My daughter is just over three, so you'll pardon my ignorance of kids' media before 2010. Rosemary Wells' Max and Ruby has been chugging along for over 10 years, appearing in books, toys and a Canadian-based animated series all the while. My first exposure to these innocent little bunnies was actually in book form, where its unique appearance (stout, inky characters on colorful backgrounds with touches of photo-realistic elements) made more of an impression than the story itself. The animated series sticks with the same formula, as it follows little Max and his big sister Ruby throughout their day-to-day, curiously parent-free life. My main complaints with the series---Ruby is bossy and irritating, Max simply repeats one or two words per episode, the plots are almost completely interchangeable---have undoubtedly been repeated in many a pastel-colored parenting blog. These issues plague just about every episode, but there's one thing I enjoy about the show: it's lightweight, calm and gentle, which is more than I can say for 90% of stuff aimed at kids.
The 12 episodes included here are from the show's fifth season (2011-2013), when it switched to an HD 16x9 format. They're obviously all centered around spring, sunny days and all that...so unlike certain previous volumes of Max and Ruby on DVD, at least it exercises truth in advertising. Whether it's an encounter with a hard-to-find groundhog, fun with badminton, animal-themed adventures, working in the garden, outdoor party planning or a night of camping with the Bunny Scouts, there's at least a varied amount of settings to help you forget that, essentially, the stories aren't all that much different than one another. With a little bit of polish, Max and Ruby could stand out from the crowd; it's still a peaceful diversion from Dora and the like, but there's not much to keep young viewers coming back for more.
Unfortunately (and as a technical aside), the picture quality on DVD leaves a lot to be desired: whether due to the series' unique appearance, rough source material or simply a botched transfer, this is by no means a visually appealing batch of episodes. Having not seen Max and Ruby's pre-HD years, perhaps these problems are temporary. But while the series itself is flat yet innocent fun without the noise that ruins so many other well-meaning shows, Max and Ruby is hard to enjoy when the image quality looks like a compressed video game cut scene from about ten years ago.
Episodes Include: "Max & Ruby's Groundhog Day", "Ruby's First Robin of Spring", "Grandma's Geraniums",
"Max's Ducky Day", "Ruby's Earth Day Checklist", "Ruby's Earth Day Party", "Ruby Gets the Picture",
"Ruby's Birdie", "Max Plays Catch", "Max's Nightlight", "Ruby's Bird Walk" and "Max Goes Fishing"
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
What happened here? This is my first exposure to Max & Ruby on DVD (so it's hard to believe they all look this bad), but a bunch of red flags went up within the first minute or so of watching this disc. Aliasing and jagged edges absolutely run rampant from start to finish, especially during medium and wide shots of the characters themselves. This results in a huge loss of image detail and makes Max & Ruby pretty tough to enjoy, whether you're watching it on a 25" tube TV, a sleek new HDTV or a laptop (and believe me, I tried all three). Colors also seem a bit too saturated, while compression artifacts, interlacing and banding are also present on many occasions. It's almost bad enough for a product recall, especially since Max & Ruby's switch to HD in 2011 implies that it should look much, much better than it does here.
The audio, thankfully, doesn't suffer from any flagrant problems, as the included Dolby Digital 2.0 mix offers clean dialogue, crisp music and a fair amount of channel separation at times. Max and Ruby isn't a terribly loud or obnoxious series from an audio standpoint, so it's difficult to judge whether or not it could really sound much better. But given the numerous problems with the video, it sound substantially better in direct comparison so I'll give it an easy pass.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above, the basic and colorful menu designs are attractive enough and easy to navigate. This one-disc release is housed in a silly eco-friendly keepcase and includes a not-so-eco-friendly matching slipcover (which, amusingly enough, lists "full screen video" while the actual keepcase and disc advertise the correct widescreen format) and no inserts of any kind. Just for the record, the disc art is plain gray and no bonus features have been included with these episodes.
Everybunny Loves Spring! was my first exposure to Max & Ruby in animated form and, while the series has a few strengths, its overly repetitive nature and paper-thin format doesn't lend itself to many repeat viewings. However, my daughter liked it well enough and has returned to it several times thus far, and the show's laid-back atmosphere at least won't drive parents up the wall as background noise. Unfortunately, Nickelodeon's DVD is sorely lacking, especially the well below-average visual presentation and, of course, a complete lack of extras. Given the short total running time (90 minutes) and the technical problems, I'd advise parents to give this one a weekend spin at the very most. Rent It.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.