I had only a tangential knowledge of the “Eloise” phenomenon before watching this DVD and I imagine that many of you might know as little or even less than I did, so let’s take a moment and discuss: Eloise is the title character to a series of children’s books starting in the mid 1950’s by author Kay Thompson and illustrated by Hilary Knight (who is male, don’t let the name confuse you). The stories center around a rambunctious and adventuresome little girl who manages to engulf those around her in the wake of chaos following the cascade of her mischievous deeds...yet she always manages to step in and pull things back together again to the satisfaction of others and thusly redeem herself. Long story short: Eloise is the little girl version of Curious George.
The first book places Eloise as a resident in a lavish room of the Plaza (NYC) where she spends her days entertaining herself uninhibitedly to the frustration of those around her. It is upon this story that this Disney film is based. Director Kevin Lima has gone to great lengths to create props, sets, costumes, and in-the-flesh-movie characters that emulate the Knight’s illustrations and Thompson’s descriptions. Lima succeeds. I’d go so far as to call the results of his efforts “excellent”. His casting of Sofia Vassilieva is perfect: Sophia captures that dual-quality of an innocent little girl who happens to also be a mischievous/conniving disobedient—with a heart of gold. The adult casting is equally adept: Julie Andrews shows off her acting ability by satisfying the very unassuming role of Eloise’s nanny (IMO, that takes more talent than standing in the spotlight). The other characters of hotel manager Mr. Salomone (Jeffrey Tambor) and company are equally well suited. The adult roles convey a strong sense “characterization” from the story books through carefully managed costuming, in addition to the obvious appearances and personalities of the actors themselves.
All of this is important to understand going into this film because part of the movie's strength is built on its faithfulness in portraying the characters, personalities, and events one encounters in the novels. For instance, don't ask “why is she like that?” because the answer is that “That’s who she was in the book”. You’ll enjoy the movie better if you can defer such curiosities to the knowledge of the film’s continuity to the story books.
I really don’t like giving to much of the story away for movies like this. Ok, so it’s not a Hitchcock thriller with a “who done it?” punch-line. But suffice to say that this little girl manages to annoy, frustrate, and entertain you with her unbridled zeal, and then even drags a heart-warming tear or two out of you who (like me) are prone to such emotionalism when she cuts to the heart. Those of you who don’t like “cute” or “mushy” movies beware! But if you enjoy movies like The Princess Diaries, The Secret Garden, or A Little Princess (like I do) then you and your family ought to enjoy this one too. When the credits rolled I got that “Siiigh” good feeling and really appreciated the 88 minutes I’d invested with this movie. I also experienced that “this is what makes me glad to be a reviewer” feeling—being exposed to movies that I might have never seen had they not been deposited bubble-wrapped upon my doorstep from the folks at Buena Vista.
Nothing strikes fear into the heart of a movie-phile more than receiving DVD and not being able to locate *any* information on the packaging regarding aspect ratio or frame encoding: That awful sinking feeling that you’re holding a P/S or open-matte MAR title in your hands without even knowing it. This had “Family B title” written all over it and so I started to feel the sweat collect on my brow. Still, I pushed on, finding strength from within (just as mothers summon the inexplicable power to lift cars off of their trapped children without knowing how, so I found the inner-courage to press on!). Shrink-wrap now off, and keeping my head turned e-skew at a safe angle to guard my eyes, I snapped open the case. Whew! I felt like Sydney disarming a nuclear war-head in ALIAS...trying to keep my cool with a potential world-disaster right in front of me. Gently lifting the DVD free from its clasp (who knows *what* could happen wrenching a P/S DVD haphazardly from its case!) I moved it closer to the light...and again found no written indication of what video format was stealthily encoded in those shiny grooves. To make matters worse...I suddenly remembered that Amazon had this title listed as 1.33:1—and so I quickly rushed to the envelope containing the BV press material and read there printed in black and white: “DVD aspect ratio: 1.33:1 formatted 4x3”. Arrrghhh! I cried...losing all voluntary control of my actions I collapsed under the strain as a torent of dissolution and dispair rushed over me!
When I regained consciousness, there I saw that shinny little 5” disc with its pink silk-screen art lying on the floor staring right back at me...taunting me...illuminated by the faint glow of the screen of my 16x9 direct-view in a moment of crushing poetic irony. As I was about to wrestle that little bugger back into the case...I heard that phrase we movie-philes fear most when staring face-to-face at P/S DVD title: “Well can we watch it anyway?” Gasp! My Partner was not a true Jedi master and was easily seduced by the dark side of the force! I did the only thing I could do—I relented but said “Yes, we can watch it, but I *can’t* review it!”. Though I must admit that for a moment I toyed with the idea of the DVD achieving a maximum of 3/5 stars for picture quality because it only contained 3/5 of the movie image.
In went the DVD. Up came a 16x9-encoded menu. “Cruel Irony!” I said aloud. Then the opening credits appeared. In glorious 16x9 1.85:1 widescreen.
I don’t know who at Disney was responsible for the decision to slip this OAR 16x9 WS title in under radar (clearly contradicting the release specs from the BV print material as well as internet sources) but we of the moviephile community want to give you a big THANK YOU. Feel free to head-up the release for Muppet Treasure Island and Christmas Carol any time!
So now that we’ve determined that the image on this disc is 16x9 encoded 1.85:1 WS, how does it look?
The film-style of this movie is very stylized...much more so than you’d expect from a not-big-budget type of film. The first thing you’ll notice is the marvelous color palette which makes many of the scenes look almost like paintings: Warm pinks, rich oranges, and pastel peaches look almost air-brushed on. The image has a generally soft-focus look to it but my assumption is that this is part of the romanticized look intended by the director. The lighting and film exposure combine to produce high-contrast scenes that appear to “bloom” (reminds me of Amilie in that way). Film grain is apparent but not excessive. Those of you who saw this feature (projected theatrically or previously on television...unclear as to if this feature was shown theatrically?) please share your viewpoint with us here regarding these characteristics.
The DVD encoding handles the video material generally well, but I noticed some occasional artifacting that looked like MPEG noise though it never became distracting (I should add that this review takes place about 3-4 screen-widths back from my 34” 16x9 direct-view). Occasionally backgrounds appeared to “crawl” slightly if I stared at them but normal viewing rendered these minor flaws benign. I got up close to the screen and noticed no haloing/ringing from EE.
One flaw I did notice that was a bit odd had to do with the opening credits which combed slightly as the movie started...as if the credits-graphics had been edited in the “video” domain and pasted into the film...so my progressive-scan DVD player was making this more apparent by treating the scenes as 3-2 encoded film (I've heard this feature was "made for TV" so this is quite plausible). In any case, this is my theory as to why I was seeing combing/aliasing artifacts on the opening credits...I’d like to hear more about this from the rest of you once you get the disc (curious how various progressive-scan DVD players and interlaced players reproduce the same problem). If it turns out that the source of this flaw is indeed the blending of video/film elements during the opening credits then I would regard that as a flaw on the DVD...no video content should present this type of challenge to a progressive-processor...image content should be consistent: film (progressive) or video (interlaced) in nature (The one exception I would grant is to “making of” documentaries which are naturally video in nature with spliced-in sequences of film. But where the picture quality of a feature film is concerned...you gotta choose a team). Ok, enough ranting about this *very minor* and basically innocuous short-term flaw...
Overall I was very pleased with the image on this disc and my instinct is that it’s reasonably faithful to the look of the source film elements. Taking off a point for some minor digital encoding issues:
Picture: 4/ 5
I probably don’t have to tell you that this isn’t the movie to pick to show off your new subwoofer or surround speakers to your friends. But the audio for Eloise is what it is...it’s a nice, balanced-sounding presentation that’s a bit front-heavy but reasonably full, natural, and non-fatiguing. Dialog is clear and easily intelligible. Musical scores are delivered richly and vibrantly and there’s a nice left-right spread across the front soundstage. The mix and presentation here are perfectly appropriate for this feature film. A very pleasing if somewhat understated mix.
Sound: 4/ 5
Book illustrator Hilary Knight (who also has a brief cameo in the film) has some fun with a “drawing lesson” which I think many children (and adults) will enjoy. I also enjoyed very much the making-of documentary which went into detail about all the particulars about translating the book to the big-screen. I was astonished to discover that most of the hotel shots were actually constructed sets and not the real thing! *very* convincing in the movie. I think fans of the stories as well as more casual viewers like me will find this feature interesting and informative.
Given the status of this title (this isn’t exactly the Cinderella Special Edition) I consider the bonus features on this disc to be of a good value.
Eloise is a very charming film that surprised me with its enjoyability. Fans of the Eloise books owe it to themselves to give it a try. If you’ve been commanded by God to watch every film where Julie Andrews makes an appearance (like I have) I think you’ll find her performance here impressive (understated) and you’ll get to see a charming little movie in the process. The rest of you...if you enjoy films that aren’t embarrassed about appealing to your emotional side (like The Little Princess, Secret Garden, or the Princess Diaries) and you can handle “cute” then you’re in good hands with Eloise, at the Plaza.