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Girls of Little House on the Prairie: Country School, The
For such a gentle show, Little House on the Prairie inspires rabid devotion. The devotees probably won't find much use for this three-episode collection, however, considering the entire series is available on 60 discs for two bills (or individual season collections). However, for that little girl in your life who's looking for more meaning than what's on offer from the latest Disney homunculus, this could be a good entry point.
The popular television series (based on the writings of Laura Ingalls Wilder) aired in the 1970s, detailing the travails of the Ingalls family trying to make a go in the Midwest during the 1870s. Featuring the talents of Michael Landon, Melissa Gilbert et al, episodes expand upon and extrapolate from the original writings while maintaining the spirit of Wilder's recollections. These three episodes obviously focus on some of the girls' experiences in their little one-room schoolhouse, but of course escape those confines to include the usual subplots of one-hour dramas.
From 1974 comes Country Girls, in which Laura (Gilbert) and Mary (Melissa Sue Anderson) attend their first day of school and meet their nemesis Nellie Oleson (Alison Arngrim). Much sweet pathos is wrung from the girls 'country ways' - as Nellie continually points out - such as when they have enough money to by slates but no pencils for school. Shopkeeper Nels Oleson offers to front them the writin' sticks, but Laura says nope, "cash on the barrel, Pa always says!"
1975's The Spring Dance finds Laura mooning over some little schoolhouse Bo hunk, whom she'd love to accompany to the titular fete. Overhearing mom Caroline (Karen Grassle) give some bad advice on how to catch a reluctant man, Laura cooks up a deceptive scheme. This episode is heavy on humor, as Laura and Post-mistress Grace Snider both learn the webs they weave will come back to bite them.
A 1977 episode, Little Women, demonstrates how a schoolyard fight can lead to a public performance of excerpted plays. Laura and Mary wind up tackling Little Women with Nellie - mostly because they want to rehearse in her family's parlor, "the nicest in town." Meantime their teammate Ginny Clark struggles to help her mother appreciate love and her daughter's efforts at school.
Obviously there's more to Little House than just the girls at school, but they are certainly the dominant force. So this collection, in its brevity, is fairly representative of what the show's about. What's so fun about Little House, beyond its relentlessly positive and wholesome attitude, is the enveloping realism created. Locations, sets and props all invoke Reconstruction era America effortlessly, and each actor gives his or her all. Michael Landon, in particular, seems so into it he positively infects you with a desire to shoot back a hundred-forty years to forget all your modern troubles. Otherwise, these episodes hew pretty closely to family-dramedy contrivances, yet they're so good-natured they're impossible not to love. Keep your little girl away from commercial TV (reruns of Little House aren't hard to find) and let her focus on these DVD episodes (even though they're likely truncated for syndication) instead.
These episodes, presented in their original 1.33:1 fullscreen broadcast ratio, are showing their age a bit, with minor print damage hanging around 'til the end. Film grain is present but not an issue, while some aliasing and shimmering may disappoint hardcore definition fans. In all, these seem to be acceptable but certainly not exemplary transfers.
Stereo audio from original Mono sources is just fine, not outstanding but not disappointing. All dialog seems clear and is understandable.
One nice extra is included, one that will hopefully wrest a few kids from the television and bring them back to the joys of reading, a Little House on the Prairie Bookmark for your place-saving pleasure. However, that's it.
Prairie purists have complained that other DVD releases contain edited-for-syndication episodes. We'll assume these episodes are similarly treated - I'm no Prairie scholar, so I don't know for sure. However, these charming school-centered episodes seem a perfect entry-point to introduce new girl-children (or any kids) to the joys of these wholesome stories - especially since using this DVD allows parents to more carefully control what their kids watch and how many commercials they're subjected to. On the whole, you may want to Rent It before you choose to buy.