Created by Jeff Borkin and Ellen Martin, Blaze and the Monster Machines is Nick Jr.'s breakout hit aimed at single-digit scamps who like trucks. And who doesn't like trucks, especially sentient ones? The story goes like this: Blaze (voiced by Nolan North of TMNT) and his blank-faced, curiously underage driver A.J. (Dusan Brown) are the best racing team in Axle City, a nondescript metropolis populated by talking monster trucks. Blaze's four-wheeled and two-legged pals include Evel Knievel fan Darington (Alexander Polinsky), dino-truck hybrid Zeg (James Patrick Stuart), beastly tiger truck Stripes (Sunil Malhotra), cowgirl Starla (Kate Higgins), mechanic Gabby (Angelina Wahler), and more. Their main opposition is Crusher (Kevin Michael Richardson, also from TMNT) and his doofy sidekick Pickle (Nat Faxon), who routinely gum up the works around Axle City before Blaze and company speed to the rescue.
Race Into Velocityville is the fifth collection of Blaze on DVD, and it's also the first one to include more than 90 minutes of content. By a wide margin, too: there's six full-length episodes here---"Race Car Blaze" (originally titled "Race Car Superstar"), "Race to Eagle Rock", "Sky Track", "The Wishing Wheel", "The Hundred Mile Race" and "The Polar Derby---with a total running time of 132 minutes, making this a stronger value than past collections. But are the episodes any better? Well, they're not worse: Blaze and the Monster Machines continues its formula of light STEM education, fast races, and colorful characters, with occasional celebrity voices thrown in for NASCAR fans (four episodes include guest roles for Danica Patrick, Chase Elliott, Jimmie Johnson, and Kasey Kahne as recurring vehicles "Rally", "Mark Set-Go", "Dash", and "Fender"). So while the content of Race Into Velocityville doesn't seem to differ all that much from past volumes, it's certainly good enough to please established young fans.
Nickelodeon's DVD offers strong A/V marks as usual, but it's getting harder to peddle physical media like this when Amazon is streaming complete season packages of Blaze (with an HD option, even) at comparable prices. For those sticking with discs, piecemeal collections like Race Into Velocityville are the best you're going to get for now.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Since Blaze and the Monster Machines was created in HD, it's no surprise that Race Into Velocityville looks extremely strong on DVD with bright colors, fine image detail, and a pleasing amount of textures. All episodes are presented in their original 1.78:1 aspect ratios, which showcase the series' eye-catching visual design and well-rendered background compositions. The stylized color schemes look great with no obvious bleeding, while shadow detail and black levels are also consistent from start to finish. Small amounts of banding can be spotted along the way, but that's expected for standard definition releases and is most likely a source material issue. Overall, this is easily one of the best-looking Nick Jr. DVDs in recent memory, and it's almost a shame there's no Blu-ray option.
DISCLAIMER: These compressed and resized screen captures are decorative and do not represent this title's native 480p resolution.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and sounds great under the circumstances---it's fairly ambitious for a kid's show, and often makes the races much more exciting. Dialogue is crisp without fighting for attention, while a modest amount of channel separation gives songs and driving sequences a decent amount of punch. LFE is very frequent as well, especially once those engines roar to life. Unfortunately, no English subtitles or Closed Captions are included, but optional French and Spanish dubs are offered during the first four episodes (no French during the last two).
Menu Design, Presentation, and Packaging
After a few advertisements and warnings, Paramount's DVD opens with a colorful interface (above) that's easy to use. This one-disc release arrives in an eco-friendly blue keepcase with a matching slipcover and promotional insert. No bonus features are included here, but the above-average episode count helps to make up for it.
Race Into Velocityville is another fine collection of speedy and action-packed kids' entertainment...and unlike earlier Blaze DVDs, the generous amount of content on this <$10 disc (just over 130 minutes total) is very much appreciated. The added bonus of these being relatively new episodes---all are less than a year old---is nice to see too, although I'll continue to harp about the lack of season-by-season collections. As usual, Nickelodeon's home video treatment plays to Blaze's technical strengths with a strong A/V presentation, even though bonus features aren't part of the package. It's firmly Recommended for die-hard fans of Blaze and the Monster Machines, although Amazon's complete season packages are definitely a better option for those who aren't committed to physical media.
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.