Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger freely admits it: he is dead inside, and these award-winning children's stories do not move him at all.
"There were sure to be foxes in the woods or turtles in the water, and she was not going to raise a family where there might be foxes or turtles."
The defendants are:
•"Make Way for Ducklings"
•"Blueberries for Sal"
•"Time of Wonder"
Think of Robert McCloskey as the Currier and Ives of the kindergarten set. McCloskey's sentimental stories are heavy on fuzzy duckling fluff with a hint of sunlight sparkles on water. The protagonists face dilemmas such as where to build a nest or whether or not to consume another handful of blueberries. His naturalistic imagery, unhurried pace, and jocular tone create little pockets of escapism for the wee ones. It is no wonder that his body of work strikes a chord with people who enjoy the simple pleasures of walking through a sunny field or picking blueberries on a clear day.
I am one of those people. Furthermore, as you may have learned in my recent review of Strega Nona…and More Caldecott Award-Winning Folk Tales, I'm the son of a children's librarian. You can be sure that if the tale had as much critical acclaim as the stories on this DVD, we read it. In fact, watching this DVD gave me nostalgia for that time in my life when I devoured the written word as though I'd never be filled. Blueberries for Sal wasn't precisely a favorite, but I did enjoy this romp through the blueberry bushes with the scoundrel Sal and her baby bear pal.
With that said, I can't imagine a more distasteful way to present these stories. Books are a well-established medium. A languorous tale can be told with a page of text anchored by a sensitive line drawing. We can absorb the words at our own pace, take in the intricacies of the drawing, then move on to the next page.
DVD is an entirely different medium. These grainy, dust-ridden "animations" of McCloskey's stories are claustrophobic and dull. There is no animation at all, simply a superzoomed camera panning slowly over the static illustration while a narrator reads the page. This approach is probably the worst way to tell these tales. If you selected a 2.35:1 film, bought the full-screen pan and scan version, then used your DVD player's digital zoom to move in even closer, you'd approximate the experience of watching this DVD. Quaint drawings become coarse under the intense scrutiny of the camera. The best analogy I can draw is listening to the audiobook version of Make Way for Ducklings on your Walkman while reading the book through a dusty microfiche reader.
Everything I stated in the Strega Nona review holds true for this DVD as well, so forgive me if I summarize. The lack of any animation combined with rather lengthy paragraphs makes each story an exercise in frustration. The "extras" basically amount to two bonus stories, a Spanish language track, and subtitles. A faded print and bleary transfer do not make for visual sparks.
Don't take my word for it. Make Way for Ducklings…and More Robert McCloskey Stories failed the toddler test as well. My son sat for approximately five seconds before squirming of the seat and running to play with a feather duster in the corner. Granted, my child is younger than the target audience, but he shows remarkable sophistication in his choices. I have to agree with him. After five minutes of this DVD, I too was squirming in my seat and wistfully eyeing that feather duster. Use the money you'd spend on this DVD to buy the actual books.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Scholastic Video
• Two Full-Length Bonus Stories by Robert McCloskey Exclusive to DVD: "Burt Dow: Deep Water Man" and "Lentil"
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