Plot: What’s it about?
Russell Donovan (Bill Bixby) is a bachelor gambler, on his way to New Orleans to test his luck in assorted contests. On the way, he stops off in a small town called Quake City, where he is approached by a local man. The man offers him five dollars to pick up a package at the train station, which seems like a good deal for Donovan. All he needs to do is go claim the package, return it to the local man, then collect his generous payment. But when he arrives at the train station, he learns that the deal wasn’t as sweet as he thought, when the package turns out to be three orphans, Celia, Bobby, and Clovis Bradley. The local man who approached Donovan was their distant uncle, as well as their last known relative. As he left town as soon as Donovan agreed to pick up the package, that leaves Donovan as their guardian, at least for now. When it is learned that the orphans happen to own a massive nugget of gold, worth a not so small fortune however, the people of Quake City rush to offer themselves as guardians. Of course, most are only interested in the gold and not the children themselves, which disturbs Donovan. At the same time, two hapless thieves (Don Knotts & Tim Conway) attempt to steal the gold. As time passes, Donovan grows attached to the kids, but will the return of their uncle mean losing the orphans?
This movie has comic legends Tim Conway and Don Knotts, which is more than enough to make it well worth a look. But these guys don’t rest on their laurels, as The Apple Dumpling Gang is a fast paced, often hilarious picture. The two star as bumbling outlaws in this family classic from Disney, which provides enough laughs to keep an audience in stitches. I love the films of Knotts (The Reluctant Astronaut, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken), who never fails to make me laugh to no end and in this movie, he is on his game and with Conway present, he is funnier than ever. Knotts plays the same kind of character he always plays, but with Conway (Gus, Dorf on Golf) at his side, there is a fresh angle to all of his humor. But these two are not the leads in The Apple Dumpling Gang, though their scenes do stand as the film’s best moments. This is not as good as Disney’s best live action productions, but it is a brisk and enjoyable picture. I wish Knotts and Conway were given more screen time also, as they really enhance the movie whenever they appear. But if you’re in the mood for fun, family friendly entertainment, then The Apple Dumpling Gang is a solid choice. Disney has supplied a generous Special Edition release to boot, so if you’re at all interested, this disc is more than recommended.
Video: How does it look?
The Apple Dumpling Gang is presented in 1.75:1 anamorphic widescreen. Before I start with the rundown on this transfer, I want to commend Disney’s choice to use a proper widescreen presentation. And this is another great looking effort from The Mouse House, one that starts off with a clean and clear source print. So no fuzz, no haze, and no softness is evident, which means the movie’s visuals can shine through. I found colors to be bright and bold, with only minor fades evident, while contrast is smooth and consistent. All in all, a wonderful presentation that provides the film’s best home video treatment to date.
Audio: How does it sound?
A new Dolby Digital 5.1 option is also found here, which provides a better overall experience than expected. As you should expect, this movie is not a treasure trove of dynamic audio, but this new remix does have some punch at times. The surrounds are used to enhance atmosphere, as well as supply an extra kick of power in some scenes. The results are by no means overly impressive, but for the material involved, this is a fine remix. There is a thin texture to the audio, but that is due to the age and nature of the movie, not this new soundtrack. The music sounds good and makes use of the surrounds too, while dialogue remains clean and audible throughout. This disc also includes English subtitles, should you need those.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This Special Edition kicks off with an audio commentary track, which features stars Don Knotts, Tim Conway, Susan Clark, and Brad Savage. This proves to be a nice session, as the presence of so many people ensures a minimum of silence. I loved hearing Knott’s memories and thoughts, while the others also provide some nice comments. The cast returns in A Look Back at the Gang, which runs just under half an hour in length. The piece is packed with informative interviews, which reveal a lot about the film’s production. This disc also includes an additional interview with Conway, galleries of still photos, promotional materials, and comic book artwork, a look at Disney’s backlot, some talent files, and a bonus Goofy animated short. The Goofy short is Two Gun Goofy and makes a wonderful addition to this release.