Bedtime For Frances:
The nice thing about reviewing kids' DVDs with a three-year-old in the house is that you get to watch them 18 or 19 times before writing, especially if it's 100 degrees outside and sitting in the cool, dark TV room seems OK. The bad thing is, if the product is bad, developing an unreasonable hate is quite easy. In the case of the Jim Henson Company's motion-capture CGI adaptation of the classic Hoban story, things don't look too good.
But you must admire the courage of packaging this DVD in a small, hardcover version of the actual book, inviting comparisons that parents best not make. These three 14-minute episodes, including the title story and two new ones, leach all the charm out of the badger and her family while robbing readers of any chance of creative interpretation.
The first story, A Whiny Sister For Frances lays the whining on thick as Frances and family can't go to Lizard Land due to little sister Gloria's illness. A Cupcake For Frances finds the precocious weasel lying about eating a cupcake, much to everyone's chagrin. Lastly, the titular tale follows the furry scamp as a variety of factors keep her from getting a good night's sleep.
Whiny or simpering characterizations, weird use of music, and disturbing animation make this collection a chore for adults, even though my little Frances has latched on to this DVD like a tenacious limpet. Perhaps that's part of my problem.
While Mother Badger occupies the usual gently maternal role, (albeit one updated with new-agey child-empowerment attitudes) and thus isn't too grating, the other characters will test your patience. Father Badger has truly lost his teeth, there's no hint of the gruff, pipe-smoking, potential spanker who caused mild, utterly misguided controversy in Hoban's book. This papa gently suffers like a sap, with a wimpy voice and the most annoying way of saying 'Frances'. Frances herself manifests the precociousness craftily presented in print with a squeaky voice and realistic hyper-activity that might have you reaching for a paddle. Little sister Gloria's squalling and whining is simply best left unmentioned.
More disappointing are the songs Frances sings. Once it was behooved upon parents to come up with melodies for her ditties, but now the Henson crew has adapted classical tunes and operatic arias for Frances to sing, not only taking some of the fun out of actually reading these stories, but also seeming plain odd. I understand the desire to edumacate the kiddies with these venerable tunes, but they just don't fit. What else doesn't fit? The clay-like CGI bodies in which these badgers slowly move about don't fit, that's what. Looking like a bunch of bizarre sports mascots arthritically wading through the reeds, our badger friends flop their arms impotently at their sides. The Henson Company's motion capture, by animating human actors, intends to create realistic movements. But what's the sense of creating 'realistic movement' for a bunch of anthropomorphized badgers?
With annoying animation, even more annoying characterizations, and any imagination vacuumed away, Bedtime For Frances needs to be put to bed. On the other hand, my kid loves it. But what do kids know? Read them a book, then go out and play, you won't regret it.
Full screen 1.33:1 pictures sport a little bit of edge enhancement and plenty of aliasing for your pleasure. Colors are less aggressive than your usual CGI cartoon festival, and posterizing on those smooth, smooth tones where the badgers' fur should be isn't a problem.
Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Audio works fine, if only it didn't. Since voice talent is to an actor annoying, you won't want to hear how it's mixed well with the goofy, odd music choices to which Frances sings. Plus, she changes the words from the songs as we know them from the Bedtime For Frances book.
The best extra is the unique Mini Hardback Bedtime For Frances Book in which this DVD comes. It contains all the original words, charming illustrations and opportunities for you to create your own voices and melodies for each character. You also get Closed Captioning, a single Trailer, a bonus 10-minute Fifi and the Flowertots episode, (Hole Lot of Fun) a Frances' Friends and Family Character Gallery and Interactive Read Along of Bedtime For Frances which allows you to scroll through the pages and read along either by yourself or with a voice on the disc - a feature on which I'm reluctant to comment. What's that, you mean you could do this with the book? The deuce you say!
The voices are bad, the animation's disturbing, the joy of children's books is destroyed - the best thing you can say about this DVD & Book Collection is that it comes with the book. Yes, your kid will love it, but there are other kids' DVDs out there with better content, more extras, and more value than this. Skip It and buy the original book instead.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com