Judge David Johnson tackles four kids' animated discs in a super-amalgamated quadruple review.
Welcome to Uncle Dave's funtime!
In 1999, I had just moved to the New Hampshire seacoast after graduating from college. I landed at a winter rental apartment the size of a lunch pail on Hampton Beach, just in time to bid farewell to the dog days of summer and welcome in the icy chill of a New England winter. I arrived unemployed, and soon found I needed a semblance of a cash flow to support my daily habits of beach lounging and home theater equipment buying. My quest for employment led me to a preschool in neighboring Exeter, where, as fate would dictate, I accepted a job as an associate teacher in the three-year-old room.
It was immediately "baptism by snot." Germs thrived in this new environment, and my unexposed immune system was no match. The first month I contracted a nasty case of strep throat, my gullet swelling up like that guy's from Big Trouble in Little China. Then I had a bout with a mutant sinus infection that withstood all medication I threw at it. But these physical maladies were far from the most challenging aspects of the job.
Eventually my white blood cells developed supernatural resistance to germs (for a time I was confident I could eat my lunch out of a Fenway Park urinal and fear no illness), but I was faced with the ever-present challenge of Entertaining the Kids. These turbo-charged little three-footers were fickle in their sources of amusement—though their nasal cavities provided a constant source of joy and discovery—and any preschool grunt worth his or her glue stick knows that an unfocused group of runts can wreak havoc, or, worse, start playing "doctor."
Quickly, I found out what the surefire winner was: story time. And even better (because it required less effort from my lazy butt): movies! So, with the following reviews I present my homage to those wonderful parts of the day when, in the dimmed lights, little children would gather and lose themselves in a story, wide-eyed, happy, and embraced by their imagination, and when I covertly helped myself to another helping of applesauce.
The Day Jimmy's Boa Ate the Wash...and More Back-to-School Stories
All right, kiddies, are you ready for another super-terrific dose of story-time goodness? Scholastic has another set of blast-from-the-past storybooks-turned-videos to appease mom and dad's little anklebiter for a good fifty minutes or so.
The stories are all tied together with a common theme, the adventures all taking place in school setting. So without further ado, let's take a gander at the lineup:
• The Day Jimmy's Boa Ate the Wash, by Trinka Hakes
Aside from the lackluster lessons of discipline and the odd descent into
Lord of the Flies territory, this is a funny little story told from a
reverse narrative style. The illustrations are attractive and the narration is
lively. Christopher Nolan would be proud.
• Shrinking Violet, by Carl Best
This was a nifty little story with interesting and attractive animation. The
lessons of helping each other out and forgiving your adversaries are useful
(though Violet does put Irwin through some public humiliation for good
• Will I Have a Friend?, by Miriam Cohen
Actually, that's not true. He makes a friend and plays with blocks.
In the extras section you'll find two more bonus stories: The Sweater, a crazy French-Canadian story where a hockey player appears to a small boy in a vision at a church (?!) and Many Moons, an animated adaptation of a James Thurber story.
Little Bear: Rainy Day Tales
So here's the deal with Little Bear. He's a bear. He's little. Okay, so bears aren't renowned for their creativity in naming their offspring. But Little Bear's got nothing to be ashamed of, since he hangs out with friends named Owl and Cat and Duck and Hen.
Little Bear is a Nick Jr. regular, and his cartoons are low-impact, quiet little numbers. Each cartoon is about seven minutes long, and the storylines are easy to follow. In short, the little guys will have no problem keeping pace with this lightweight fare. Little Bear: Rainy Day Tales brings together four episodes based on the various adventures Little Bear and his cronies get into when it's raining out. Like I said, this isn't heavy-hitting material.
• Rain Dance Play
• Mitzi's Mess
• Puddle Jumper
What these cartoons lack in wit or narrative zest they make up for in simple, harmless storytelling. And I enjoyed them on that level. This is old-school cartooning, stuff you could plant your toddler in front of and never worry one nanosecond that they'll imbibe anything remotely offensive.
If that's what you're after for entertainment for your little dudes, Little Bear will provide it for you. Apart from the four highlighted episodes, you'll also get a buttload of bonus shows:
That's 109 minutes of Little Bear craziness!
Little Bear: Little Bear's Band
Little Bear lives with his anthropomorphic loving parents in their neatly kept house. Father Bear walks around in a snazzy suit and is presumably gainfully employed in some kind of a wilderness law firm for forest animals. Mother Bear is tasked with ensuring the healthy development of her son Little Bear and paying the bills.
During the times when Little Bear isn't contemplating his future life as a full-grown carnivorous predator with the name "Little Bear," he's hanging out with the rest of the generically named creatures of the woods: Owl and Duck and the like.
A Nick Jr. favorite, Little Bear comes to your DVD player via this disc, which features four episodes about music.
• "Little Bear's Band"
• "Diva Hen"
• "Little Bear Sings a Song"
• "Clever Cricket"
As you can tell by the synopses, Little Bear is not a controversial cartoon. These seven-minute episodes are not flush with creative firepower and immense wit, but are simple excursions into the inoffensive world that is Little Bear's woods. He's from a traditional nuclear bear family, has loyal friends, prefers to spend time outdoors instead of playing XBOX all day and fragging Duck and Hen in Halo 2, and lays off the sugar-coated cereal.
The featured episodes fit into this mold, some even eschewing any kind of storyline, such as "Little Bear Sings a Song," where the friends spend all seven minutes goofing around (you might be in pain, but your kid will love it). The characters often learn nice little life lessons, and there isn't anything here that could prove dangerous for kids to emulate. Well, except for hanging around vicious wild animals thinking they're going to play with you and sing songs.
As an added plus, Paramount has loaded on a ton more episodes in the extras bin:
• "The Painting"
Tikki Tikki Tembo...and More Favorite Tales
Tikki Tikki Tembo was a story I read and reread and re-reread for what felt like eons during my tenure as a preschool teacher five years ago. Well, in the interest of full disclosure, a lot of the heavy lifting was performed by the narrator of the book-on-tape edition of Tikki Tikki Tembo. Still, between this and Bam! Bam! Bam! (don't ask), my subconscious was infiltrated by big construction vehicles and small Chinese boys.
Wow, that doesn't sound right.
For those of you turned off by the effort of turning pages while a taped voice reads the words, Scholastic is here to alleviate your burden. Tikki Tikki Tembo…and More Favorite Tales is here in all of its old-man-ladder-having glory.
As with all of these Scholastic releases, you get the titular story plus two others. Then, in the extras section, you'll usually find a few more stories waiting for you. This disc contains six stories total, with a run time of 52 minutes, long enough for you to sneak into the kitchen and get some dishes done and leaf through the new edition of People.
The stories employ a variety of animation techniques and hail from different time periods: Tikki Tikki Tembo was produced in 1968, Hot Hippo in 1986, and The Tender Tale of Cinderella Penguin in 1982.
Let's dive right into this goodness, shall we?
• Tikki Tikki Tembo, by Arlene Mosel
As much as I get a nostalgic kick from this story, I will admit it's got a
kind of goofy premise and may or not be deemed offensive in these days of PC
zaniness. But the little ones will enjoy the repetition, and the drawings are
very charming. This story is not animated; instead, the camera pans across still
illustrations from the book. Old school, kids. Old school.
• Hot Hippo, by Mwenye Hadithi
This is a pretty cool little African origin story. The narrative should be
engaging to the tikes, and the artwork, while not particularly masterful, is
bright and simple. This installment is minimally animated.
• The Tender Tale of Cinderella Penguin
There are three more stories to be had here as well in the extras bin: The Happy Lion, which tells the story of an easygoing lion that escaped from his Paris zoo and is befriended by a small kid; The Magic of Anansi, which is another African origin tale, focusing on how a spider got his web-spinning ability; and Little Red Riding Hood, which tells the story straight up, showing a weirdly graphic demise for the wolf at the hands of the lumberjack.
All the stories are presented in fullscreen format, with varying degrees of quality (depending on the age of the original production). The two origin tales, Hot Hippo and The Magic of Anansi, look the best.
Some stories really show their age, but all in all, Scholastic has presented another harmless, often charming, set of stories for the rugrats in your life.
Not guilty. Now go wash up for dinner.
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Review content copyright © 2005 David Johnson; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.