DVD Picks & Passes 09.06.09-09.12.09

Earth (2007) — PICK

The Class (2008) — PICK

Shaun the Sheep – Little Sheep of Horrors (2007-2008) — PICK

Now available on DVD, Earth, the premiere film from DisneyNature, offers an impressive 90-minute distillation of the 550-minute BBC miniseries “Planet Earth,” one of the best nature documentaries ever made.

Filmed in stunning high-definition digital video, Earth offers such astounding sights as a great white shark suspended in super slo-mo above the water as its jaws close on a fur seal, time-lapse footage of exotic fungi extruding netlike, lacy veils, and a male bird of paradise pogoing energetically up and down, its head swallowed in a wide cape of feathers, trying to impress a diffident female.

Sometimes humorous narration by James Earl Jones is a little too panderingly family-friendly, but while Earth isn’t particularly “red and tooth and claw” as nature documentaries go, it doesn’t shy away from the harsher realities of life in the wild either.

Recently released on DVD, French director Laurent Cantet’s quasi-documentary The Class offers an engrossing look at the cultural and personal challenges facing a French literature teacher and an ethnically diverse class of post-everything Europeans over the course of a school year.

Winner of the Cannes Film Festival’s top prize, The Class was inspired by the fact-based novel of real-life teacher François Bégaudeau, who plays the teacher in the film. The students, too, are real kids, not actors, and the classroom dynamics are semi-improvised, creating a remarkable sense of authenticity.

The Class cross-examines egalitarian cultural assumptions that place student and teacher on equal social footing until the teacher tries to assert his authority at exactly the wrong moment. At the same time, it offers a salutary slap in the face to all those inspirational teacher movies that celebrate the mythical magical teacher who can inspire any group of disaffected, rebellious kids to become a class of enthusiastic scholars, and it raises disquieting questions about how much of a difference teachers can really hope to make.

Shaun the Sheep – Little Sheep of Horrors, the fourth U.S. DVD for the titular hero of the “Wallace & Gromit” spin-off series, cherry-picks several “Shaun” episodes that spoof the spooky — much like W&G adventures “Curse of the Were-Rabbit,” “The Wrong Trousers” and, of course, “A Close Shave,” where Shaun got his start.

Like the last disc, “Sheep on the Loose,” “Little Sheep of Horrors” offers only six episodes rather than eight, like the first two discs. But the episode selection may be stronger this time — subject matter like scary movies, spooky noises and sleepwalking seems to bring out the best in Nick Park’s team of loonies — and the spooky theme will make “Little Sheep of Horrors” decent Halloween fare for even young and sensitive children.

Content advisory: Earth: Some bloodless scenes of predation. Fine family viewing. The Class: Some obscene and crude language, including sexual references; at least one instance of profanity. Subtitles. Okay for mature teens. Shaun the Sheep – Little Sheep of Horrors: Mild humorous scariness and slapstick. Fine family viewing.