Made on the (very) cheap, "Magical Music Express" finds co-creator/co-producer/writer Steve Kaminski starring as Mr. Stephens, one of those dopey, aw-shucks types that you often find in low budget children's projects. Mr. Stephens hangs out in his house with his wisecracking dog Keys; also found in the house are Music Box (a trunk of sorts that spouts out musical notes when needed), a few random puppet friends, and window-videophone thingie that allows our host to call up such guests as Mr. Composer, the wise old fellow who's ready to explain the difference between "forte" and "piano."
Now, it pains me to badmouth this series, as anything that helps kids learn the basics of music appreciation is very welcome stuff. And yet it keeps bordering on the obnoxious - oh, how Mr. Stephens loves to make the kooky faces every time Keys accidentally drops something on his foot! - while the songs, educational as they are, are not the kind that kids will want to hear over and over again. Also, the series manages to be both way too repetitive (in the hopes that repetition will help reinforce learning, we get to hear characters say the same two or three words over and over and over again, until even the youngest child will want to reach into the TV and smack them) and chaotic (as they try to cram as many musical terms into a single episode), the result being a method that allows kids to pick up terminology while watching, yet forget it by the end of the day.
And you'd think that a kids' show called "Magical Music Express" would have a train in it. The opening titles feature a model train, sure, and we hear it as Mr. Stephens is about to sing "The Goodbye Song," but that's it. The rest of the action takes place in Mr. Stephens' house, with small excursions to Symphony City. No trains. No express. Mr. Stephens isn't even a conductor. Huh.
Lest you think I'm some fuddy duddy who's too old for this sort of thing, let me add that my five-year-old daughter was quite bored by the whole mess as well. She'd perk up at Keys' comical antics (to his credit, the puppeteer does a lively job and helps keep things moving), but then she'd tune out during the uninspired songs. She was barely interested by the end, and unlike almost every video, TV show, or movie she sees, she has not once asked to watch it again. In fact, she hasn't even talked about it once - and this is a girl who will talk your ear off about everything she watches.
Big Vision Entertainment has packaged the series' first two episodes onto a single disc. (Side note: I have never seen this show on TV and cannot find anything about it anywhere online, so whether or not this is a complete series is uncertain.) The episodes are:
"What Is Music?" Mr. Stephens teaches Keys all about how music works, with songs about dynamics, tempo, and the musical alphabet.
"The Language of Music." Keys learns about staffs, treble and bass clefs, and note duration.
I'll mention here that Big Vision's packaging includes a cardboard sleeve intended to slip over the DVD case; the poorly measured sleeve is just small enough that getting it on or off the case can become a struggle.
The show's low budget nature is on display here, with a softness that indicates this was a direct transfer from a broadcast tape with no effort put into a digital polish. It's not as ugly as VHS, but it's still not pretty. Obviously intended to be watched on the 19" screen in the spare room, and nothing more. Presented in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio.
Again, the show's cheap ways peek through. This is a poorly mixed series; in some scenes, Keys' dialogue is louder and crisper than anyone else's, the result on one performer speaking directly into a microphone and another working with an overhead boom mic. It's sloppy work. The songs - the key focus of this series - come off with greater success, crisp and clear, with proper emphasis on the vocals. (Never mind the poor lip synching.) Only the mono soundtrack is provided. No subtitles.
There are no extras at all, although there is a CD included in the package featuring eleven songs from the series. While I pity the parent who gets stuck listening to this disc on a long vacation, I do recognize that the CD is a good idea, a nifty bonus for kids who actually might like the show.
While any shot at music education is always a good thing, "Magical Music Express" stumbles in getting the job done. It's admirable, but not too watchable. I'm very tempted to say Skip It, but I'll play nice and give this one a Rent It - but only if your young child is showing an early interest in music. One time through this disc might get them to want to learn more elsewhere, but it's very doubtful they'll be keen on repeat viewings.