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Chris Hicks: Muppets join 'Express,' 'Sky High' for holiday release

Tom Hanks voices several characters, including the conductor, right, who also looks like him, in "The Polar Express," now on DVD.
Tom Hanks voices several characters, including the conductor, right, who also looks like him, in "The Polar Express," now on DVD.
Warner Bros. Pictures

Here are some new-to-DVD shows that are — mostly — family friendly.

"The Polar Express" (Warner, 2004, G, $29.95, two discs). One of the problems with computer animation is that realistic human faces have not yet been mastered; they tend to look like people wearing stocking masks.

But if you can get past that, "The Polar Express" is an enjoyable ride — and I do mean ride. Especially those incredible shots of the title train skidding on the ice.

In case you somehow missed it, the story has a young boy who doubts Santa's existence being whisked away with other children to the North Pole via a fantasy train. Tom Hanks provides several voices, most prominently the train's conductor, who also looks like him . . . if he was wearing a stocking mask.

Extras: Separate widescreen and full-frame editions, deleted song, making-of featurettes, music video, interactive games, trailer, language and subtitle options (English, French, Spanish), chapters; DVD-Rom applications. (Also available in single-disc version, $28.98.)

"Sky High" (Disney, 2005, PG. $29.99). Powerless Michael Angarano goes to superhero high school in this fantasy comedy, which may bring to mind "The Incredibles." It's not that good, but it's not bad, with Kurt Russell and Kelly Preston as his superhero parents and a number of familiar faces in support, from Lynda Carter to Cloris Leachman to Bruce Campbell.

Extras: Separate widescreen and full-frame editions, alternate opening, making-of featurettes, bloopers, music video, trailers, language options (English, French, Spanish), subtitle options (English, French), chapters.

"The 12 Dogs of Christmas" (Screen Media, 2005, G, $14.98). When she was 7, Emma Kragen came up with a parody of the holiday song "The 12 Days of Christmas," which became the popular book "The 12 Dogs of Christmas." This made-for-video film includes that parody at the end of a story about a young girl sent to live in a town that has banned dogs during the Great Depression. Cute low-budget yarn with uneven performances — and at 107 minutes it's way too long — but children may enjoy it. Directed and co-written by Kieth Merrill

Extras: Widescreen, making-of featurette (by 14-year-old Emma Kragen, author of the "12 Dogs" book, optional English subtitles, chapters.

"Howdy Town" (HaleStorm, 2005, not rated, $14.95). This potential TV series for kids, produced by the locally based HaleStorm folks ("The Singles Ward," "It's Latter-Day Night"), is being released first with two episodes on home video. If you can picture a mix of "The Roy Rogers Show," "The Mickey Mouse Club," "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" and "Mister Ed," you may have some idea of what to expect: a Western motif in a broad comic format, a soft-spoken cowboy, talking miniature ponies, singing and dancing, and morality lessons for small fry about sharing and accepting those who are different.

Extras: Full frame, two episodes, trailers, optional English subtitles, chapters.

"The Muppet Movie" (Disney/Henson, 1979, G, $19.99).

"The Great Muppet Caper" (Disney/Henson, 1981, G, $19.99).

"The Muppet Christmas Movie" (Disney/Henson, 1992, G, $19.99).

"Muppet Treasure Island" (Disney/Henson, 1996, G, $19.99). The first two titles have been on DVD previously, but these are newly repackaged "50th Anniversary" (of the Muppets) editions, and the first time on the Disney label. The second two titles make their DVD debuts.

"Movie" and "Caper" retain their charm, in a more confined, easygoing way perhaps than the films that followed — and each has a wide variety of all-star cameos — Steve Martin, Bob Hope, John Cleese, Diana Rigg, etc.

"Christmas" is a reworking of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," with Michael Caine as the only human performer, playing Scrooge. It's the first film directed by Jim Henson's son Brian, and it's arguably the best Muppet movie ever made, a riotous retelling with snappy songs and a first-rate performance by Caine.

"Treasure" is enjoyable fun, with Tim Curry as Long John Silver, though it's not quite up to the others.

Extras: Widescreen/full-frame versions, comic featurettes, trailers, language options (English, French), chapters (on "Christmas" only: audio commentary, Christmas featurette, bloopers).

"Miracle's Boys" (Paramount, 2005, not rated, $16.99). This limited cable series from Spike Lee is an affecting look at three young brothers in Harlem trying to stay together after the deaths of their parents. Each episode explores the unique challenges of trying to raise oneself, with the 20-year-old oldest son in charge. Well acted and realistic; some episodes are better than others, but all are worth a look. (Lee directed Episodes 1 and 6.)

Extras: Full frame, six episodes, interview with Spike Lee, making-of featurette, chapters.

"Kong: King of Atlantis" (Warner, 2004, not rated, $19.98). This silly feature-length cartoon combines King Kong with the legend of Atlantis and general sci-fi nonsense (with just a hint of the Scooby-Doo gang), as the giant ape is reborn through DNA science and helps a couple of humans (including one who seems patterned after Sheena, Queen of the Jungle) battle the evil Queen Reptilla. Oh, and they also sing songs!

Extras: Full frame, language and subtitle options (English, French, Spanish), chapters.

"Mission Hill: The Complete Series" (Warner, 1999-2000, not rated, $29.98, two discs). Youth culture and pop culture are lampooned in this abbreviated animated series by former "Simpsons" writers. The focus is on siblings, an aspiring cartoonist with eccentric roommates and his obnoxious younger brother. Some amusing bits but it's hit and miss.

Extras: Full frame, 13 episodes, audio commentaries (on four episodes), interactive map, subtitle options (English, French, Spanish), chapters.


E-mail: hicks@desnews.com