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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Little House on the Prairie - The Complete Season 3
Little House on the Prairie - The Complete Season 3
Tango // Unrated // November 4, 2003 // Region 0
List Price: $49.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted December 11, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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The movie

When a television series runs for ten years, it's pretty clearly a success: having run from 1974-1984, Little House on the Prairie certainly merits a release on DVD, and Imavision has stepped up to the plate with season boxed sets. Little House on the Prairie: Season 3 continues the story of the Ingalls family: Charles and Caroline Ingalls and their children Mary, Laura, and Carrie, trying to raise a family and run a farm in the pioneer town of Walnut Grove. Little House on the Prairie is "family entertainment" in the best sense of the phrase: it's clearly intended to be a show that the adults and children in a family will watch and enjoy together.

Even though I was a kid while the show was on the air, for some reason I never watched it, so this DVD set was my first taste of the series (but not the premise, as I've read all the Little House books several times). I was half expecting the show to be too dated, but it's not: it has aged well and I have to say, it's fun to watch. The stories are fairly straightforward and pretty lightweight, but nonetheless they're very watchable and surprisingly satisfying. If I had to describe Little House on the Prairie in one word, it would be "sweet"... and most importantly, it manages to be sweet and genuinely heart-warming without slipping over the line into saccharine sentimentality. The characters are likable, and the stories do a nice job of using not just the Ingalls family but also quite a few recurring characters from the town in the various episodes, giving a sense of continuity overall even though the episodes are generally self-contained.

The Season 3 set contains all 19 episodes of the 1976-1977 season, three of which are two-part episodes: "Journey in the Spring," focusing on Charles Ingalls and his father; "To Live with Fear," which puts Mary in danger; and "Gold Country," the season finale. It's worth noting that on Disc 1, the episodes "The Race" and "Bunny" are in the wrong order (and were aired in the wrong order originally, too): for story continuity, "Bunny" should be seen before "The Race." Other highlights include the well-done opening episode, "The Collection," the rare darker-toned "The Bully Boys," and several seasonally-themed episodes: November 1st's "The Monster of Walnut Grove" and the Christmas episode "Blizzard."

I admit that I found it impossible to not pay attention to how close the show came to the historical reality of the books. Keep in mind that while the real-life Laura Ingalls wrote the Little House books for children, they're a very clear-eyed and unsentimental portrayal of her life. Does the TV show take the same approach? Hardly. To a great extent, this is an idealized portrayal of the lives of the Ingalls. It's also not particularly interested in complete historical accuracy; I'm no expert on the period, but I spotted a few howlers right away. For instance, the girls do their homework (a modern term for what they would have called their "lessons") in notebooks... when in fact they'd have used chalk on small slates. Who would have dreamed of letting children use up valuable paper on scribbling and lessons? And in "The Race," Charles and Caroline Ingalls are worried because they can't afford new shoes for the girls, who have outgrown their old ones. So far so good... except that they intend to buy new shoes for all three girls! In reality, only Mary (the oldest) would have gotten new shoes; her old ones would have been handed down to Laura, and Laura's old ones passed to Carrie. It's fairly typical, overall, of the way Little House presents things; the show holds back from showing quite how hard life really was, and everyone has a bit higher standard of living than they'd really have had.

But its historical inaccuracies aside, Little House does give a glimpse into another time and place: a prettied-up glimpse, but a worthwhile one for kids who may never have thought about what life would be like without electricity, running water, or most of the other conveniences that we've come to regard as essential. Laura, Mary, Carrie, and the other kids in Little House are happy, and their lives are full of interesting things to do. There are always chores to do, sure, but those chores are more than just tasks assigned to keep them busy: they're essential to keeping everyone fed and warm. And there's plenty of free time to enjoy running around outside, exploring the woods and fields, playing with animals... things that were an important part of my own childhood (to a lesser extent, of course) but that seem to be rapidly vanishing from children's lives nowadays.

I'm usually hesitant about programs that purport to present "family values," as these usually degenerate into preachiness or ultra-conservatism. In the case of Little House on the Prairie, though, there's a healthy dose of values served up in the episodes, but not in a heavy-handed way at all. Caroline and Charles Ingalls are good people and excellent parents, and in their interactions with Laura, Mary, and Carrie, we see them setting an example of responsible behavior. Basically, the Ingalls are just very likable people, and as we get to know the townsfolk of Walnut Grove, we see that there are plenty of good people there too... and as these essentially good people try to make a living and resolve the inevitable problems and conflicts that arise, Little House on the Prairie sets an example of civilized behavior that's to be admired. Sure, I do find it amusing that some of the values attributed to the characters are so clearly from the 1970s instead of the 1870s (like the emphasis on going to college in "I'll Ride the Wind"), but there's no denying the good-heartedness of the show.

The DVD

Little House on the Prairie: Season 3 is a six-DVD set, packaged in a fold-out cardboard case that fits into a glossy paper slipcase. One nice feature of the packaging is that all of the episodes are listed on the back of the case (indicating which episodes are on which disc) and the original air dates are also included. The DVDs are region-free, so international fans of Little House will be able to enjoy this set as long as they can play the NTSC format.

Video

For a television show that's nearly twenty years old, Little House on the Prairie comes off reasonably well, though certainly not without its flaws. It's presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The episodes are watchable, with the colors looking bright and clear for the most part; it certainly helps that most of the scenes take place in well-lit areas. However, there are a number of flaws that appear throughout the episodes, such as fluctuations in the color of the image, occasional wavering distortions that look just like videotape problems, and a smattering of print flaws. I've given the series a slightly higher than average mark for video despite the flaws, because overall, Little House has a clean and generally pleasing appearance, and manages to avoid the drabness I've seen in many other 1970s-era releases.

Audio

Little House gets strictly average marks for audio quality. The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack is flat-sounding, getting the job done without any frills. The volume is rather low overall; it's necessary to crank it up quite a bit to hear the show properly, and the dialogue doesn't stand out from the rest of the track as well as it could. It's adequate but nothing more.

Extras

The full credits are included on each episode, as apparently they weren't in earlier releases, and each episode has chapter stops. I'm pleased to report that the credits are given their own chapter, so if you don't want to see the opening sequence, you can just conveniently skip to the start of the episode.

The only special features are a brief set of text-only "behind the scenes" comments from various participants, found on Disc 6, which also include a clip from the scene referred to in those comments.

Final thoughts

Little House on the Prairie: Season 3 offers a light-weight but fun viewing experience, as we get to see the Ingalls family dealing with life's little (and sometimes big) problems in a moderately idealized 1870's prairie town. It's a definite purchase for fans of the series, and it's also a really nice show for families with kids, as the series does a good job of having a mix of some episodes that will appeal mainly to younger viewers and others that will resonate more with adults. It's recommended.

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