Scholastic Video // 2006 // 42 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Daniel MacDonald (Retired) // November 16th, 2006
Classic holiday stories and songs will keep kids laughing and singing all winter long.
From Scholastic, the premier name in children's literature, comes video adaptations of five picture books, just in time for Christmas.
If you have kids, you may be looking for a good DVD to pop in the player of your minivan for the annual trip to your parents' house at the holidays -- The Little Drummer Boy ...and 4 more holiday stories would fit that bill nicely. It provides a selection of holiday-themed stories written over the past 45 years, with some engaging illustrations and lively readings that should keep the little tykes from asking, "Are we there yet?" I'll go through them individually:
* The Little Drummer Boy
Here we have the familiar Christmas song of a boy who traveled to Bethlehem for Jesus' birth, and having no gift to bring, played his best song on his drum. It's basically shots of pages from the books, with no animation (like a Ken Burns documentary), while the smooth vocal styling of John Jennings does justice to the song. The illustrations are detailed and muted, and should keep kids' attention for the five minute duration.
* Merry Christmas, Space Case
This is a story of young Buddy McGee, a boy who met a talking spaceship ("The Thing" -- not to be confused with John Carpenter's The Thing, which would be entirely inappropriate for your wee ones) at Halloween and became friends. The Thing promises to come back for Christmas, but Buddy's parents abruptly decide to go to Grandma's house instead. Buddy leaves a note, hoping The Thing will see it and find him. At Grandma's, Buddy is tormented by the twins next door, and in an effort to show off tells them about his friend from outer space. This just about gets Buddy beat up when The Thing doesn't show up, but the pair are eventually reunited, and The Thing takes care of Buddy's tormentors in short order. It's unfortunate that Buddy doesn't find a way of dealing with the bullies other than having his own bully push them around, but it's a cute, well-animated story read with vigor by Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future).
* Sam and the Lucky Money
Ming-Na Wen (E.R.) reads the beautifully illustrated tale of Sam, a Chinese boy who is given four dollars of Lucky Money to celebrate the Chinese New Year. Told he can spend the money on anything he wants, Sam's mother takes him shopping. While he's tempted by sweets and toys, some of which he cannot afford, Sam starts to think his money worthless, until he realizes how much of a difference it would make in the life of a kindly homeless man he meets on the street. While it's not animated, the art is absolutely stunning, and the story's final moments are quite moving. This is my favorite of the group.
* The Tomten
The Tomten, a little troll who looks a bit like a mini-Santa, comes out on cold nights when all are asleep, visiting a farm and speaking to all the animals in a language they can understand. While it's a very simple story in which not much happens (it's a poem, so this is allowed), narrator Owen Jordan's voice could lull an insomniac to sleep. I could listen to this guy read the phone book and be out in ten minutes. The illustrations are well done, but the age of the film (it's from 1961) shows; not likely something that would bother younger kids, though.
* The Twelve Days of Christmas
Similar to the titular story, this "bonus" is the popular song with illustrated accompaniment. It seems to be more panning shots over the pages of a book, with some basic animation added in for flair. Catchy, this one'll get stuck in your head for days.
My wife, a grade 3 teacher, says The Little Drummer Boy ...and 4 more holiday stories would be well-enjoyed by kids as young as two, and as old as seven or eight. It features an English subtitle track, listed in the Features as "Read Along," that will allow kids to do just that, learning a bit about reading and writing in the process. It's also on an auto-play loop, so it'll start back up about 30 seconds after hitting the main menu, so you shouldn't have to hear too much "Play it again!" here.
There's not that much to it, but all in all, it's a worthwhile addition to your kids' collection, and one you might just catch yourself being drawn in by too.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Scholastic Video
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 42 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Extra Bonus Story Exclusive to DVD
* Read Along
* Interactive Menus
* Story Selection
* Auto Play