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Tales From Avonlea - The Complete First Season

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment // Unrated // November 8, 2005
List Price: $34.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Scott Weinberg | posted November 22, 2005 | E-mail the Author
The Series

You could describe it as Canadian Dickensian or Great North Ingalls-ism, but Avonlea (whether you know it as Road to Avonlea or Tales from Avonlea) is actually inspired by the works of Lucy Maud Montgomery, author of Anne of Green Gables and The Golden Road. As Ms. Montgomery was a Canadian, it should come as no surprise that her young girl adventure stories take place in locations like Montreal and Prince Edward Island.

Sara Stanley finds herself transplanted from her posh and palatial estate to a down-home and relatively poor little village of Avonlea. Sara's dad has been accused of some terrible embezzlement charges, and he feels the young girl will be best off with his late wife's various sisters, cousins, nieces, nephews, and et cetera.

Sara, of course, must come to terms with a lower income, actual hard work, and dealing with new kids on their own terms. She'll butt heads with crotchety aunts, local bullies, and the stray piece of the criminal element -- all while learning a whole bunch of valuable life lessons while brightening the hearts of all who surround her. Sara's the best. Awwww.

(It's interesting to note that little Sara is played by none other than the hard-working actress called Sarah Polley, whom you should easily remember from films like The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Go, and Dawn of the Dead. So consider it noted.)

Packed with lovely Canadian landscapes, sweet and lovable characters (even the villains are lovable), predictable yet comfortable little stories, and just enough craftsmanship to keep the thing moving, Avonlea is absolutely the Canadian Little House on the Prairie. Whether or not that's a good thing is entirely up to you.

Avonlea is an entirely wholesome and fairly worthwhile family program, given that you currently own a small child who will sit still for a story about a young girl's adventures in Canada circa 1900. (I doubt there are many of those kids left.) Those who grew up watching the series on on cable (1989 - 1996) will undoubtedly enjoy this three-disc nostalgia package from Disney, but good luck trying to get the modern-day young'ens to sit through it.

Disc 1

1. The Journey Begins -- When Sara Stanley's father finds himself in the center of an embezzlement scandal, he sends his daughter and her nanny to Avonlea. (01/07/90)
2. The Story Girl Earns Her Name -- Sara accidentally helps a con man skip town with school library funds. In an effort to make it right, she recruits the help of town recluse Jasper Dale to put on a Magic Lantern show to raise money. (01/14/90)
3. The Quarantine at Alexander Abraham's -- Sunday school volunteer Rachel Lynde stumbles into Alexander Abraham's farm to locate a boy missing from her class. But "old man Abraham" has smallpox, and is placed under quarantine! (01/21/90)
4. The Materializing of Duncan McTavish -- After relentless prying about her spinster status from her sewing circle, Marilla Cuthbert tells a fib about a fictitious beau with the name Duncan McTavish. (01/28/90)

Disc 2

5. Song of the Night -- Sara and her cousins venture onto the eerie property of eccentric, old Miss Lloyd - a poor spinster haunted by her past. (02/04/90)
6. Proof of the Pudding -- Alec and Janet King celebrate their anniversary in Charlottestown, leaving perfectionist Felicity in charge of the children. (02/11/90)
7. Aunt Abigail's Beau -- Janet King's spinster sister, Aunt Abigail, receives a visit from a former suitor returning from the Yukon with newfound wealth and confidence. (02/18/90)
8. Malcolm and the Baby -- When Malcolm finally marries Abigail, the discovery of an orphaned infant in an abandoned basket by Sara and Felicity provides the new couple with an instant family. (02/25/90)
9. Conversions -- Peter, the hopelessly teased hired hand at Rose Cottage, seems to attract trouble. To add to his woes, he has a spurned crush on Felicity and Aunt Hetty fires him for not keeping up. (03/04/90)

Disc 3

10. Felicity's Challenge -- Felicity has her hands full when she is both the subject of a typical pre-adolescent crush, and is challenged by the other schoolgirls to make the mousy Clemmie a Harvest Ball favorite. (05/07/70)
11. The Hope Chest of Arabella King -- The King family discovers a mystifying chest belonging to the recently deceased Arabella King in their attic, capturing the overactive imaginations of Felix and Andrew. (11/04/90)
12. The Witch of Avonlea -- When Sara, Felix, Cecily and their friend Clemmie Ray are caught in a storm, they must take cover. Their only chance is in the crumbling cottage of Peg Bowen - a peculiar drifter living on the edge of town. (10/21/90)
13. Nothing Endures But Change -- With Sara's nanny rapdily failing in health, and her father finally cleared of fraud, it is time for Sara to make a momentous decision. (11/11/90)

(Episode synopses come from the Disney DVD cases.)

The DVD

Video: The episodes are presented in their original full frame format, and each one looks like it's been sitting in a dusty vault for fifteen years. Picture quality is not all that hot, to be honest. About on par with what you'd find if Avonlea were still playing on The Disney Channel.

Audio: Dolby 2.0 Stereo. Volume levels are all askew, with dialogue low and muffled and sound effects/music all blustery and loud. Optional subtitles are available in English.

Extras: Just a handful of trailers for Lady and the Tramp, "Classic Family," Old Yeller, Kronk's New Groove, Sky High, and a "Disney Kid Movie Show" promo for The Wild and The Shaggy Dog.

Final Thoughts

Sugary sweet and all but biblically wholesome, a show like Avonlea is not normally my cup of tea, but the thing's got a quaint, quiet, PBS-style charm that I found myself warming up to quite a little. (But the six episodes I watched were more than enough for the next several years, tyvm.)

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