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Bob the Builder: Heavy Duty Diggers
You may have heard through the grape vine, or seen through the veil, that Bob the Builder has gone digital. We've known for a few months but resisted like good little Luddites. Can't stand to see our beloved stop-motion animation supplanted by bits and bytes. Or should I say, I couldn't stand it, the kid finds no substantive difference.
This shortish release comes with five episodes and an extra or two, totaling around 45 minutes of family entertainment. As usual, Bob and Wendy guide their toddler charges - their heavy equipment, the Can Do Crew - with kindness, compassion, and every so often just the smallest amount of firm instruction. The tools struggle with feelings of inadequacy, outsider-ism, over-exuberance, and all the other things that lead to feelings of confusion. To wit; the kids are confused when seemingly everything they do is met with shouts of exasperation from their parents.
Episodes included are: Scratch's Hidden Treasures, in which new tool Scratch isn't certain if she'll be able to work as effectively as the other tools, because she doesn't know what to do. Scrambler's Best Idea involves a contest to design a school playground, plus hurt feelings and reprisal when only one of the tools' ideas can win. High Tide For Lofty reveals Lofty's heretofore unknown fear of water. Lofty's fear causes all sorts of problems. Scoop the Artist makes an attempt to reach out to parents (artistic ones, that is) with a guest character, artist David Mockney. Scoop is inspired to develop a skill that makes him unique. Lofty and the Monster is perhaps the most simplistic of all these episodes, as Lofty is repeatedly scared beyond reason by the other tools playing a game of "monster". Urgg.
I mention that the kid can't find any differences between Old Bob and New Bob, except she and I both notice that only Bob's voice sounds the same, almost every other voice talent role seems to come from a sound-alike, but not quite right. As for adult perception, (because you're watching with your kids, right?) this really isn't the same Bob. Firstly, these episodes barely clock in at 9 minutes each, more evidence of the incredible shrinking TV show. Therefore, each episode moves much more quickly than it used to, which is upsetting, particularly since this accelerated pace comes with somewhat more-standard plotting and scripting. In other words, this feels less like the old, charming Bob, and more like any other cartoon, complete with lame guest characters.
Animation purists will be nonplused as well, since clever stop-motion techniques and tricks (I loved how they used to animate water and bubbles, for instance) are now replaced by vibrant and cold CGI. Gone is that weird pink clay cement, and they way the tools used to obey the laws of physics and such. What's more, characters have gone somewhat off model, with subtle color changes as well. Everything looks almost the same, just rendered by pixels. Cement is still pink, it just doesn't look right, and trees are still constructed the same, only they're rendered, not physical things.
So, this old man is not pleased by the subtle modernization and dumbification of Bob the Builder - it doesn't look right, feel right, or read right. But it's close enough for the kids. My tester noticed the voices, but enjoyed everything else just the same. I guess it's time for the old guard to step aside. Long live the new Bob!
Nothing much has changed in this regard, with a full screen 4 x 3 presentation sporting a crisp picture with bright, saturated colors. Sharp-eyed viewers may spot a little bit of aliasing here and there, but nothing distracting, even for parents with nothing more to occupy their minds.
Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Audio is likewise totally up to snuff, no distortion is present, and incidental music is mixed well with the dialog. Dialog that sounds wrong because the voices seem different, but what can you do?
Closed Captioning, and Spanish or French Audio Tracks, plus a Music Video - "Ready, Steady, Build!" - comprise your extras.
As far as most undiscriminating kids are concerned - those kids to whom this DVD is marketed - this is business as usual. It's a little short for what consumers might expect from a kids' DVD these days, but otherwise it has what it takes. Parents and Bob purists may be dismayed by all the CGI changes, plus seemingly inherent accelerations in pacing and simplifying of plot dynamics, but hey, we're just the money-bags anyway. Still, my critic's heart can only give this a Rent It recommendation.