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Shout Factory presents
Liberty's Kids: Complete Series (2002)

"And who says a woman cannot be part of this vital undertaking?"
- Sarah (Reo Jones)

Review By: Ross Johnson  
Published: October 13, 2008

Stars: Jill Anderson, Vincent Lee Alston, Carl Beck, Terry Berner, Robert Berry, Walter Cronkite
Other Stars: Dustin Hoffman, Annette Bening, Michael Douglas, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Billy Crystal, Ben Stiller, Whoopi Goldberg, Liam Neeson
Director: Marsha Goodman, Judith Reilly

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 15h:00m:00s
Release Date: October 14, 2008
UPC: 826663109184
Genre: animation


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A AA-A- A-

DVD Review

What a wonderful surprise. Liberty's Kids is a bit of a tough sell: it's a PBS morning cartoon show with a focus on American history, starring Walter Cronkite. Hold yourselves back, kids!

I certainly wasn't sure what to expect, but you can see why I had my doubts. Very few shows pull off a mix of educational and entertaining; usually, the ball gets dropped on one or the other. While this one has solid history cred, it wasn't clear to me that it would be any fun to watch. As it turns out, I had no reason to worry. The show follows the American Revolution through the eyes of a group of kids and teenagers in a way that the target 7- to 12-year-old audience should enjoy as much as their parents (OK, so I'm neither a kid nor a parent, but I found myself looking forward to each new episode). It just works.

Though the character's screen time is limited (he spends most of the series in Europe), Benjamin Franklin is at the center of the show. News legend Walter Cronkite provides the voice, though he's just one of many celebrities who show up during the run of the show: Liam Neeson, Annette Bening, Billy Crystal, Samuel L. Jackson, Sylvester Stallone, Whoopi Goldberg, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Aaron Carter, among others, make appearances as historical figures that pop up throughout. A group of young associates of Franklin find themselves swept up in the major events of the Revolutionary War, from the Boston Tea Party to the drafting of the United States Constitution. D. Kevin Williams is the voice of Moses, a former African slave who managed to purchase his own freedom and came to work in Franklin's Philadelphia print shop. He also cares for Franklin's fictional orphaned wards: 15-year-old aspiring reporter James, a believer in the American cause, and the 8-year-old Henri, a boy from France who mostly provides the comic relief. Reo Jones is the voice of Sarah Phillips, an English girl in the care of Benjamin Franklin and Moses. She's come to North America to search for her father, Samuel, an explorer who has been missing for some time. Strong-willed and adventurous, she provides a mild take on the British point of view during the Revolutionary War. She's often horrified, or simply annoyed by James and his fiercely patriotic views. In Intolerable Acts, she helps James to see the dangers of mob rule when a young man is tarred and feathered because he won't toast the downfall of the English Parliament. He at first cheers on the "patriots," until she helps him see the very real consequences to the beaten man, who later lies near death.

Sarah is often the conscience of the show, and her position as an outsider gives her plenty of opportunities to ask questions or to poke a few gentle holes in the patriotic cause. When she first encounters Moses, she is surprised that a former slave would support the revolutionary cause against England, where slavery is dying out. His answer isn't entirely satisfactory, but it's very much to the credit of the show that it doesn't shy away from complicated topics (likewise, it fearlessly tackes some of the more obscure characters of the revolution). Some of the concepts are going to be a bit much for the youngest kids, but it's a rare kids' show that doesn't talk down to or insult the intelligence of young viewers. While the material is certainly educational (and even goes deeper, in many ways, than textbook American history), the main characters, and even many of the non-fictional ones that show up frequently, are likeable and interesting enough that it's easy to sit back and enjoy their stories without noticing that you're learning (sometimes you'll catch them standing around talking about the people that they're about to meet, but only when it's necessary). Unlike a lot of early-morning cartoons, the episodes aren't entirely stand-alone, either. The story threads that begin in episode one (Sarah's search for her father, Moses' wish to see his brother freed, etc.) continue throughout the 40-episode series, and are only resolved at the very end. Their adventures—riding with Paul Revere, crossing the Delaware with Washington, reporting on the signing of the Constitution—make for compulsive DVD-viewing.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: While there are some faint traces of the edge-enhancement that often mar digital animated releases, for the most part the image quality is quite good. Colors are saturated and the image is sharp.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby 2.0 track is clear and bright.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
1 Documentaries
24 Featurette(s)
Storyboard
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
6 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Each disc includes brief bits relating to the episodes on that disc, and they're all in the same format until the final disc, which includes a retrospective. Each disc has these features: Now and Then, narrated by Sarah, compares life in 1776 with life today in various ways. For example, one episode has the characters traveling between Boston and Philadelphia. We learn that that five-hour trip today would have taken a whopping 15 days in the eighteenth century (they're quick and fun). Newsbytes has Walter Cronkite, as Ben Franklin, briefly describing events of a particualr episode as though it were a modern newscast. Each disc also has a Mystery Guest Game, during which James provides clues and asks viewers to guess the historical figure that he's describing (not that difficult if you've seen the related episode), as well as a Continental Cartoons game, where the kids draw pictures that form words that we're to guess.

Additionally, Disc 1 includes a briefMidnight Ride pencil test featurette, which is a narrated look at the process of creating some of the animation for that particular episode. The final disc includes the 30-minute retrospective feature A Look Back at Liberty's Kids with the Creators. It may not be of much interest to the youngest viewers, but it goes into some nice detail about the development of the show, particularly the creators' love of history, and their wish to pass that along.

Last, but not least, the package comes with two inserts—a very nice, 40-page booklet that includes art from the series, a timeline of events, episode descriptions, and guest star listings, and a poster with the kids on one side, and a map of colonial America on the other. Neat stuff.

Extras Grade: A-

 

Final Comments

Smart and fun, Liberty's Kids tells the story of some fictional youngsters caught up in the very real events of the Revolutionary War. Even as an adult, I found the show addictive and even learned a few things (let's face it: most of us could stand to brush up on our history). I'd recommend it easily as a teaching tool that gets the job done without sacrificing entertainment or talking down to kids. Shout! Factory has put together a very nice package of a pretty great show.

 


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