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'The Simpsons': Getting Better With Age

By Jen Chaney
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 21, 2004;

"The Simpsons: The Complete Fifth Season" (List price: $49.98)
Release date: Dec. 21

The fourth season of "The Simpsons" (released on DVD last June) may be the best in the long history of the animated series. But certainly season five is first runner-up. With such rewatchable favorites as "Cape Feare," "Rosebud," "Bart Gets an Elephant" and perhaps the show's finest ever "Treehouse of Horror" episode, adding this DVD collection to your library is a no-brainer.

The Simpsons return to DVD with the complete fifth season, proof that the show's best episodes only get funnier with time. (Fox Broacasting Co.)

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It's a delight to get two "Simpsons" collections in the same year. What's even better is watching the quality of these box sets continue to rise. The menu screens on the fifth season especially impress; humorous animated elements that draw on moments from the season's episodes -- like Bart being chased by a murderous Sideshow Bob -- dominate the screen, but the features are still easy to access, which hasn't always been the case on "Simpsons" DVDs.

Another bit of good news for fans: There are more deleted scenes here than on any previous set (a total of 21 minutes, to be exact). As always, other extras abound, including animation showcases, a featurette with executive producer James L. Brooks, commentary tracks on every episode, animated commentaries and, of course, Easter eggs. In other words, cancel all plans for Dec. 26. If "The Simpsons" shows up in your stocking on Christmas morning, you'll want to spend the entire next day with Homer, Marge, Lisa, Bart and Maggie.

Most Improved Bonus Point: Although some of them were clearly excised for a reason, it's still a joy to see so many deleted scenes. Some even reveal little-known secrets, like the fact that Apu wears a wig.

Dullest Bonus Point: "A Look Back with James L. Brooks" featurette doesn't disclose anything everyone doesn't already know about the "Simpsons" phenomenon. Skip it and watch the far more enlightening commentary tracks instead.

Coolest Bonus Point: The animated commentaries enable illustrators Wes Archer and David Silverman to talk and sketch characters on the screen as the episode unfolds, demonstrating, for example, how completely different the original Bart drawings looked. It's a fun and creative use of the commentary medium and one I suspect other DVDs may copy.

A Bonus Point for Next Time: I've said it before and I'll say it again: Please add subtitles or a picture-in-picture element to the commentary tracks. On "Treehouse of Horror," for example, eight people participate in the commentary, so the only voice I could reliably, consistently identify was Conan O'Brien's. A subtitle effect would go a long way toward clearing up the confusion.

"Napoleon Dynamite" (Rated PG; List price: $29.98)
Release date: Dec. 21

"Napoleon Dynamite" may be 2004's biggest cinematic success story. Made for less than $500,000, the teen comedy about the gawky, tater-tot-eating high schooler has grossed $44 million at the box office so far. Not bad for a guy with no nunchuck or computer hacking skills.

The DVD is sprinkled with a few features, though likely not enough to satisfy the cravings of the film's faithful following. Among the extras included: four deleted or extended scenes; the nine-minute film "Peluca," which later led to "Napoleon Dynamite"; the alternate ending, which involves the wedding of two principal characters; a "Wedding of the Century" making-of featurette; and commentary from director-writer Jared Hess, producer Jeremy Coon and star Jon Heder. While a lot of this material -- especially the deleted scenes and "Peluca," in which Napoleon is referred to as Seth -- is fun to watch, I can't help but smell the whiff of a future special edition treatment for this movie. Of course, I could be wrong. Either way, "Dynamite" devotees now have a DVD that's sweet, just not quite friggin' sweet.

Most Hilarious Bonus Point: The best deleted scene involves a kickball game confrontation between Napoleon and the smarmy Don, to whom Napoleon poses the question: "Who's the only one here who knows illegal ninja moves from the government?" Really, there's no way to respond to that.

Most Lackluster Bonus Point: The commentary track is listless and, at times, difficult to hear. Heder and Hess may provide interesting insights as the movie goes on, but I got bored too quickly to stick around and find out.

Coming in Next Week's "Bonus Points": "Shaun of the Dead" and "Garden State." With only a few shopping days left, be sure to consult the DVD holiday gift guide and Weekend's CD and DVD gift guide.

If you have feedback about "Bonus Points" or want to suggest a DVD for review, e-mail Jen Chaney.

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