Author's Note: This review is based on a non-commercial screener disc. Therefore, all video and audio evaluations - as well as episode selection - could be subject to change, should we receive a final shelf product.
BBC Video has released Charlie and Lola Volume 9: What Can I Wear For Halloween?, the latest U.S. release of a collection of third season (2007-2008) episodes from the sweet, sweet U.K. children's cartoon. Just as funny and thoughtful as previous go-arounds with precocious darling Lola Sooner, and her kind, understanding, and patient older brother Charlie, Charlie and Lola Volume 9: What Can I Wear For Halloween? should be a solid choice for parents and kids looking for some Fall fun.
I've written countless times already about Charlie and Lola, so I won't go into any more great depth about the cartoon, but I will say that it continues to be my favorite toon aimed at very young viewers (I take SpongeBob out of that equation since he hits seemingly every demo out there). Every element of the series works, from the eye-popping, gorgeously designed photomontage animation, to the frankly brilliant voice direction and performances, to the gentle, focused stories about a fantastically curious, delightfully open and expressive little girl named Lola who wants to enjoy and understand - with her imagination and the guidance of her tolerant brother Charlie - the world around her. It's certainly a very funny show (Lola is in a word, a stitch), but it's also quite touching, too (particularly for parents), because how often in today's rather coarse world of children's animation are we shown such a perceptive and caring portrait of a little girl that focuses on her setbacks, her wishes, and her feelings on her way to growing up? I think I like Charlie and Lola best of all for depicting that preciously short period of time in a little girl's or boy's life where they are very much like Lola: open without pre-thought, fun-loving without embarrassment, insatiably curious about anything and everything, and boundlessly energetic. Charlie and Lola captures that small window of wonder in a small child's life effortlessly, and the collection of episodes in Charlie and Lola Volume 9: What Can I Wear For Halloween? are no different in that respect.
Here are the nine episodes included on Charlie and Lola Volume 9: What Can I Wear For Halloween?:
I Am Goody the Good
Lola falls in love with the heroine Goody the Good from a series of books she's been getting from the library, so she decides she wants to be helpful like Goody, as well. And she is...until she becomes too helpful and Charlie wishes the old Lola was back. This episode is a good example of how, over the course of the series, the writers have softened Lola's personality - which could be outright bratty at times during that first season. Here, her desire to do good works in no way upsets the formula of having Lola make mistakes and learn from them; it's just approached in a different manner ("Happy to help!").
What Can I Wear for Halloween?
Lola can't wear her crocodile outfit again this year for Halloween (I love Lola's little "Snappity snap!"), but she's having an impossible time figuring out what she can wear. Meanwhile, Lola, Charlie, his friend Marvin and her friend Lotta have grown the biggest pumpkin ever, and they're going to surprise their class with it for their Halloween party. But an unfortunate accident ruins everything...and provides Lola with a brilliant idea. A perfect episode to watch this Fall and Halloween. It's fun to see how the kids grew the pumpkin, and the final moral - accidents are just that: accidents, so make the best of them - is a great one for kids to see.
But We Always Do It Like This
Charlie and Lola are going to the seaside during their annual visit to Granny's and Grandpa's. And what do they always do when they go to the beach? They build a huge sand castle. But this year, a little girl named Clem spots the two and tags along, and she's not going to give Lola her spade back. Even worse, she ruins their sand castle. A charming Charlie and Lola episode about sharing and caring for others. In almost any other toon, the set-up of having sad little Clem taking a spade away from Lola and not giving it back would have probably led to mean-spirited knockabout slapstick, but here, kind Charlie teaches not only Clem but Lola how to share, eventually including her and her brothers in the fun. A very sweet episode.
I Am Going to Save a Panda
It's "Save an Animal Day" at school, but Charlie and Lola and their friends can't decide what animal to pick for their sponsored events. Even worse, Lola comes down with chicken pox, so she can't participate in all the fun. Young viewers will get a little mini instruction on endangered animals here, while Lola again learns the value of taking an event that seems like a obstacle - her chicken pox - and turning it into a positive (they use her spots for her sponsors, netting her more money than anyone else).
I Slightly Want to Go Home
It's Lola's first sleepover! And it's at her best friend Lotta's house. But Lotta's routine is different than Lola's (she even watches different TV shows!), and once it's time for bed, Lola comes down with a serious case of homesickness. A nice episode that shows Lotta as the caring, kind helper for Lola, where she takes on the Charlie role and slowly walks Lola through a potentially bad time. A good episode to show to children when they're getting ready for that first big sleepover.
Do Not Ever Never Let Go
Lola loves her tricycle. But she can't keep up with Charlie and Marv on their two-wheelers. But that's okay, because Lotta will ride her trike to the park, and Lola can ride with her. Only...Lotta has new bike - a two-wheeler - and Lola is quickly left behind. She tries a two-wheeler and does well, but Lotta is ahead again when she takes her training wheels off. Another fine episode that showcases an important message for kids: if you fall down at anything, don't quit. Get back up again. It's very funny to hear Lola warble as she wobbles along unsteadily on her bike.
Everything is Different and Not the Same
Lola is going back to school! But everything is...different. Her desk is different. The school bell sounds different. She has new shoes and new tights (which keep wrinkling up), and she even has a new teacher. So when she ruins the best leafy tree picture she's ever made to impress her new teacher, it's up to Charlie to help out, once again. An excellent episode to watch with your little girl or boy when they're starting school, or changing grades, or when they're going off into any new environment. Another autumnal/first days of school-set episode that works particularly well at this time of year.
I Would Actually Like to Keep It
Lola finds a toy rabbit doll on the way to school, and she desperately wants to keep it as a companion for her beloved stuff toy, Foxy. But Charlie knows that toy rabbit belongs to some child who loves it as much as Lola loves Foxy, so he convinces Lola it's proper to put up missing signs for the toy. A sweet little episode from the series: straight to the point, and emotionally resonant. Perfectly captures that timeframe where children pour real love and affection on inanimate objects, such as their favorite dolls or toys (watch Lola worry about the rabbit being lonely out on the school wall - quite true-to-life).
But I Really Don't Like This Present
Lotta returns from her holiday and brings back a present for Lola...a present Lola doesn't like at all: a loud, scratchy hat. Lola tries eight ways from Sunday to justify losing the hat, but Charlie knows better and tells Lola how that would hurt Lotta's feelings. A slight return to form for the "older" Lola, where she's a bit selfish - which is perfectly in keeping with her age. It's a funny episode, as well, as we see Lola quite innocently (in her mind, at least) scheming with her imaginary friend, Soren Lorenson, to justify getting rid of the hat.
The anamorphically-enhanced, 1.78:1 widescreen transfer for Charlie and Lola Volume 9: What Can I Wear For Halloween? is digital perfection, with a razor-sharp image and bold, properly-valued colors. Pops right off your big widescreen monitor.
The Dolby Digital English stereo audio mix is, as always, bright and loud, with that crazy infectious theme song perfectly picked out over the speakers. English subtitles are available.
In a break from the usual Charlie and Lola discs I've reviewed, there are no extras for Charlie and Lola Volume 9: What Can I Wear For Halloween?. No animated outtakes from the audio loops, no games, no music videos. Strange.
This show never disappoints. A perfectly lovely, sweet little show, Charlie and Lola Volume 9: What Can I Wear For Halloween? is a sure-fire winner this Fall. My favorite younger viewer toon out there. I highly, highly recommend Charlie and Lola Volume 9: What Can I Wear For Halloween?.
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.