DVD Picks

CorrespondentJune 12, 2009 

Father's Day is coming up in a week or so -- might we make some suggestions from the world of home entertainment? Consider the gift that keeps on giving -- kids' DVD titles that will keep the little ones engaged so Dad can get some rest. It would be utterly unconscionable, of course, to suggest that plopping kids in front of the DVD player is responsible parenting. Of course not. No one ever does that.

Now, then. The good people at Scholastic have been providing educational children's programming for several generations now. In fact, Scholastic is home to some rather heavyweight franchises like "Curious George," "Where the Wild Things Are," and "Harold and the Purple Crayon." These guys have been doing kids' programming for a long time, and know what they're talking about.

Two relatively new collections are in heavy rotation at our house from Scholastic's Storybook Treasures DVD series. "Dinosaurs, Trucks and Monsters" is a 25-chapter, four-disc collection of stories designed to appeal to the snips and snails crowd. Most of these stories are adaptations of popular kids' books both old and new, and several you may remember yourself. Actually, your grandparents might remember some of them.

As is typical with Scholastic collections, each story is done in its own particular animation style, with separate creative teams. Most are pretty straightforward traditional animation, but there's also some live-action, including Beverly Cleary's "The Mouse and the Motorcycle," which actually blends several formats, including claymation. You might recognize some of the narrators, too. Among the presenters here: Chevy Chase, Michael McKean and Conan O'Brien sidekick Andy Richter.

Most of the stories included here come with a read-along option -- essentially subtitles in which the words are highlighted as they're spoken. For kids just learning to read, this adds a whole 'nother level, of course. Our 6-year-old boy has gotten pretty into it, actually, and he's alarmingly snobby when it comes to "little kid stories." (They grow up so fast, *sniff*.) Anyhoo, with the read-along feature, parents can feel a little better when employing the DVD player as baby sitter. Not that any of us ever do that.

As a companion title, "Fairytales, Magic and More" is another 25-story, four-disc set. I don't want to say it's aimed at little girls -- we modern parents don't make gender assumptions, either -- but I will note that "Dinosaurs" is packaged in blue, "Fairytales" in pink.

This is the richer package in terms of serious classics. Little Red Riding Hood is here, as are Rapunzel and Goldilocks, and the tales of Hans Christian Andersen get an entire DVD to themselves. The read-along feature returns, along with narration by the likes of Danny Glover, Kathy Bates and Patrick Stewart. (Stewart, by the way, was clearly genetically designed to read classic fairytales.) Our little girl, just now a year old, is still a bit too young for these, but we're keeping them handy for when she starts watching cartoons and stops tackling the cats.

So, yeah -- you really can't go wrong with these Scholastic collections. Also infallible, in my experience, are the Elmo titles from "Sesame Street." "Elmo & Abby's Birthday Fun" is the latest DVD from everyone's favorite friendly monster, and follows Elmo as he teaches Abby about birthday parties and, in turn, gets a tour of how they roll in Fairytaleland.

Finally, if you have kids who are into old-school Japanimation, for some reason, "Gigantor: Volume 1" is now out in a fully restored four-DVD set, packaged with lots of anime history extras and interviews. You may remember Gigantor (aka the Space Age Robot) from ill-spent days of youth watching the local UHF channel -- along with "Speed Racer" and "Battle of the Planets."

For certain dads of geeky persuasion, this really is something the whole family can enjoy. Everyone can watch together, and you won't have to feel guilty about leaving them in the living room with the remote control and a juice box. I mean, not that I would do that.

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