By a twist of fate a gambling-oriented bachelor is made guardian of three unruly children who manage to get into all kinds of mischief as he struggles to maintain control of his unexpected “family”. A budding romance adds some sexual tension (as much as can be expected in a 1975 family-oriented Disney film) between he and the local stage-coach-driving gal who brought the youngsters to town. When the kids find a gold nugget in an abandoned gold-mine the stakes get high and all eyes turn to Arakis (just seeing if you’re paying attention).
Naturally everything ends up working out predictably positive as one would imagine. Profound? No. Fun and entertaining? Yes. Tim Conway and Don Knotts contribute their own talents to pull The Apple Dumpling Gang into an enjoyable movie that won’t change your life, but will offer some G-rated fun for the whole family.
Disney has done a marvelous job. I checked out a few scenes on my friend’s Sony 10HT before watching the full-length film on my 16x9 direct-view. Both display systems confirm that this is a first-rate film-tape transfer that is about as good as it can look given the inherent quality of the source film-elements which do seem to have been restored quite well. Some images convey noticeable film-grain (the opening scene) but most scenes are very clear with fine-level film-grain visible (not a transfer problem...just telling you what the image looks like). Overall I’d say the image looks “soft” but there are some scenes that look very sharp/clear even on the projected screen.
Colors are good if just slightly-washed out at times and to my eyes things look slightly skewed to yellow/brown. Flesh-tones appear somewhat red-brown at times which caused me some distraction but it's consistent...so eventually I got used to it. This overly "warm" look to the colors is quite possibly an intentional effect to try to recreate an aesthetic that reminds the viewer of the "Old West". Again, this may very well be a faithful replication of the appearance of the film itself (I would imagine this is the case given the obvious care Disney has taken to deliver a very solid picture on this disc). For comparison, I found the Witch Mountain films to have a more natural color-balance and contrast. Film buffs chime in if you have anything to share.
No visible haloing from EE and no digital noise from compression or DNR that I can see. Black level is solid and clean and the image is steady. Very satisfying to watch even at 1.5 screen-widths. Fans will be impressed.
Picture: 4.5 / 5
The 5.1 DD sounds about as good as the audio for this film is able to sound. However, the results are not very spectacular, though they are satisfactory. Surround use is occasional and generally carries ambience from the occasional effect or music track. Sounds like a “fat mono” recording overall which isn’t a bad thing considering the films mono-audio origins, it just doesn’t particularly inspire. On par with the Witch Mountain soundtracks if you’d like a comparison.
Sound: 3.5/ 5
Some nice extras are fit onto the single disc which is impressive given the lack of artifacting in the feature film. The first most folks will encounter is the animated short “Two Gun Goofy”—a cartoon where goofy inadvertently outwits an outlaw by sheer stupidity. Great cartoon, with great colors and vibrancy...only I notice visible dot-crawl artifacts (also see them on the Luv Bug cartoon-extra ) which tells me Disney has utilized a composite master and a rather poor comb-filter when mastering this short for DVD. I find it frustrating that the folks with the $$ studio gear can’t manage to use better comb-filters when mastering legacy composite source material for DVD...but rest assured you won’t find this distracting from a normal “TV” viewing distance.
The next extra that I really enjoyed was the “Lost Treasures: The Disney Back Lot”. It’s a great historical look at how the production was shot on a back-lot set and how the back-lot set evolved over many years and was used repeatedly in many live-action Disney films. Sadly, the lot was destroyed in the 1980’s to make way for a parking lot and some new buildings which I found devastating (had to get out the tissues) the but narrator for the documentary didn’t seem to comprehend the loss in quite the same way. Anyway...I’m one of those historic-preservationists folks so the thought of our material history getting paved over is something I respond to very personally. In any case, be sure to check out this documentary—very interesting and I’m glad Disney included it.
Also a nice interview with Tim Conway which most folks will enjoy. And yes...we’ve got feature commentary with Conway and Knotts that fans of those two comedy idols will no doubt enjoy.
Then there’s the less glitzy but still cool list of stuff like Biographies and production stills etc. If you’re a devoted fan or get the flu and have to stay home for a week and run out of DVD movies to watch, you might check them out.
Take a walk down memory lane if you remember this film from your childhood. Once again Disney has dusted off the film-print of a movie you grew up with and delivered it to you on a 5” disc with the greatest of care and attention. I don’t think The Apple Dumpling Gang could look or sound better than it does here on DVD. If you’re a fan of the film or looking for some enjoyable and harmless entertainment for the kids to add to the shelf...