Disney has released another brand new Little Einsteins movie, Disney Little Einsteins: Rocket's Firebird Rescue, that should please parents and children who enjoy this educational, clever animated series. Aiming high in expecting little children to appreciate great works of art in the fields of painting, music, and the decorative arts, Little Einsteins is a most unusual (and most welcome) celebration of high culture in a deceptively simple children's animated series.
I've written before about Little Einsteins (please click here to read that earlier review), and watching this new DVD release, Disney Little Einsteins: Rocket's Firebird Rescue, I was again taken with the show's gentle insistence on not pandering to its young audience. There are a lot of shows out there aimed at this same young group, but Little Einsteins is deliberately designed to celebrate works of art that most grownups would be hard-pressed to identify.
The Little Einsteins consist of Leo, June, Quincy and Annie (Leo's little sister). They're explorers whose adventure efforts are aided enormously by Rocket, their morphing rocket ship that can travel on land, sea, and in the air. For Disney Little Einsteins: Rocket's Firebird Rescue, Rocket receives a feather from the magical Firebird, who spreads music and happiness over the vast expanses of Russia. Caged by the evil Matryoshka nesting doll/ogre Katschkai, who hates music, the Firebird's absence has brought gloom and unhappiness to the steppes of Russian, and it's up to the Little Einsteins and Rocket to hunt down the clues to find the key to her cage.
As with all Little Einstein episodes, the opening has a run-down of what works of art will be incorporated into the episode. For Disney Little Einsteins: Rocket's Firebird Rescue, Kandinsky's painting, Improvisation is utilized for a backdrop to one of the Little Einstein's encounters with the nasty Katschkai. Matryoshka nesting dolls and a fabulous Faberge egg are also used, and naturally, Stravinsky's The Firebird Suite plays constantly in the background - all heady stuffy for a little kids' program.
And that's the great element in the Little Einsteins series. In a world where art and music programs are being slashed or eliminated in so many elementary and secondary schools, Little Einsteins takes a stand for the vital importance of these areas of study, and in its own small way, starts very young children on the road to appreciating them. But it's not a dry lecture; in fact, your child won't suspect they're learning about some of the great works of art unless you tell them that fact. The Little Einsteins adventures are so beguiling and quickly paced, your children will be caught up in the fun - not hung up on trying to "learn" something (which, of course, they will anyway, without knowing it). After watching this just once, my five-year-old daughter remembered the Italian musical terms adagio, moderator, Allegro, and presto, in their correct order. I'm all for mindless children's entertainment - in fact I celebrate it - but when a show can do that for a small child, it's pretty amazing. Will she forget those words? Very probably. But that music and those decorative works of art will probably always be floating around somewhere in the back of her mind.
This particular new movie, Disney Little Einsteins: Rocket's Firebird Rescue, is nicely designed, with the series' signature use of photo-montage techniques quite striking in some spots (there's a great shot of Rocket and the gang flying over the frozen wastes of Siberia). It's really a bright, color-saturated-looking series, and little viewers will be instantly drawn to its design concept. Lush, classical music, beautiful objects d'art, and TV producers who aren't afraid to champion culture in a little kids' program, add up to an unique viewing experience for you and your child.
Digitally perfect, the full frame video image for Disney Little Einsteins: Rocket's Firebird Rescue is excellent, with no compression or edge enhancement issues. Colors are saturated.
Especially nice (and a testament to Disney's understanding of the purpose of the series), the soundtrack is available in a powerful Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix (the Stravinsky cues sound amazing here). French and Spanish mono tracks are also available, as are close-captions.
A cool little feature is the Magic Mission Mode, where you can read fun, informative pop-up facts about the artists featured in the episode. You can watch this mode in either "Active" (with remote) or "Auto" (without remote) control. It's sweet. There's also a bonus episode of the series, Rocket Soup, where the gang must gather together the ingredients needed to make Rocket go, including peas, cheese, and jumping beans. Featured artists and works include Paul Klee's Moonrise and Dvorak's Humoresque #7. Another great episode.
Just like many of us who learned classical music cues and opera arias from the brilliant Warner Brothers' Looney Tunes cartoons, your child can go one step further and experience some of the great works of art in this delightful, informative - and most importantly, exciting - little series. I highly recommend Disney Little Einsteins: Rocket's Firebird Rescue.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.