Hey, do you know about the U.S.A.?
Do you know about the government?
Can you tell me about the Constitution?
Hey, learn about the U.S.A.!
To an entire generation, the Preamble to the Constitution has a melody. I can hear it right now. Whenever I want to remember those famous first words, I'll hum the same tune that got me through junior high social studies, the same tune I first heard years earlier, all those Saturday mornings on ABC, probably in between "Scooby's All-Stars" and "Challenge of the Super Friends."
I'm talking, of course, about "Schoolhouse Rock," those classic cartoon shorts that aired during commercial breaks on Saturdays from 1973 to 1986 (and then off and on, mostly off, through 2001). This invention of ad man David McCall, songwriter Bob Dorough, and animator Tom Yohe ranks among the greatest things to ever happen to television, second perhaps only to "Sesame Street" in it successful efforts to blend education and entertainment.
Which is why "Schoolhouse Rock" survives today not merely as a Gen-X nostalgia piece, but as a valuable part of any kid-friendly DVD collection. These cartoons (that is, the original batch created from 1973-1979, covering grammar, math, American history, and science) hold up thirty-plus years later, with songs that still thrill while they teach a new generation about everything from how a bill becomes a law to the magic of interjections.
Chances are, you probably already own the two-disc 30th Anniversary set released back in 2002. If not, you should; it remains one of the best kids' DVDs ever produced, and it's still available with a low price tag. That was such a complete set; why, then, do we need the "Election Collection," a re-release of a smaller sampling of "Schoolhouse Rock" shorts?
The answer, I suppose, is that it gives parents a chance to discuss the upcoming election with their kids, without having any of that Grammar Rock or Multiplication Rock acting as a distraction. Collected here are most of the America Rock shorts, plus a few from Science Rock and Money Rock, all of which intend to introduce kids to the crazy circus we call the presidential election season. Also included is a nifty fold-out map of the U.S. and a set of red and blue stickers, so future wonks can follow the election results state by state in a hands-on way of learning about the Electoral College.
The disc bundles the shorts into three categories:
Covering the issues of the day is "The Campaign," which includes the shorts ""Energy Blues," "Tax Man Max," "Walkin' on Wall Street," "Tyrannosaurus Debt," and "I'm Gonna Send Your Vote to College."
The three middle shorts are the weakest in the set, all coming from the disappointing Money Rock series of the early 1980s. (Hey, kids! Let's learn about the federal deficit! Doesn't have the same zip as "Conjunction Junction," and the producers seemed to have realized it, as these lack the enthusiasm, appeal, and animation quality of their predecessors.) "Energy Blues," meanwhile, is a clever inclusion, with the oil troubles of the Carter years seeming all too familiar these days. "College" was created for the 30th Anniversary set as a reunion piece of sorts (with Tom Yohe, Jr., stepping in as lead designer in place of his late father); it's a fun cartoon, even if it fails to capture the magic of the earlier pieces.
"Our History" includes the America Rock shorts "No More Kings," "The Shot Heard 'Round the World," "Fireworks," "Mother Necessity," and "The Great American Melting Pot."
The first three songs in this batch, when combined with "The Preamble" and "Sufferin' 'Til Suffrage," do a darn fine job of condensing two hundred years of history into about fifteen minutes of musical animation. (Curiously missing here is "Elbow Room," the cartoon about Manifest Destiny; did Disney think the theme would be too controversial to repeat here?) The final two cartoons, meanwhile, help paint a wonderfully optimistic portrait of the U.S., especially the gentle "Melting Pot," which offers a lovely take on multiculturalism.
Learn about how government works in the aptly titled "How Government Works" section, which includes "The Preamble," "Three-Ring Government," "I'm Just a Bill," and "Sufferin' 'Til Suffrage."
"I'm Just a Bill" is the "Freebird" of "Schoolhouse Rock," but it's more than just a catchy tune - it's also a very intelligent summation of the lawmaking process. Who knew Congressional committees could be so much fun? "Three-Ring," as one of the last 70s-era "Schoolhouse Rock" shorts created, is less fondly remembered, but it, too, does a fine job of condensing governmental structure down to kid-friendly proportions. As mentioned above, "Preamble" and the exceptional "Suffrage" fit better in the history category, but that doesn't diminish their power as top notch cartoons that feature outstanding songs.
Under "Extra Credit," you'll find two versions of the sixty-second cartoon "Presidential Minute," each ending showing a different candidate winning the election. This is being billed as "new to DVD," although "Version #2" actually appears on the 30th Anniversary set as an Easter egg (it plays when you complete the "Earn Your Diploma" game). I can't find any information regarding when this short was created, other than "sometime before 2002." It's a fun song, but as it's far shorter than the usual "Schoolhouse Rock" cartoon, it's less significant than a fan would hope. Always great to hear Jack Sheldon sing, though.
(Note: the disc allows you to play all the cartoons in this order, or play all within a category, or select an individual short. The disc is also programmed with Disney's "FastPlay" feature, which plays a batch of previews before getting to the cartoons.)
Video & Audio
These cartoons are presented in the same 1.33:1 full frame transfers that were featured on the 2002 collection. They looked just fine then, and still do; the softness and slightly muted colors that were always present in these shorts are balanced by some moderate restoration that kept the prints clean and mainly damage-free.
The soundtrack is labeled as Dolby 5.1, but it sounds instead like a simple 2.0 mix. (A misprint, perhaps?) No matter: the mix is clean and clear, with the music coming through flawlessly. English SDH subtitles are included.
As previously mentioned, the sole extras here are the two versions of "Presidential Minute" and the "interactive electoral map." A batch of previews for other Disney releases is also included; some of those previews also play as the disc loads.
"Schoolhouse Rock" is a bona fide classic, but this double dip isn't worth your time. For the same price, give or take a dollar, you can get the 2002 overstuffed two-disc collection; all you're getting here is a map and stickers, plus an alternate ending to one cartoon, amounting to about five seconds of previously unseen footage. Unless you're a "Schoolhouse Rock" completist, you should Skip It and pick up the 30th Anniversary set instead.