Appellate Judge Jennifer Malkowski dreads Elmo's "Algae and Single-Celled Friends" DVD.
Our review of Elmo's World: Favorite Things, published March 4th, 2012, is also available.
Guess what Elmo's thinking about today…
The answers to this thrice-asked question will be "penguins," "frogs," and "horses" in Elmo's World: Penguins and Animal Friends, a Sesame Street DVD, which gathers three animal-themed episodes of the show-within-a-show, "Elmo's World." Watching three episodes in a row, one realizes that from this opening question to the characters' closing goodbyes, "Elmo's World" slavishly follows a very specific routine that probably feels comforting and familiar to its pint-sized viewers and tedious to their parents. That routine is probably less apparent when "Elmo's World" appears in its natural environment, in between other segments on a Sesame Street episode.
Roughly what you can expect after the theme song is a visit to Elmo's crayon-scrawled room from some penguin/frog/horse muppets who will chat with our furry red friend. Then you'll see a penguin/frog/horse figurine keeping the goldfish Dorothy company in her bowl, followed by a montage of footage of kids interacting with penguins/frogs/horses. At some point, Dorothy the goldfish will be perched in her bowl on a pedestal while young children jump around it pretending to be penguins/frogs/horses. These bits made me wonder how many times that pedestal has been knocked over by the rowdy children. I'd bet that "Dorothy" has been flushed and quietly replaced a number of times.
Recalling silent film comedy, the mute Mr. Noodle will then fail to impersonate a penguin/frog/horse, and eventually succeed after much heckling from Elmo. Next comes my absolute favorite segment of "Elmo's World": Elmo Asks a Baby. These are real babies, not the talking toddler variety, so when Elmo asks them about penguins/frogs/horses they just sit there—sometimes in silent terror, it seems, at the hyperactive ball of fabric, fur, and google-y eyes that is flapping its gaping black mouth in their faces.
Then there'll be a counting segment and Elmo will ask the audience questions about where penguins/frogs/horses live. An interruption from Elmo's computer will bring an e-mail from Grover (a nice acknowledgment/integration of technology in the program), who actually doesn't seem to write e-mails but just sends streaming video every week. A cartoon about penguins/frogs/horses and a live-action segment about one kid interacting with penguins/frogs/horses will follow. There's an interesting one about a blind boy who takes riding lessons in the horse episode. A bit with Elmo and the penguin/frog/horse muppets will help wrap things up, often with a fantasy about Elmo becoming a penguin/frog/horse.
If things ended here, I'd have warmer feelings toward Elmo's World: Penguins and Animal Friends, but there is a major indignity still to be endured. At the end of every episode, Elmo sits down at his piano and leads his friends in a song about penguins/frogs/horses. The problem is that each "song" is merely the word "penguin," "frog," or "horse" shouted over and over and over again to the tune of "Jingle Bells." This happened on the Sesame Street: Dinosaurs! DVD I reviewed a while back and I thought it was a horrible anomaly. Not so—this is apparently a regular feature of "Elmo's World" in which Sesame Street has chosen to use their educational prowess for evil rather than for good. There must be a lot of parents out there who will experience PTSD every Christmas in years to come when "Jingle Bells" gets played.
In terms of the disc itself, Elmo's World: Penguins and Animal Friends looks and sounds about right: colors are appropriately bright and vibrant, and Elmo's voice sounds as piercing as it does on PBS. There are no extras here, just the three "Elmo's World" episodes played all together and some previews for other Elmo discs.
Despite some of its annoying moments, Elmo's World: Penguins and Animal Friends is still a nice representative of Sesame Street's tireless efforts in educational entertainment. The series—and even lovable-but-shrill Elmo—has an enduring appeal that's made it a mainstay of kids' television for decades and I can only hope it'll still be around for my kids and even grandkids to enjoy.
Guilty of making me even less enthused about the song "Jingle Bells."
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