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December 2006 | Vol. V - No. 12
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TDmonthly's DVD Expert

Three for the Road


“Stop the monkey music!” I scream to my assistant, who is busily wearing her calming white iPod headphones in an effort to drown out my rantings and need for more coffee... much more coffee. “Martin’s waiting outside. He wants to talk to you about a kid version of ‘The Departed.’” I begin to see the world fade: “Don’t go into the light!”

Everyone is doing kids’ vids these days, but I am the gatekeeper. “Listen to me!” I cry because, well ... I’m gonna watch these and tell you what I think and then you can make an educated decision about them. Besides, here is a trio from companies who have made a few before. Hooray for Hollywood!

Teeny-Tiny and the Witch-Woman ... and 4 More Spine-Tingling Tales by Scholastic
Age: 3 to 9
Gender: Boys and Girls

Scholastic has been visualizing award-winning children’s books for a while (as has Weston Woods Studios, before they became part of Scholastic in 1996). Within their scope, they do quite a good job — particularly in what they choose to turn into video. Using studios from all over the world, they always present an interesting mix of styles. This group — “Teeny-Tiny,” “Space Case,” “The Boy With Two Shadows,” “The Witch in the Cherry Tree,” and a bonus story, “King of the Cats” — is no exception. Good stuff, within Scholastic’s scope, which forgoes real cartoon animation for a simple animating of the book’s illustrations.

“Teeny-Tiny” is a classic example of the genre: limited in movement, but a good story. “Space Case” is much brighter and more fun, with a bit of a Far Side feel to it, and Christopher Lloyd narrating. “The Boy With Two Shadows” is lukewarm at best, as are the illustrations from the book. The same is true for “The Witch in the Cherry Tree” (they’re both from the same New Zealand production company). Last comes “King of the Cats,” which again uses the moving illustration technique. All in all, they’re good videos for kids who also like to read, but, except for “Space Case,” they’re limited by the illustrations.

Budget

Creativity
Bells & Whistles
Usefulness

Braincandy — My 5 Senses by Braincandy
Age: 0 to 4
Gender: Boys and Girls

Technology is a wonderful thing. Productions that would have cost millions ten years ago can now be done on the cheap by people who know what they’re doing. Braincandy founders, Sam Reich-Dagnen and John Dagnen, started their Braincandy franchise with “My 5 Senses” — a combination of live-action, green-screen, puppets, some animation/effects and a mission to captivate a kid audience. It’s low budget but well done and fun. It’s certainly better than a home movie (though it has a bit of that feel), but not as good as a slick Hollywood flick. Kids from newborns to four will relate to the children in the DVD, who act, look and are “real” kids (as opposed to “actor” kids, i.e., homo sapien actorus), and that may be the DVD’s strongest selling point. It’s cool to watch other kids dip their fingers in honey and play with the bizarre puppet characters.

Going through the five senses and demonstrating each one with babies, puppets and bigger kids, the whole thing is a collage of visual snippets that critical mass on each sense. It’s not plot-driven, but then, for the audience age, it had better not be. All in all, “Brain Candy” is a unique and very fun watch.

Budget

Creativity
Bells & Whistles
Usefulness

Baby Dance! by Baby Dance Productions
Age: 1 to 5
Gender: Boys and Girls

Years ago, Mr. Rogers and Captain Kangaroo typified adult hosts for kid TV shows. They talked as adults, but to kids, instead of around them. “Baby Dance!” hearkens back to those shows, with Teresa Hoffman (one of the two mothers who created the DVD) as the dancing host, sharing the “stage” with a bunch of kids who follow her instructions ... with a few effects thrown in to help.

The success of these sorts of videos depends on the host, and Miss Teresa is a captivating enough dance teacher, so that’s a plus, though she’s let down a bit by the production values. Smaller budget does not have to mean less creativity, less direction or less production rigorousness, but most of the time it does. “Baby Dance!” needs a bit more umph to make it sing (or, in this case, dance). A little slickness would have gone a long way. It’s not a bad DVD, and anything that gets kids moving is good, but the production can’t quite match Miss Teresa’s affable charm.

Budget

Creativity
Bells & Whistles
Usefulness

So, those are this month’s Big Three DVDs. Have your assistant’s PDA call my assistant’s PDA, and we’ll set up something for next month. “Hey, Marty! Are you talkin’ to me?”



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Writer's Bio: Mark Zaslove is an entertainment industry veteran in developing content (writing, directing and producing television and feature films) for the major studios, including Disney, Universal and Warner Bros. A two-time Emmy Award winner for writing and recipient of the Humanitas Prize (for writing uplifting human values in television and movies), Mark is also Head of Content Development for Nice Entertainment. Read more articles by this author

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