Judge Lacey Worrell says the three magic words that will awaken widespread interest in this collection of animated children's tales: James Earl Jones.
These traditional African folk tales will delight your senses.
Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears…and More Stories from Africa is the next installment in the Scholastic series that features animation of well-loved and time-tested children's books. Past discs have featured shorts based on the popular Miss Nelson books, Harold and the Purple Crayon, and Chicka-Chicka-Boom-Boom, as well as Pete's a Pizza, by William Steig, the prolific author who created Shrek. This series is appropriate for children aged eight and under, as the themes and language, though beautifully presented, are straightforward and uncomplicated.
This release includes two stories narrated by the indomitable James Earl Jones (Star Wars), whose resonant timbre gives the Caldecott award-winning title story and "Who's in Rabbit's House?" a compelling sense of suspense. The title story is an interesting explanation of how the mosquito came to be so annoying; after a baby owl is accidentally killed, a pesky mosquito is blamed for it. The story has a nice sense of repetition so appealing to small children, and judging from the stunning illustrations, it is clear to see why this book won the Caldecott medal. Parents should be cautioned, however, that the death of the baby owl, though bloodless and handled quite tastefully, may still be upsetting for very young children in the three-and-under age range. "Who's in Rabbit's House?" is about a rabbit who is unable to enter his house and must find a clever solution.
"A Story, A Story," the only featured segment not narrated by James Earl Jones, tells the tale of Ananse, who must use his wits to extract stories from the Sky God who is hoarding them. Scholastic releases typically feature bonus stories, and the two included on this disc are also worth a look, especially "The Village of Round and Square Houses," a beautifully illustrated, vividly depicted tale of culture and customs in central African life. This story emphasizes the rich African tradition of oral history being passed by the elders to the young, and it revolves around an exploding volcano and villagers' attempts to successfully flee. The other bonus story, "Hot Hippo," is an extremely brief but amusing account of how the hippopotamus begged the gods to be allowed to live in the water.
Despite the high quality of the stories and their narration, the picture and audio quality are a disappointment. The overall presentation looks dated, although some adult viewers who remember the old films teachers used to play on movie projectors in the back of the classroom may actually enjoy the old-fashioned, nostalgic feeling. These Scholastic releases rely heavily on still images and minimal animation, but I'll take that any day over some of the hyperactive, poorly drawn animation that runs on The Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon.
Unlike previous releases in this series, such as Pete's a Pizza, which featured a bonus interview with author William Steig, no author interviews or background information is offered. Older children with an interest in writing might enjoy hearing how an author progresses from the conception of the initial idea to the finished product, which is one of the strengths of the earlier releases. In that respect, this particular DVD might be a disappointment. To its credit, "Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears" is also offered with a Spanish language track, something that would be of interest not only to the Spanish speakers in the audience but also for parents who are looking for their children to pick up the cadence and vocabulary of another language at an early age.
Scholastic is a brand name that has for decades represented quality entertainment for children. One of the positive aspects of this DVD series is that it may very well spark children's interest in the actual books the animated stories are based on; these books are readily available at many public libraries. Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears…and More Stories is a sound investment and is a nice departure for those of you who, like many of us, find their children's DVD collection glutted with stories about Barbie, Strawberry Shortcake, or the Power Rangers. Its emphasis on African culture and stories is especially welcome given the fact that it shows how stories can remain compelling despite the lack of princesses or swashbucklers or other fairy-tale elements.
The next time you're looking for something new and different to add to your family's DVD collection, try Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears.
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