Judge Clark Douglas is gonna steal all your Christmas cookies.
Your favorite classic children's stories brought vividly to life on DVD.
Hey, it's the holiday season, which means it's time for another onslaught of holiday-themed DVD releases. The subject of today's review is a collection of children's stories from Scholastic Storybook Treasures. The film offers various illustrations taken from the original books with occasional bits of very simple animation (falling snow, steam rising out of an apple pie, etc.), accompanied by narration and words appearing on screen. In other words, the DVD reads to your kids so that you don't have to.
Seven holiday-themed stories have been included here.
• "The Night Before Christmas" is the popular and much-loved Christmas poem by Clement Clarke Moore that tells the story of a visit from old St. Nick. It's a very traditional interpretation of this tale, with pleasant illustrations from Ruth Sanderson. The poem is read by Anthony Edwards. The music here is occasionally a bit on the odd side, which is my only complaint.
• As some of you may or may not know, Christmas is not the only holiday celebrated towards the end of the year. We also get a story by Nina Jaffe celebrating Hannukah, called "In the Month of Kislev." After a brief explanation of the history behind the holiday, we receive a tale about a wealthy merchant who learns an important lesson. The tale is narrated by Theodore Bikel, with illustrations by Louise August.
• Ah, but there are still more holidays to be celebrated! "Seven Candles for Kwanzaa" is not so much a story as a detailed explanation of what the African-American holiday means. It was written by Andrea Davis Pinkney, and features illustrations by Brian Pinkney. Narration is provided by Alfre Woodard. Unfortunately, this installment suffers from genuinely obnoxious music that bizarrely centers on ominous minor-key melodies. What happened to that holiday glow?
• We veer back towards Christmas for the rest of the stories. In "Too Many Tamales," we're not focused on reindeer and Santa Claus. As you might have guessed from the title, the story focuses on Mexican characters celebrating the holiday. A young girl loses her mother's wedding ring while cooking Tamales, which leads to a frantic search and a happy conclusion. However, a tip for kids? if you think a ring is inside a tamale, don't eat them in order to find it. Just dig through them. The story was written by Gary Soto and is illustrated by Ed Martinez. Bianca Camancho narrates the story. A Spanish version is also available as an extra on the disc.
• Next we catch up with my old pal, Max the bunny rabbit. Max is excited when he is told that Santa Claus is coming, but is disappointed when his sister Ruby informs him that he is not allowed to see the jolly old man in red. Max ignores this ultimatum, and determines to wait for Santa to turn up. The story was written and illustrated by Rosemary Wells, and features voice work from Jenny Agutter and Rex Robbins. The animation is still pretty minimal, but this tale actually does feature animation, not just illustrations that occasionally move.
• The same applies to yet another bunny rabbit story by Rosemary Wells, "Morris's Disappearing Bag." In this tale, young Morris is disappointed that his Christmas gift is just a boring old stuffed bear. The heartbroken little rabbit soon finds something that gives him a bit of cheer: a magical bag that has the ability to make all of his troubles disappear.
• Finally, we get the well-known Christmas tale "The Little Drummer Boy." This is actually just a performance of the popular song courtesy of John Jennings. Illustrations by Ezra Jack Keats enhance the proceedings, wrapping up our holiday celebration.
This diverse collection of stories is reasonably appealing, but the Rosemary Wells stories are far and away the best. "The Little Drummer Boy" and "The Night Before Christmas" are a bit too familiar, while "Too Many Tamales," "In the Month of Kislev," and "Seven Candles for Kwanzaa" are far more focused on education than on telling an interesting story. The Wells stories are delightfully humorous and timeless, and will undoubtedly be the favorites of any kids who watch this disc.
The transfer is mixed. Most of the stories feature some scratches and flecks, as well as some slightly damaged audio. These are anywhere from 2 to 20 years old, and their quality is pretty much determined by the age level. Not guilty, but you could probably do better when looking for kid-friendly holiday entertainment.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Scholastic Video
• Spanish Version of "Too Many Tamales"
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