.
Rusty To The Rescue: Timid rusty the monkey wrench helps get a boy out of a play structure.
Detective Dusty: Dusty the seldom employed saw helps an old lady find missing socks.
As you can see the stakes are much lower than with Bob The Builder, who uses similar teaching techniques to build towns and impart 'green construction' wisdom. (A point to the wife in the Bob vs. Manny war.) The tools are adorable, cleverly voiced and pleasing to watch work, but the stories pack very little oomph - meaning their appeal is probably only for the youngest helpers. Manny's main appeal is his desire to teach kids Spanish. He'll say a little phrase en Espanol, i.e. 'no hay problema' and then immediately translate 'no problem' so viewers can learn with little challenge. It's no immersion class, that's for sure, but four of the five episodes have a Spanish Audio Track, so when your kids have memorized the episodes, they can try them out with no English at all. And of course native Spanish speakers can enjoy Manny too.
There's even a foolish man with a comb-over, who never wants help, even though he screws everything up. Manny and the tools are bemused, neighborhood kids gently mock him, and the wife (mine) is disappointed anew, as this seems to teach kids that it's OK to poke fun at people. In all, Manny is a dim second in the Trades, ceding much to Bob, truly engaging stories and challenges being foremost. Though cute, easy-going and positive, (and being somewhat groundbreaking in the linguistics department) Manny has a little more work to do.
Presented in its broadcast fullscreen ratio of 1.33:1, Handy Manny washes the screen in cheery, super-bright pastels and highly appealing 3D-esque CG animations. The image is, of course, perfectly clear and sharp, but edge-enhancement runs wild - both a nod to the fact that many many Manny viewers have been watching on old-fashioned or kid's TVs, and also maybe a stylistic choice. No other compression artifacts or visual problems of any kind appear.
Dolby Digital Stereo Sound is super-crisp, with all dialog mixed up front and easy to discern, while background music and song accompaniment never gets in the way of the words. Sound design and stereo separation are pretty unremarkable, as would be expected for a kids' show.
Episodes 2 - 5 come with an optional Spanish Language Audio Track, Previews (the same global Disney promo-reel from other kids' DVDs) and Disney's Fast Play (pop the DVD in and don't sweat the remote) share disk space with a Game Time extra titled 'Fix It With Handy Manny.' The game prompts toddlers to navigate through a shot of Manny's shop, clicking on arrows while searching for the proper tool to do a job. Each arrow-click reveals a short animated sequence where a tool pops out and tells you if you're right or wrong. It's a game with limited appeal, and one, I think, that will either just annoy your rug-rat or teach her how to use the DVD remote more thoroughly than I find necessary or healthy.
Handy Manny solves mellow fix-it problems with a calm demeanor, positive attitude and an eye for cooperation and acceptance. Then again, he's more-than-willing to let Mr. Lopart (the comb-over guy) suffer, and become the butt of kids' jokes. As voiced by Wilmer Valderrama (impossible to tell since he's not sounding like Fez from That '70s Show) Manny helps break the cartoon language-barrier with Spanish/English aphorisms and lots of supporting characters of different ethnic backgrounds. The stories are really low-key, and everything is very cheery and mild. Handy Manny is good but not exceptional viewing for toddlers, with lots of cuteness but not a lot of zing. In the fix-it wars, Bob the Builder is still king. Rent It.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com