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Case Number 04690: Small Claims Court

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There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly, And More Stories That Sing

Scholastic Video // 2004 // 57 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron (Retired) // June 29th, 2004

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All Rise...

Judge Bill Gibron hopes she dies.

The Charge

Perhaps…she'll die!

The Case

Growing up in the 1960s, there was no bigger thrill in the simple course of the school year than when it was time to get a copy of Scholastic's Book Club Catalog. A cornucopia of classic and newly created titles, the teacher could hold her class in abject silence as they waited to pore over a copy, #2 pencil in hand, daydreaming about and finally making a list that Mom and Dad would hopefully write a check for. Actually, ordering was the second biggest thrill. The most overwhelming excitement came when the large box was delivered to the classroom, and students would help their instructor make ordered piles of the texts: little squares and rectangles of reading material, all ready to be placed on desks or chairs.

Perhaps better known today by parents and children as the publisher of a certain Master Potter and his wizardly adventures, Scholastic is still the preeminent distributor of young people's literature, and has been for over 80 years. Amazingly, they have just begun branching out into DVD, releasing animated versions of their classic children's tomes for education and entertainment purposes. There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, and More Stories That Sing is a collection of clever, creative cartoon versions of some of Scholastic's more popular volumes, and there is frankly no better way (besides Harry's hijinks at Hogwarts) to interest the wee ones in books.

There are five short subjects here, each running between 9 to 19 minutes. Viewed individually for both form and content, we start with:

• There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly
One of the great elements about this children's story is the strange, almost sinister imagery it instills. A crotchety old coot keeps gulping down higher orders of the food chain to rid her innards of the entity she ingested before. It's borderline genius, so much so that arcane acts like San Francisco punks Flipper covered the tune of the cruel croon to really up the icky factor. So how do both Simms Taback (responsible for the adaptation) and Caldecott Honor (it's his version used here) visualize this classic creep-out? Why, like it's one big goof, that's how. Gone are the insidious line readings and odd innuendoes, in come the talking animals and ridiculous ancillary rhymes. Instead of sticking with the story we all know and love, our delirious duo make the entities that the old hag consumes speak in every conceivable match for "fly" (by, my, eye, sky, lie, etc.) before or as they are being eaten. Cyndi Lauper, barely able to contain her Nu Yawk honk, makes every single entity sound like it's from Brooklyn, and the overwhelming feeling is one of urban cynicism, not fairytale torture. Too bad.
Score: 80

• Antarctic Antics
A 17-minute mini-opera about the life cycle of penguins in the Southern Hemisphere? As crazy as it sounds, that's the premise for this thoroughly enjoyable exercise in creative songwriting. Indeed, the cartooning is very basic—shapes and colors colliding to suggest movement with the merest amount of actual animation. The music is what's really spectacular here—a veritable medley of differing styles and dizzying invention all trying to highlight the existence, and predicaments, of these Arctic birds. From the inside-the-egg tune about birth, to a funny little throwaway about food regurgitation, the soundtrack here swells with memorable moments. By the time the penguins sing their anthem to Antarctica, you'll be chiming in as well. Make no mistake about it, you will be thoroughly charmed by this excellent offering.
Score: 88

• Musical Max
In this cute and clever story, the power of music to move and modify people's—or in this case, hippos'—lives is explored in unsophisticated, sensational ways. While not really a sing-along, Max's musical proclivities make for incredibly entertaining sequences of instrumental jamming and skilled play. Some could argue that the moral is too simplistic (basically, you don't know what you've got until it's gone) and the drawing too derivative. But the voice work (by brilliant actress Mary Beth Hurt), matched with the intricate scoring, creates a timeless classic.
Score: 90

As part of the "bonus" features, we get two additional stories. Both have their excellent elements, but one clearly stands out over the other.

• Keeping House
A very basic tale told with whimsy and warmth. Again we are dealing with the old adage about finding motivation in the inspiration of others, but the decidedly Kiwi flavor to this fun can damper some of the simplicity. There are in-jokes (the house cleaner's name is Mr. Puckertucker) and oddities (clothes painting?) that make the material seem more fresh and inventive than it really is. You'll enjoy the story and some of the animation, but overall, there is little of the musical merriment we've come to expect from this set.
Score: 78

• Waiting for Wings
Another winner, this time focusing on the caterpillar-to-chrysalis-to-butterfly circle in glorious song and near-psychedelic colors. The insects all have an artistic excellence to them (with designs and patterns taken directly from the book), and the animation keeps things simple but highly suggestive. Another case of song matching the material perfectly, Waiting for Wings coalesces everything about the story into incredibly compelling words and music. The only downside? It's only five minutes long.
Score: 88

The additional extras here include an entire version of Musical Max in Spanish, a subtitle selection so you can "read along" with the stories, and some colorful menu screens. Visually, the 1.33:1 full screen image is immaculate, radiant with detail and visual delight. Even with all white backgrounds (Max) or intense coloring (Old Lady, Wings), the video elements never resort to flaring or bleeding. The Dolby Digital Stereo also excels, making the music here ascend with sonic sizzle.

The art of enjoying literature has fallen off the educational radar since television has become the overwhelming entertainer of everyone, including children. While they are far from flawless, the video/DVD offerings of Scholastic may help remove some of the stigma associated with books and reading, and help lead children toward a more fully rounded intellectual experience. There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly and More Stories that Sing may not do the hungry old bat any credit, but the rest of the offerings are a magical blend of song and story.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 85

Perp Profile

Studio: Scholastic Video
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
• English
Running Time: 57 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• All Ages
• Animation

Distinguishing Marks

• Two Full Length Bonus Stories
• Spanish Version of Musical Max
• Read Along


• Scholastic Online

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