Appellate Judge Mike Pinsky thinks Leo ought to watch where he points that baton. There's a lawsuit waiting to happen...
Our reviews of Little Einsteins: The Legend Of The Golden Pyramid (published March 7th, 2007), Little Einsteins: Fire Truck Rocket's Blastoff (published October 7th, 2009), Little Einsteins: Flight Of The Instrument Fairies (published August 6th, 2008), Little Einsteins: Race For Space (published February 20th, 2008), and Little Einsteins: The Christmas Wish (published October 27th, 2008) are also available.
"How Byzantine!"—June, describing Russian architecture
Remember when the Russians were our enemy? It seems like the Cold War has been over a long time, so long that high school students have no idea that praising Russian culture was a ticket to ideological oblivion in some parts of America. So my kids, still not even in pre-school, will only know Russia as a land of minarets and snow, a world whose legends and literature all seem to pre-date the fall of the Romanovs.
Or at least Rocket's Firebird Rescue, the latest DVD release from Playhouse Disney's Little Einsteins, seems eager to gloss over the twentieth century. Yes, Stravinsky's The Firebird, the musical piece at the heart of this double-length episode, is a modern ballet, and one of the featured artists, Wassily Kandinsky, is definitely not a classicist. But this direct-to-DVD "movie" seems eager to show us a Russia from days gone past, just as regular episodes of the television series showed us an Egypt which seemingly stopped evolving prior to the Ptolemys or a China populated entirely by kites (which makes you wonder why they actually need that Great Wall).
In Rocket's Firebird Rescue, the four Little Einstein kids tell an alternate version of the Firebird story (adapted from Stravinsky's ballet) which comes across as a Roadrunner cartoon starring the Higglytown Heroes: Katschai the Ogre (played by a Russian nesting doll) tries various ways to trap the magical bird, until he succeeds in putting the Firebird in a cage. A mission! Off we go to rescue the Firebird from its cage, with the help of a magical, musical feather.
The journey to takes our Little Einstein heroes—Leo, June, Quincy, and Annie—to Russia. We zip past St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow and into a musical forest (where Quincy's instrumental skills save the day). Then we cruise to Siberia to help out a nerpa (a freshwater seal) during a magic snowstorm (where Annie's singing gets featured). Rocket heads to a "forest of shapes" (made out of a Kandinsky "Improvisation"), where June performs a "make you sleepy" dance to defeat Katschai's army. I studied it carefully, but I can't seem to get it to work when it is time to put the kids to bed.
Of course, the final battles spotlight Leo's conducting—with all the Little Einstein's teaming up to defeat the villain.
As usual, the show encourages children to mime along, which my daughter did with gusto, pretending to play violins and trumpets, jumping and running. Her little brother waved his arms around trying to help. In keeping with the ferocity of Stravinsky's music, Rocket's Firebird Rescue has some of the wildest action sequences in the series.
The "movie" runs the length of two regular episodes, so Disney throws in an extra episode, "Rocket Soup." The featured artist is Paul Klee (more abstraction!) and the music is by Dvorák). This second season installment features the return of three characters from the show's first season (Little Mouse, the Good Knight, and Joey the Kangaroo), as the Little Einsteins track down ingredients to satiate Rocket's hunger.
The only additional feature is a "magic mission mode," in which children are encouraged to press the remote in order to collect virtual trading cards with additional trivia. The trivia segments will also play automatically for smaller children who might not be so adept with the remote. An interesting extra might have been the "Firebird" segment from Fantasia 2000, lushly illustrated by the Brizzi brothers. It can be pretty intense for elementary age children though.
One of the things I like about the Little Einsteins series is that it works for early schoolers on several levels. Cultural history (in this case, Russia) is covered, and kids can see live action footage of the locations, see the architecture, and learn about the terrain and animals that live in it. Art and music are covered, and although the treatment is pretty simple, the show is really more about encouraging art and music appreciation, in the hopes that later you can teach your kids why Stravinsky's tonal innovations or Kandinsky's theories about geometric abstraction. Well, you should teach your kids more about these things. Little Einsteins is really only the first step in your child's climb toward cultural literacy.
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• Bonus Episode: "Rocket Soup"
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