Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura--DVD Review

Fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder, her books, and the shows based upon them, will find another way to appreciate Laura's legacy in Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura, a direct to DVD documentary produced by Legacy Documentaries.

Narrated by Dean Butler, who played Almanzo Wilder on the the classic TV show Little House on the Prairie, this DVD was produced in partnership with the Almanzo and Laura Ingalls Wilder Association (ALIWA).

Using old photographs, excerpts from Wilder's Farmer Boy, and the beautiful landscape in Burke, NY, Butler has brought Almanzo Wilder to life in a unique and touching way. His passion for this material is obvious from the outset. He brings viewers through the year in Almanzo's life that Laura Ingalls Wilder so lovingly wrote about in Farmer Boy, and he does it in a way that makes viewers want to immediately pack their bags and head off to Burke, NY to discover the timeless beauty of the Wilder Homestead.

Garth Williams's Farmer Boy illustrations have been colorized and animated so that the viewer can almost imagine herself sitting in the Wilder's house eating popcorn and walking to school with the children. Life Before Laura also briefly discusses the Wilder family's journey to America, the times in which Almanzo grew up, and encourages the viewer to recognize how the Wilder family flourished in a time that didn't include many of our modern day conveniences.

Special mention must be made of the beautiful music provided by Jay Asher and the warm, endearing reading of the excerpts from Farmer Boy provided by Katherine Cannon (Father Murphy, Beverly Hills 90210). In addition, on camera experts provided helpful insights into various aspects of Almanzo's life.

Butler and his crew did a superb job of working around the challenges of having so few photographs of the Wilder family available and having limited seasonal time to shoot on location in New York. I would have liked to have seen more reenactments where members of Almanzo's family actually spoke to one another. The actors did a wonderful job of making Almanzo and his family real for the viewer.

Also included with this documentary is Wilder Homestead Today. This bonus feature talks about the restoration of the Wilder Homestead, the many activities and events taking place there, and surrounding points of interest.

I eagerly anticipated the release of this DVD and I was not disappointed. This collector's DVD will make the perfect holiday gift for your favorite Laura Ingalls Wilder fan.

Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura is available exclusively through the Wilder Homestead and proceeds will go to support the Wilder Homestead, its mission and its programs.

Title: Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura
Produced by: Legacy Documentaries, Santa Monica, CA
Total Run Time: 53 minutes
U.S. Price: $21.95 plus shipping

For more about Dean Butler, Legacy Documentaries, and Life Before Laura, read my interview with Dean that starts here.


Anonymous said...


Your review makes me want to hurry and buy my copy, even though it is on my "Santa List" for this year.

Thanks for mentioning the bonus content, since this is the first I have heard of it and I am sure it helps to bridge the gap, so to speak, between the Homestead during Almanzo's childhood and what it looks like today....Lynne

Cheryl said...

Thanks Lynne. I am very happy with it. I can't wait to see what Dean has up his sleeve next.


Susan said...

Thanks for the review Cheryl and thanks for mentioning the bonus material. You've done an excellent job.


Cheryl said...

Thanks Susan. I hope everyone takes advantage of being able to support Laura's legacy by purchasing this DVD. I'm ready to pack my bags now to pay the Wilder Homestead a visit.


Lorrie said...

Hey Cheryl,

You know how eagerly I am awaiting my dvd copy. Your review helped give me a better understanding of what this dvd encases. I knew from Dean's yahoo trailers that it was going to be fantastic but this just solidified my feelings and the bonus material is a plus since this is the one Little House site I have never visited.

Bravo buddy... bravo...

Laurie said...

Hi Cheryl,
What a wonderful job you did on this. Not that I expected anything less from you. Like the rest of the girls, I too can't wait to get a copy of this! Not that I hadn't planned on buying one anyway, but your review just made it that much sweeter.


Cheryl said...

Thanks Laurie. I guess that means I've done my job right. I know you're going to love it.