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May 2007 | Vol. VI - No. 5


TDmonthly's DVD Expert

Money, Math and Magic

What happens when you turn the three R’s (Reading, Writing and ‘Rithmatic) sideways? You get the three M’s: Money, Math and Magic — which is what Hollywood is all about. This month’s DVDs deal with — you guessed it — Money, Math and Magic as they apply to kids.

The Animated Noom & Raj Start a Business – the ABC’s of Money
Age: 4 to 8
Gender: Boys and Girls
Category: CD-ROM
MSRP: $9.95

First the book; then the movie. Even in kids’ stuff that’s how it goes these days. Noom & Raj was a read-along activity book that Moonjar animated (in a limited way). Each letter of the alphabet tells a bit of the story — E is for “expenses,” H is for “harvest” — with the characters doing simple animated movements accompanied by little sound effects and a snippet of music. It’s cute. It’s quaint. And the character design is nice (kind of a cross between “Doug” and Hergé's “Tintin”). It teaches kids the alphabet, word definitions and business, and it’s pretty interesting.

The bits of business info imparted as Noom and Raj plan, grow and rebuild their business (a lemoonade stand) are probably as good as any garnered from a beginning Biz Ad college course. I’m not quite sure who the audience is, other than power-suited, up-and-coming tykes destined for entrepreneurial greatness, because what they are saying isn’t all that fun. However, it’s a likeable layout and set of characters, and though the focus is a bit confusing, it’s cool. This is definitely one to choose wisely for a particular kid.


Bells & Whistles

Hip Hop Multiplication DVD by KIMBO EDUCATIONAL
Age: 8 and Up
Gender: Boys and Girls
Category: Videos & DVDs
MSRP: $19.95

The RAP-ability math programs have been around for over 15 years and are in more than 20,000 classrooms nationwide. This particular set first came out in VHS form in 1995. It goes through basic multiplication facts and processes, which need lots of repeating. But by putting it all to dance and music, repetition is as addictive as watching an MTV video (which is the point, in the end).

So, is this gangsta, or wanksta?

You’ve got a bunch of boys and girls (a mix of ethnicities, but pretty clean-cut suburbia — no bustin’ a cap in anyone’s backside here) who are pretty facile at basic hip-hop dance moves, all dancing against either a green screen background or in a school setting. Because of the green screen and general nature of videography, there are lots of simple special effects (slo-mo, tracers, solarization, etc.), along with graphic inserts showing the multiplication tables, numbers and equations.

It’s pretty hokey and old-school simple, but it’s catchy and makes a good kid workout tape, too. For classrooms, it’s better than a dry blackboard rendition: It’s got a beat, so you can dance to it. And the rap itself? Well, it’s math-rap ... what can you expect? Unless Snoop or Jay-Z decides to actually crank it, this is gonna do.

One note: The quality of the video itself is not so hot. My guess? Not a good transfer from the ol’ VHS. This is just a limitation of technology, but it does show.


Bells & Whistles

Learn Magic With Lyn by LYN DILLIES
Age: 7 and Up
Gender: Boys and Girls
Category: Videos & DVDs
MSRP: $14.99

Abracadabra, it’s Lyn Dillies, big-time illusionist and the proud (and I’m sure work-intensive) holder of the honor of being the first magician in history to make two live Asian elephants appear in succession. Lyn’s the real McCoy, particularly known for the “Magic at the Symphony” series she presents around the country that combines, well, magic and classical music, which is pretty cool.

Now, Lyn has developed a beginning magic DVD that requires no sleight-of-hand, but teaches everything else important to a budding wonder-worker: stage presence, patter, the idea of secrecy and audience expectation, as well as routining, never-repeat-a-trick, etc. This is the real deal and not something that’s usually shown in novice magic instruction. This really is for the “working” magician wannabe.

With simple video transitions and even simpler camera and editing, Lyn guides the viewer through an assortment of magical moments with napkins, coins, balls, wands and more. First she demonstrates the trick, then tells a little about how it’s used, shows the tricky part, gives a list of items needed, and finally step-by-steps it with what-not-to-do’s and other helpful hints. Sometimes a group of kids help her out, though Lyn could have done it without them, as the kids don’t add much.

This may be the best overall magic DVD I’ve seen. It really does teach the basics well, in a manner that any kid can do, and shows an important side of performing. I guess it’s because Lyn Dillies not only knows magic well, but she’s also thought about the process of doing magic in a kid-friendly way. Forget the million-magic-tricks-in-a-box extravaganzas. Kids who really want to learn magic should start out with this DVD… then move onto the rest.


Bells & Whistles

Money, Math and Magic: That’d be a good title for an action/adventure movie with Brad Pitt. ... Hmm, time to fire up the ol’ computer and start writing. See ya next month.

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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