TDmonthly Magazine!
March 2007 | Vol. VI - No. 3


TDmonthly's DVD Expert

It's All in the Presentation

“We’re a bunch of videots,” I explain calmly to the film students sitting in my office. “What you need to do is find a new way to do the same old thing.”

It’s my spring teaching commitment, and I have wannabes listening to my pearls. It’s a thin line between good and bad, and money is not the deciding factor.

The following kid DVDs show how imagination and fun can be the difference between a so-so piece of work, and something really great to watch.

Time for Manners: American Manners by TIME FOR MANNERS
Age: 2 and Up
Gender: Boys and Girls
Price: $16.95

The Time for Manners DVDs and puppet characters have been teaching kids for the past 10 years. This volume is about American Manners, which means patriotic flag stuff. And how to behave on the school bus is thrown in as well because ... most of this takes place at school, maybe that’s why.

Anyway, the puppets are mostly human Muppet-types, but without the originality of the Henson creations. They lend themselves best to 2- to 3-year-olds, but 5- and 6-year-olds would find the school scenes more relatable. That’s the paradox of this DVD: It plays young, but is about things relatable to older kids.

Each of its linked subjects — bus-riding manners, pledging allegiance, raising the flag, using imagination for a parade, folding the flag — has a summation by the patriotic-hat-wearing Merlin Manners, and includes a song. It’s not particularly funny or original; it’s simply Wonder Bread enthusiastic.

Still, this sort of subject matter isn’t taught much in Hollywood, so there’s a niche for it. If a parent wants to introduce a fledgling schooler to the rigors of class, at a school where flag raising and the pledge is a big deal, this is the DVD.

TDmonthly Rating:

Bells & Whistles

athleticBaby: Soccer! by athleticBaby LLC
Age: 3 Months and Up
Gender: Boys and Girls

athleticBaby’s latest, Soccer!, scores a goal. It’s everything a small-budget, big-fun kids’ piece should be. The curse of most children’s DVDs is the seriousness and preciousness with which the makers imbue them. athleticBaby doesn’t do that for one second. Despite budgetary constraints, it’s plain fun ... and the kids in it are as cute as buttons.

First off, this one is linked, song to song, with visuals of kids warming up with, playing with and horsing around with soccer balls. You see a dog with soccer shoes kicking soccer balls, an older girls’ soccer team mid-game and other cool stuff. (The opera-singing hippo at the zoo was very funny.) Soccer balls are the motif, if you hadn’t guessed.

Sure, parents need to be with their kids the first time, explaining how to warm up or kick, but that’s OK; parents should be with them. The picture resolution isn’t the highest, or the shots the most big-budget, but they’re well thought out and make best use of subjects.

The real selling point, though, is the songs. Eddie Coker’s the Man. It’s hard to do kids’ songs that aren’t feeble, but the Eddster manages a string of them, from ‘50s Jerry Lee Lewis to country, funk and even a Frank Zappa-esque one.

This is what a good kids’ DVD should be: fun, cute, watchable and sing-along worthy. Only two minor notes. One, I wish the sound were mixed better (couldn’t hear all the words clearly). And two, the first song features Susie Tallman and isn’t as strong as the others; don’t judge the rest by it.

TDmonthly Rating:
Bells & Whistles

Age: 2 and Up
Gender: Boys and Girls

What do you get when you combine the Wild Animal Federation with Sunwoo Entertainment, one of the better animation studios in South Korea? How about a cartoon extravaganza full of animal goodness and interesting scientific insight? Wild Animal Baby is fun for the pre-schooler, though there are areas that could be improved.

The three stories on this DVD — A Tall Tail, Flower Power and Howl Did They Do That? — have interesting subjects: What kinds of tails do animals have and why? Why do bees buzz around flowers? What kind of animal makes a howling sound? They have some cute characters who are just slightly older-acting than the target audience, who ask a question such as “Why’s my tail white and fluffy?” and then go answer their question by observing animals “in the wild.”

Wild Animal Baby is trying to combine something for the Dora crowd with CGI animation, flash animation and live-action Wild Animal Federation footage into a big hit. The idea is sound, and the more animal stuff the more kids like it. They took a few shortcuts in their production that shows on-screen. The animation is definitely less than state-of-the-art like Pixar (and kids do know Pixar), and the character design is a little unchallenging ... but it works, on the whole, and Wild Animal Baby is a niche product that isn’t dully educational nor too wild for teaching. It hits the middle-ground of edutainment.

For 2-year-olds, this is colorful and very, very simple. But that’s a good thing, as there’s room for more of these DVDs in the future — it’s a solid niche to aim for.

TDmonthly Rating:

Bells & Whistles

“Okay, class — got it? Be creative! Be original! Have fun! And stay within budget. There’ll be a pop quiz on this next time.” So they leave with images of Citizen Kane in their heads. Me, it’s time to get back to work. Now where’s Zemeckis’ phone number?

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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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