This late in the physical media game, I'd imagine that any parents still picking up DVDs for their little ones just want a decent amount of bang for their buck. The days of 90-minute collections priced at $15 or more aren't over yet, though, which makes multi-disc compilations like Nickelodeon's Bunch of Playdates all the more attractive to casual shoppers. Essentially, it herds together three best selling themed discs---Dance to the Music (2012), Rootin' Tootin' Wild West (2013), and Once Upon a Rhyme (2013)---each with an assortment of like-minded Nick Jr. shows aimed at preschoolers and kindergartners. Just under two dozen total episodes are included, and the full list is below.
For the most part, each of these themed collections is pretty self-explanatory, and most of the included episodes feel like a natural fit. Two amusing music-themed episodes of Wonder Pets are one of the first disc's highlights, while lesser-known shows like The Fresh Beat Band, Ni Hao, Kai-lan, and the short-running Blue's Room are welcome and appropriate diversions. The dependable Bubble Guppies are here too, with three suitable episodes that were chosen smartly. There are exceptions, of course: if you're eager to hear Mandy Patankin as a singing groundhog, that's on Wild West for some reason. All three Team Umizoomi episodes rarely have much to do with their respective subject matter, and the ridiculously bad Go, Diego, Go! somehow makes Dora the Explorer look tolerable in comparison.
Still, the success of multi-disc "grab bag" collections is entirely measured on a hit-to-miss ratio, and Bunch of Playdates usually hits the mark. There's nearly five hours of content here and it's priced under $20, which should appeal to parents looking for a cheap and easy gift for any kids halfway interested in any or all of these shows. Sure, a handful of episodes have been recycled from past collections and proper season sets are still superior in almost every way...but within the boundaries of kids' entertainment on DVD, Bunch of Playdates is better than average.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Ignore that "Widescreen Format" spec on the back cover: about 90% of this material is presented in its original pre-HD broadcast 1.33:1 aspect ratio and, not surprisingly, is limited to the quality of its original source material. In general, colors are bright and image detail is relatively good. Very few blatant digital imperfections (edge enhancement, compression artifacts, etc.) were spotted along the way, although softness and interlacing were a little more persistent than expected. If you own one or more of these discs already, you'll know what to expect. Still, this is a capable effort and I'd imagine that younger audiences won't notice (or care about) most of these problems anyway.
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 2.0 and also sounds fine. Voices and music cues are uniformly crisp and clear without fighting for attention, while a modest amount of channel separation gives song-driven moments and light action sequences a little bit of punch. Yes, some of these shows are obnoxious and overbearing more often than not, but it's not the DVD's fault. Unfortunately, no optional English subtitles or Closed Captions are included.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above, the basic and colorful menu designs are attractive and easy to navigate. This three-disc release is housed in a black hinged keepcase (non-eco, thank goodness) and includes no inserts of any kind. No extras are included either, save for three short Bubble Guppies Music Videos
on the first disc, but the episode count makes up for it.
Nickelodeon's Bunch of Playdates is a well-meaning and fairly priced collection of kids' entertainment that, unless you've picked up one or more of these three discs already, represents plenty of bang for your buck. The A/V specs are decent enough considering the source material, and the lack of bonus features is easily offset by roughly five hours of total content. It's not exactly high art (especially Dora), but there's enough colorful and inoffensive enjoyment here to satisfy kids without annoying their parents too much. If more than half this material is new to your family, Bunch of Playdates is a safe bet; otherwise, just pick and choose from the stand-alone DVDs. Firmly Recommended.
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.