Color, 1984, 89 mins. 11 secs / 91 mins.
Directed by André Melançon
StarringCédric Jourde, Marie-Pierre A. D'Amour, Julien Élie, Minh Vu Duc, Maryse Cartwright
Canadian International Pictures (Blu-ray) (US RA HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), UV/DEP (Blu-ray & DVD) (Canada RA/R1 HD/ NTSC), Imavision (DVD) (Canada R1 NTSC), Sterling (DVD) (US R1 NTSC), Cargo Records (DVD) (Germany R2 PAL)

Color, 1986, 93 mins. 46 secs.
Directed by Vojtěch Jasný
Starring Michael J. Anderson, Karen Elkin, Michael Blouin, Ken Roberts, Lorraine Desmarais, Rodrigue Tremblay
Canadian International Pictures (Blu-ray) (US RA HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Imavision (DVD) (Canada R1 NTSC), Flashback (DVD) (Australia R0 PAL)

After dipping its toes into the icy The Dog Who Stopped the Warwaters of Canada's long-running and often very wild family film series Contes pour The Dog Who Stopped the WarTous (Tales for All) with unofficial first entry The Christmas Martian, Canadian International Pictures dives in all the way with two of the most memorable entries among a roster that also includes the cult classic The Peanut Butter Solution. Quebec-based company Les Productions la Fête and producer Rock Demers alternated between shooting the films in French or English (with bilingual tie-in novels often released at the same time), apparently based largely on how likely commercial prospects were outside of a local audience, with the results often similar to what was running in the early days of Nickelodeon when it consisted primarily of imported (and really weird) Canadian kids' programming.

Making its Blu-ray debut in a lavish two-disc set is the bona fide inaugural Tales for All film, The Dog Who Stopped the War (La guerre des tuques), which remains one of the best-loved titles in the bunch and later spawned a TV sequel and animated 3-D remake. Kind of a less subversive take on the French classic Zéro de conduite (and maybe a little Lord of the Flies) with an anti-war message tucked into its hijinks, the story follows a group of Quebec schoolkids on winter vacation who instinctively engage in war games starting with a snowball fight. They end up splitting into two rival factions, one headed by Luc and the others by Marc whose loyal St. Bernard, Cleo, is essentially their mascot. Marc's pint-sized army constructs an elaborate snow fort that becomes the target of multiple attempted attacks, with various household supplies coming in handy for the escalating combat tactics. Of course, it's just a matter of time before these seemingly silly adventures get out of control.

Both The Dog Who Stopped the Warsurprisingly ambitious and weirdly comforting and charming, The Dog Who Stopped the War is an effective child's-eye view of the world in the mid-'80s (complete with an awesome synth score that could have only been made then), a unique Christmas film, and a valuable snapshot of young Gen X-ers growing The Dog Who Stopped the Warup in Canada. Though shot in French (with adorably strong local accents), the film was prepared in a reasonably decent English dub as well and got circulated theatrically and on home video throughout Europe, Australia, and even the U.S. as an early pick-up by Miramax. The English dub turned up on American VHS from HBO in 1987, and the film has turned up on North American TV numerous times along with mediocre DVD editions off and on over the years. A modest edition with both language tracks was released on Canadian Blu-ray and DVD, but the CIP Blu-ray release is the one to get as it offers every version and bonus feature you could possibly want. Featuring a 2K scan from the 35mm camera negative by Éléphant – mémoire du cinéma québécois, the film looks superb here and is presented in both its theatrical and extended versions (the latter just under two minutes longer and probably created for cable TV), with original French (DTS-HD 5.1) and English-dubbed (DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo) tracks for both with optional English translated or English SDH subtitles. All options sound nice, but don't expect much significant channel separation here either way. A terrific new audio commentary is basically led by the tireless and insanely knowledgeable Kier-La Janisse and writer/film critic Ralph Elawani, with this film holding quite a bit of personal significance and serving as a beloved pop culture watershed. They deliver plenty of info about the cast members (including noting the key one who became a documentary filmmaker), the series, the Canadian film programming scene, and the locales, plus contributions from "surprise guests" including actress Marie-Pierre A. D'Amour. The Dog Who Stopped the WarAlso on the first disc are English trailers for other films in the series (The Christmas Martian, Bach and Broccoli, and the wild The Dog Who Stopped the WarTommy Tricker and the Stamp Traveller).

Disc two is devoted entirely to bonus features starting with the 2009 documentary The Dog Who Stopped the War… As Time Goes On (La guerre des tuques... Au fil du temps) (80m44s), an affectionate look at the film and its legacy including coverage of an all-ages Christmas screening in the snow to celebrate its 25th anniversary. Also included are multiple interviews with the film's participants and fans, including some perceptive readings about its themes and characters. The new "Love and War" (36m41s) features D’Amour and actor Cédric Jourde via video conferencing about being cast with no acting experience (on purpose), their first awareness of the film, the elementary school scouting for casting, memories of the adults on the set, and what happened to them afterwards, acting-wise and otherwise. In "An Important Message" (12m26s), screenwriter Roger Cantin chats about his directing ambitions, his creative proposal to Demers, the work on honing the structure of the script, and his own childhood inspirations that came into play including fort building. An audio interview with composer Germain Gauthier (15m57s) goes into his primary career as a pop song writer in Quebec and the process that led to him scoring this film in an electronic idiom he enjoyed, followed by an archival 1999 interview with Demers (8m8s) about this film's success and importance within the overall film series. Also included are an archival 8m20s featuring brief interview snippets with director André Melançon and the cast (including Jourde and D'Amour, with a funny bit about the kissing scene), the two deleted scenes that were added to the extended cut (1m54s) in French or English, French trailers for The Dog Who Stopped the War and additional Melançon titles (The Backstreet Six, Bach and Broccoli, Summer of the Colt, Blizzard) and Cantin's semi-remake The Hidden Fortress, plus the English trailer for Dog. The set also comes with an insert booklet featuring a new essay on producer Nicole Robert by Fantasia programmer Marc The Great Land of SmallLamothe, plus a text interview with D’Amour and The Great Land of SmallJourde.

Then we jump ahead to "Tales for All #5" and the one that really rivals The Peanut Butter Solution as the weirdest film in the series: The Great Land of Small, which was picked up for U.S. distribution theatrically and on VHS by New World Pictures (with a budget tape reissue from Starmaker found briefly at fine drugstores everywhere). This one was shot with the actors speaking English but was also prepared in a French Canadian version (as C'est pas parce qu'on est petit qu'on peut pas être grand!, or Just Because We're Small Doesn't Mean We Can't Be Big!), with its songs performed in both languages. Incredibly, this was directed by major Czech filmmaker Vojtěch Jasný (The Cassandra Cat), who was also one of the writers of Peanut Butter. The story revolves around two children, Jenny (Elkin) and David (Blouin), who keep crossing paths with the diminutive, magical Fritz (Michael J. Anderson, later famous for his backward-talking turn in Twin Peaks). Hailing from a magical realm called the Great Land of Small, Fritz has powers reliant on magical gold dust that's been stolen by an unscrupulous hunter, Flannigan (Roberts). Along with the hulking Mimmick (Tremblay), Fritz and the kids journey via boat to the Great Land of Small where they encounter a whimsical population of acrobatic performers (played by an early incarnation of Cirque du Soleil) as well as a King and Queen (Anderson and Desmarais, who also plays the children's circus performer mom) who placate the populace with a levitating monster called Slimo.

Clearly intended to be a modern Canadian equivalent to The Wizard of Oz, this film is far stranger in execution than it sounds in a plot synopsis. The disjointed acting styles give the entire film an off-kilter tone even by family film standards, and there's a crazed earworm of a song in the middle that wouldn't be out of place in one of K. Gordon Murray's dubbed Mexican fairy tale films. Of course, it's also a solid gold kindertrauma classic largely thanks to Slimo, a bizarre creation The Great Land of Smallthat has to be seen to be believed; there's really no way to prepare yourself for this one.

For its belated return to U.S. home video, CIP pulled out all the stops for this one as well for their Blu-ray special edition including another pristine 2K scan from the camera negative by Éléphant. Anyone used to the soft and grungy presentation on the VHS edition will be relieved to see it looking detailed and far healthier here, and you get DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono tracks for the original English and French-dubbed versions with optional English subtitles. It's The Great Land of Smallworth noting that the U.S. trailer touted this film as being in Dolby Stereo, but there's no designation for it on the actual film and the home video releases including this one have been mono. An audio commentary is included featuring this writer and Troy Howarth so that can't be appraised here, but hopefully you'll find it enjoyable. A fourth audio option is an episode from The New World Pictures Podcast in which guest Dirk Marshall joins the regular hosts (including a French-spouting Erica) to try to make sense out of this film from its Pepsi plugs to its inscrutable songs and so, so much more.

"Small Actors, Big Roles" (16m31s) features Elkin and Blouin interviewed separately about their paths to being cast in the film (with different levels of experience), including the audition process, their common interests, memories from the shoot (including a tie to the beloved The Dog Who Stopped the War), and anecdotes about "joker" Anderson. In "The Great Land of Effects" (2023, 10m14s), visual The Great Land of Smalleffects producer Pascal Blais looks back at his beginning in Montreal advertising, the reason he didn't participate in Heavy Metal, and the process of engineering the practical effects for this film. He goes into further detail in a second featurette, "Animating in the ’80s" (9m3s), going into the nuts and bolts of the animation process seen here and in other productions around this time. The astonishing Beyond Vaudeville (27m3s) is an episode of the public access TV show featuring a Twin Peaks-era Anderson, the longest pogo stick jumping you'll ever hear, Regis The Great Land of SmallPhilbin Jr., and too many other oddities to list here. (Anderson also sings an impromptu song that's blanked out, presumably for copyright reasons.) A 1988 interview with Jasný from The Other Europe TV series (25m59s), in shockingly excellent quality, is a great overview of his career in Europe including extensive discussion of working as a director under a Communist structure. 1969's Bohemian Rhapsody (15m53s) is a striking Jasný short film showing his homeland through the seasons, both urban and pastoral, with music and sound effects giving an impressionistic portrayal of the populace. Of course, he has to get a bit surreal near the end as we get a horde of villagers in animal costumes cavorting through the snow. Then you get It’s Not Always Cloudy (68m18s), Jasný’s 1949 feature-length student film co-directed by Karel Kachyňa, a unique and extremely well-edited pseudo-documentary about collective farming, here making its North American debut after appearing on the U.K. Blu-ray of Coach to Vienna. Also included are the U.S. theatrical trailer and bonus trailers for The Young Magician, The Flying Sneaker, and Bye Bye Red Riding Hood, plus an insert booklet with an essay by film programmer Marc Lamothe about the film's production and place in the overall series.

Reviewed on April 27, 2024