Judge Maurice Cobbs will never shy from stories that happen to rhyme
It's always a good time for fun stories that rhyme!
Here we are with another entry in the excellent Scholastic series of DVD adaptations of award-winning children's books. Although you might wonder whether it's better to have the books themselves, there's no denying that these are well-made, quality DVDs that offer much for the intended audience, and the effort that goes into maintaining the look and feel of the source books is truly impressive.
For instance, the title selection, "How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?," narrated here by author Jane Yolen, uses the illustrations by Mark Teague to great effect; it's difficult to decide whether it's more amusing to watch gigantic dinosaurs in tiny beds throwing temper tantrums, or snuggling up under the covers and kissing mom and dad goodnight. Adding to the fun is a delightfully overwrought score by Jerry Dale McFadden. Laura Dern (Jurassic Park) takes us through the next story, "In The Small, Small Pond," which follows the cycle of life in—you guessed it—a small pond. And "Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin" quickly became one of my favorites on this disc, as a lone trombone on a concert stage is joined in succession by a number of different instruments, until a full chamber orchestra is created. Not only does this selection feature delightful music by Marvin Hamlisch, but it also taught me what a "nonet" is.
But this compilation is not perfect. The worst offender is the horrid final selection, "All the Colors of the Earth," and it will no doubt be praised by the sort of ankyloproctiac Baby Boomer nihilarians everywhere who blather on about "ethnic diversity." This mind-numbing treacle by Shelia Hamanaka puts forth the rather dubious premise that "children come in all the colors of the earth and sky and sea." Ignoring the fact that the author's assertion, if true, fails to take into account the absence of blue children, or green children, or orange children, I cannot find much fault with her intent—but the execution here is heavy-handed and pretentious, not to mention revoltingly saccharine. I will grudingly admit that this may have some sort of value for the children of the craven and the rectopathic. But no child of mine will ever suffer being told that his hair is "like the woolly lamb," or that he is "brown like the roaring browns of bears." That sort of thing could earn you a fistful of five in the mush.
Fortunately, there are three bonus selections that more than make up for "All the Colors of the Earth," starting with the delightfully whimsical "Joey Runs Away." As everyone knows, baby kangaroos live in their mothers' pouches, and Joey is no exception. But when Joey's mother asks him to clean up his room (her pouch), Joey takes one look at the mess and decides to run away instead! The story builds in hilarity as Joey looks for a new home in such unlikely places as a trash collector's bag and a pelican's mouth, while other animals, having heard that Joey's mother has a room for rent, impede her search for her little boy. Next up is "A Weekend with Wendall," a charming story about making the best out of a bad situation. Little Sophie is more than willing to be friendly to the visiting Wendall, but Wendall has some annoying ideas about what's fun. He's rude. He's overbearing. He's sort of insulting. He likes to be the center of attention. As the weekend wears on, and Sophie's hospitality and patience wear thin, she finally comes up with a game that not only puts Wendall in his place, but also ends the disastrous weekend on a fun and friendly note.
The last bonus story is a somewhat timid adaptation of Tomi Ungerer's "Moon Man." Moon Man looks down on the laughing, dancing people of the Earth every night and wishes that he could join them. When a meteor flashes by, Moon Man hitches a ride and crash lands on Earth. Moon Man is quickly labeled an "invader" and tossed into jail…but manages to escape, using an unusual—but perfectly obvious—method. On the run, Moon Man just wants to get back home, and he stumbles on the home of a reclusive scientist who may be able to help. This adaptation is amiable, but it lacks much of the quirkiness and biting satire that make the book such a delightful read. However, the wonderful narration by Gene Deitch and the moody jazz score by Karel Velebny are far from disappointing. I will admit to a bias here; Ungerer's work holds a special place in my childhood memory.
All in all, this is a well put-together compilation, with all sorts of morals and lessons to be learned, while not scrimping on good, old-fashioned fun—plus, as an added bonus, it won't send parents running for the insulin supply, or bore them to tears with juvenile nonsense. That may be the greatest point about the series that I've seen; children's fare though it may be, these DVDs do not talk down to their intended audience—for the most part. We could do with less nonsense like "All the Colors of the Earth," which is really the only sour note on the disc…why not focus instead on more smart and funny fare like "Joey Runs Away" or "Moon Man"?
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