Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger says T is for "This sucks."
Get into mischief with a little mouse named Nora and other animated pals in these classic storybook tales brought vividly to life.
Scholastic Video DVDs seem like a good deal for parents with an interest in literature. The stories are unimpeachable, and Scholastic lands top-tier vocal talent to read them (in this case, Cyndi Lauper and James Earl Jones).
Yet my last encounters with the series (in the form of Strega Nona…And More Caldecott Award-Winning Folk Tales and Make Way For Ducklings…And More Robert McCloskey Stories) left me with a hangover of guilt. Despite a strong desire to laud these collection of timeless stories, I was unable to muster much enthusiasm for the titles. They were basically bare-bones discs with poor video quality and stultifying "animation" that might show a character's lip moving once per minute. The discs were less rewarding than simply reading the stories, which is the best way to enjoy classic children's lit.
Years have passed and my family has grown since then. In the meantime, Scholastic Video has received more and more accolades. Perhaps Strega Nona was an aberration? After all, it was a collection of older titles—and inexpensive animation has come a long way since then.
The good news is that Noisy Nora…and More Stories About Mischief is a definite improvement over Strega Nona. The frame rate has increased from two frames per minute to two frames per second, which is a 60-fold difference. Yet it doesn't change the basic experience—which is listening as someone reads a story over animation that is functionally equivalent to (and in some cases a deterioration of) the static artwork itself.
The flagship story "Noisy Nora" follows a middle sister who tries to get attention by making noise. "Noisy Nora" is the only one animated from scratch (as opposed to microfiche shots of illustrations with cheesy computer trickery and camera zooms to serve as animation). This results in some amusing payoffs, such as when Nora flips a bowl onto her head with her foot. Such moments bring the story to life. The rest of the runtime is less exciting than simply reading the book aloud. Cyndi Lauper reads the book with feeling, though she has to wait for the animation to catch up.
"T is for Terrible" is the most disappointing effort on the disc because it is both the most recent and the least involving. T. Rex gives an extended monologue about hunger, decorated with rudimentary changes to the book's illustrations. Computer power in 2004 was powerful enough to accomplish more than an occasional hue shift or eye wink. Perhaps the extremely static nature of the piece is intended as tasteful restraint, but it doesn't work. Either go in whole hog and animate the thing, or else simply show unadulterated shots of the book's artwork.
With all my complaining about the static nature of the disc, you'd think the live-action "Cannonball" would get a pass. This dog-rescues-clown buddy epic has several cute moments stranded in a sea of drudgery. I've seen experimental French shorts from the 1930s that moved faster than this story. If an adult's media-hardened attention span is tested by "Cannonball," can we expect children to sit through it? Word on the street is that there's an animated segment buried in the finale, but neither my kid nor I made it that far after three attempts.
The disc concludes with "Goggles!" This urban tone poem by Keats and read by James Earl Jones had my attention throughout because Darth Vader was doing urban poetry. But it will be a tough sell for kids. Like the rest, it is a scantly animated reading of a story.
The sole extra (except for read-along subtitles) is "Munro." Aside from "Noisy Nora," this is the only story that is actually animated and it is superior to any of the featured stories. "Munro" tells the tale of a 4-year-old who is drafted into the Army. He tries to explain that he is a little boy and not a soldier, but no one listens until he cries desperately at the end of basic training. It is read with feeling, works on literal and satirical levels, and is visually interesting. In fact, I'd say "Munro" is the only reason to purchase this disc.
As much as I'd love to commend adaptations of great children's stories, these rudely animated, slow readings are not as fun as reading the books. "Noisy Nora" and "Munro" are both worth watching because they take the trouble to move around a little. Neither short is enough of a draw to replace the actual books. Save your money and buy some Scholastic books instead.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Scholastic Video
• Munro by Jules Feiffer
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