Directed by Riccardo Durante
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 292 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo English, French, Spanish
MSRP: $ 19.99
Release Date: August 19, 2008
Review Date: August 10, 2008
Newbury-Award winning author Louis Sachar’s stories about the very unusual Wayside School form the basis of Nickelodeon’s hit series Wayside School. (Actually, the title screen on these DVDs refers to the series as Wayside, but Paramount has added the last word in peddling these first season discs). Though on the surface it might seem to have only kid appeal, it’s actually a subversive kind of animated comedy series, not as satirical or smart as The Bullwinkle Show was in its heyday but a show that can offer certain pleasures for grown-ups that will go right over the heads of their youngsters.
Wayside School was meant to be built as a single story institution, but the contractors got it wrong, and its thirty classrooms were piled one on top of the other. Newly arrived student Todd (the sole voice of sanity in his class) finds himself on the top floor in the class being taught by Mrs. Jewls. It’s a very progressive grammar school curriculum that Todd finds himself grappling with, and his classmates have adjusted to the wackiness far better than he has. Class brainiac Dana, smarmy former class president Myron, and Maurecia whose crush on Todd manifests itself in frequent beat-downs seem to be the class leaders. Others in the class who make infrequent trips to the spotlight include Sharie who sleeps class away much to the delight of Mrs. Jewls who believes the best learning happens while sleeping and Stephen who wears an elf Halloween costume to class each day. Miss Mush, the cafeteria manager with dead rat Sammy by her side and who also teaches the honors class, and Principal Kidswatter, whose name speaks volumes about his disposition, also make frequent appearances.
Among the surreal adventures in the first season are several episodes that stand apart. A cow wanders into class one day, and the children assume it’s a substitute teacher they name Mrs. Bellamy with all but Todd seeing nothing the least bit unusual about a bovine instructor. Mrs. Jewls uses assertive discipline to keep her class in order, but Todd is the only student who constantly finds his name on the board with three strikes which immediately sends him home on the kindergarten bus. So often are his trips on that vehicle that the kindergartners vote him their king, an act that gets everyone in Todd’s class apoplectic with jealousy. There’s also a very funny story when the students discover that a French chef cooks for the teachers in the lounge while they’re subjected to the unpalatable swill of Miss Mush so there‘s a cookoff to determine who‘ll cook for the entire school.
The credits don’t identify which voice goes with which character, but they’re all very entertaining and deserve recognition: Kedar Brown, Sergio Duzio, Jayne Eastwood, Dwayne Hill, Lisa Ng, Denise Oliver, Kathy Laskey, Julie Lemieux, Terry McGurrin, Peter Oldring, Mark Rendall, and Martin Villafana.
Here are the titles of the stories contained in each of the 13 episodes on two discs:
1 - Pull My Pigtail - Class Cow
2 - Meet the Pets - Oh, Great Leader
3 - Honors Class - Cabbage, My Boy
4 - Mascot Madness - He Is It!
5 - Best Friendzzz - Kindergarten King
6 - Myron Vs. Normy - Age of Aquarium
7 - Channel Kidswatter - The Elevator
8 - Mad Hot - Mamaland Blues
9 - Principles of Principals - Teacher’s Parent Conference
10 - Rat in Shining Armor - Mrs. Gorf
11 - Todd Falls in Love - French Fried
12 - Music Lessons - Todd and Bull Story
13 - Louis Gets Some Class - My Fluffy Hair
The anamorphically enhanced 1.78:1 transfers are superb (beware the box art which claims these are full frame transfers). The colors are lush and bright, the lines strong and solid, and there isn’t a hint of banding or pixilation in this encoding. For recent TV animation done on a limited budget, it’s some of the best I’ve seen. Most episodes are divided into 4 chapters though occasionally there are only 3.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio tracks are slightly above average. The dialog is firmly placed in the center channel, and the show’s music rightly occurs in the left and right fronts. It’s a professional but strictly rudimentary audio track basically solid for folks who’ll likely watch these episodes and listen through their TV’s speakers rather than a sound system.
There are no bonus features on the disc, but the package does include one of original author Louis Sachar‘s books in paperback: Sideways Stories from Wayside School.
An often funny and surprisingly sophisticated little animated series from Canada, Wayside School comes to DVD with some fun characters and some subversive little stories. It’s definitely something a little different from the norm in children’s programming.