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.
Most episodes follow that exact template, with an obligatory bit of science and engineering just for good measure; educational topics include inertia, balance, wind power, and more. The educational aspects of this series can't help but feel a little forced at times; it's nowhere near as a bad as Dora, but the show's otherwise action-oriented format and dynamic visual style end up competing with the forced interactive moments (especially on the third or fourth time through). Perhaps "fun and educational" is now a mandate for shows of this type, but Blaze ends up selling itself a little short due to its similarity with about a dozen other shows from the past decade. Luckily, Blaze and the Monster Machines' stylish "camerawork", fast-paced races, and catchy songs outweigh its less impressive moments.
As with previous collections of Blaze on DVD (including High Speed Adventures and Rev Up and Roar, among others), Fired Up serves up four short episodes that more or less stick to a specific theme. This time around it's fire trucks: not surprising, since toys like this one are selling well...and are pretty darn cool, from an adult kid's point of view. The two best episodes in the bunch are "Fired Up" and "Five Alarm Blaze", two relatively new adventures from the second and most recent season: both obviously stick to the theme very well, with a winning mixture of action, adventure, education, and excitement. That's not to say the other two ("Trouble at the Truck Wash" and "Sneezing Cold", completely unrelated adventures from the first season) are bad...but it just makes me wish that, along with countless other shows, they'd ditch the idea of themed collections and go with proper season sets. Not to mention that fact that +/- 90 minutes of content and no extras makes the $10-$15 price tag seem a little padded.
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 more reasonable prices. For those sticking with discs, piecemeal collections like Fired Up 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 Fired Up looks extremely strong on DVD with bright colors, fine image detail, and a pleasing amount of texture on characters and backgrounds. 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. 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 advertised on the packaging.
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.
Fired Up is another fine collection of above-average kids' entertainment...and while two of these four Blaze episodes don't follow the theme of this collection, they still serve up plenty of action, adventure, and excitement. As usual, Nickelodeon's DVD package is definitely thin on content: there's only four 22-minute episodes and no extras, but the strong A/V presentation plays to Blaze's technical strengths. Recommended for die-hard fans of the series, although Amazon's complete season packages are 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.