Schoolhouse Rock: Election Collection – DVD Review

When you hear the familiar music and the subsequent lyrics “Conjunction, junction, what’s your function…Hooking up words, phrases, and clauses…” or “I’m just a bill…yes, I’m only a bill..and I’m sittin’ here on Capitol Hill…”, what do you think of? If you are between the ages of 18 and 40, Schoolhouse Rock probably immediately comes to mind. If you are outside of that age range, you are probably thinking that everyone else who is singing those songs around you are crazy. Schoolhouse Rock was probably the greatest cartoon series ever invented that both educated kids and entertained them at the same time. Now you can relive a special collection of these cartoon shorts just in time for the political season and the new Presidential election with the newly released Schoolhouse Rock: The Election Collection.
For those that don’t know,

Schoolhouse Rock was a series of classic cartoon shorts that aired regularly during commercial breaks during Saturday Morning cartoons from 1973 to 1986, and semi-regularly through 2001. It was the invention of advertising wizard David McCall, songwriter Bob Dorough, and animator Tom Yohe. It’s hard to describe what exactly Schoolhouse Rock was, because it neither a television series nor a movie. It was basically a series of cartoons that educated kids on elementary school-level topics in the subjects of English, math, science, history, and civics. It did so by creating catchy tunes and writing clever lyrics to those tunes.

There was a two-disc 30th Anniversary DVD set that was released back in 2002 with pretty much all of the Schoolhouse Rock cartoons on it. This time around, we get a smaller set of cartoons but they all have a common theme. With the upcoming election upon us, only the America Rock shorts and a few cartoons from Money Rock and Science Rock are included on this set. The goal here is simply to try to introduce kids on how the next President gets elected and just how our government works.

There are 14 featured cartoons under three different categories. These all runs about 3 minutes.

Under “The Campaign” section, there are “Energy Blues,” “Tax Man Max,” “Walkin’ on Wall Street,” “Tyrannosaurus Debt,” and “I’m Gonna Send Your Vote to College” shorts. This group of shorts is probably the weakest all around, since most of this comes from the “Money Rock” series. But it’s interesting to see “Energy Blues”, made back in the 70s, still be so relevant today.

Under the “Our History” section there are the America Rock shorts “No More Kings,” “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” “Fireworks,” “Mother Necessity,” and “The Great American Melting Pot.” These are much better overall than the previous group.

Under the “How Government Works” section, there are “The Preamble,” “Three-Ring Government,” “I’m Just a Bill,” and “Sufferin’ ‘Til Suffrage” shorts. As a group, these might be the strongest songs. It certainly contains one of the most memorable Schoolhouse Rock songs ever created in
“I’m Just a Bill”.

Schoolhouse Rock is without the doubt the greatest educational tool ever created for kids. Not only can teachers use this to teach their students, but they can rest assure that their students will be listening to them as well. It only takes a couple of listens to get these songs stuck in your head. While this set does come out at the right time, with probably one of the most important elections upon us, this “Election Collection” set of animated shorts is only a smaller subset of the complete work of Schoolwork Rock. If there not had been a two-disc “30th Anniversary Edition” set already, this would be a no-brainer worthy addition to any DVD collection. As it stands now, though, if you only want a taste of Schoolhouse Rock with an “American History” flavor, this is the set to watch.

THE SONGS

“The Campaign” Section:

“Energy Blues” (1978) – A globe gives us a brief history of energy sources, uses, and conservation.

“Tax Man Max” (1978) – A vaudevillian performer and his ladies chorus are far too cheery to be singing about all the different types of taxes and their functions.

“Walkin’ on Wall Street” (1978) – A financially savvy New York pigeon explains the stock market, in the process investing in Whiz Bang Cola.

“Tyrannosaurus Debt” (1978) – Dinosaurs may be extinct but they still make a nice metaphor for America’s titanic national debt.

“I’m Gonna Send Your Vote to College” (2002) – By far the most recent and most relevant to the title, this DVD-premiered piece details how electoral colleges elect president.

“Our History” Section:

“No More Kings” (1975) – A very ’70s-sounding woman (Lynn Ahrens) sings this ditty about the pilgrims and their formation of a new nation. Never before has a revolution been so calm and soothing.

“The Shot Heard ‘Round the World” (1976) – Another mellow, dated tune covers the American Revolution with a catchy refrain.

“Fireworks” (1976) – An indeterminate newsboy is at the center of this Bicentennial celebration of America’s founding fathers.

“Mother Necessity” (1977) – The discoveries of American inventors, including Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell, are humorously dramatized through the terms of rocking chair granny, Mother Necessity.

“The Great American Melting Pot” (1977) – Immigrants of all kinds visit Lady Liberty and dive into America’s great melting pot.

“How Government Works” Section:

“The Preamble” (1975) – This is part founding fathers lesson and part musical way to memorize the opening ideas of the Constitution.

“Three-Ring Government” (1979) – The three branches of government are envisioned as a 3-ring circus.

“I’m Just a Bill” (1975) – On the steps of Capitol Hill, a hopeful bill sings to a curious boy about his long journey from idea to law.

“Sufferin’ Til Suffrage” (1976) – A hippie girl is the voice of women as she recounts her gender’s fight for the right to vote.

The video is given in 1.33:1 fullscreen color. Considering this is TV animation from the 1970s, the transfer here looks fantastic. There is almost no problems at all, and about as good as you can expect from when this series was first introduced. It should be noted that this is the same video transfer that was on the 2002 “30th Anniversary Edition” set of Schoolhouse Rock.

The audio included is advertised as being English Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, but it’s really more like English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo sound. There are English SDH subtitles available as well. The audio quality is definitely not as great as the video quality. But this is about as good as you can expect from a series more than 30 years old. No major problems, but there are a few minor ones.

“Presidential Minute” Cartoons – Under the “Extra Credit” section of this set, there is a cartoon called “Presidential Minute”. There are two versions of this cartoon and they both run 1 minute, of course. Both versions feature the same song, but they have different endings. This is not an entirely “new” cartoon for this set. On the “30th Anniversary Edition” of Schoolhouse Rock, this one version of this cartoon was the reward for completing the “Earn Your Diploma” game. These cartoons were made back in 2002, but that being said, they fit right in with the rest of the cartoons made in the 1970s, and that is a good thing.

Interactive Electoral Map – There is one other cool “extra” that is not contained on the actual DVD. Inside the DVD case there is a foldout map of the United States, with each state listing the number of electoral votes it carries. In addition. there is one sheet of red colored stickers and one sheet of blue colored stickers. The hope is that kids can use this to keep track of the polling results as they come in on election night in a few months. There is also election trivia on the back of this map. Overall this is a nice and unique little “extra”.

This a good set of Schoolhouse Rock cartoons, but you can get all the Schoolhouse Rock cartoons, and about four times as much featured content and bonus features in the two-disc “Special 30th Anniversary Edition” set. The only thing you won’t get with that set is the foldout map and stickers, and alternate ending to the “Presidential Minute” cartoon. Really not worth buying this set, when the other set is about the same price. That being said Schoolhouse Rock is a classic, and everyone should check this series out. If, and only if, you can’t find the Special 30th Anniversary Edition” set anywhere, this “Election Collection” set would be a good substitute.

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Walt Disney Home Entertainment presents Schoolhouse Rock: The Election Collection. Created by David McCall. Directed by Bob Dorough. Music and Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, George Newall, Bob Dorough, and Dave Frishberg. Vocals by Jack Sheldon, Lynn Ahrens, and Bob Dorough. Running time: 44 minutes. Rated: G. Released on DVD: September 23, 2008.
Available at Amazon.