Scholastic Treasures serves up another modest treat with A Very Brave Witch ... and More Halloween Stories, a collection of animated shorts based on children's books. Aimed squarely at the preschool set, the DVD puts a decidedly breezy, sweet-natured face on trick-or-treat day.
In a seemingly arbitrary manner, the first four shorts are deemed part of the main program, while the next four shorts are considered "bonus." All are accompanied by a "read-along" function in which narration and dialogue are superimposed at the bottom of the screen.
A Very Brave Witch (6:44)
As spooked out as people might be of witches -- the broom-flying, pointy hat-clad variety -- A Very Brave Witch suggests that witches are just as afraid of human beings because of their non-green pigment. The title character, a young necromancer voiced by Elle Fanning (she of the precocious and talented Fanning clan) overcomes that fear when she meets up with a young girl on Halloween. Gentle, charming and with some nifty Theremin music, this 2006 cartoon is based on the children's book by Alison McGhee.
By the Light of the Halloween Moon (6:04)
More of a child's poem than an actual narrative, this gem involves an inevitable sequence of events involving All Hallows' Eve staples such as a ghost, bat, ghoul, sprite, witch and cat. The sprightly fiddle music is a big factor in the appeal of this segment, based on a picture book by Caroline Stutson and Kevin Hawkes.
A Dark, Dark Tale (3:34)
A Dark, Dark Tale is a hoot for tiny tots (and receptive grownups, for that matter). Based on a Ruth Thomas picture book, it boasts a breathlessly melodramatic narrator and foreboding music that exploit the would-be scary aspects of a "dark dark house" near a "dark, dark wood."
Marked by whimsy and some delightfully dated language ("Well, that's a fine how-do-you-do!"), this cartoon finds inspiration from Robert Bright 1943 story about a lovable ghost. Georgie's haunting of an old house is seriously compromised when the residents do some home repairs. How does a spirit make a floorboard creak and a door squeak once they've been fixed? Extra credit goes to David deVries for a fun and spirited voiceover narration.
The following clips are deemed as "extras," but I'm not sure why.
The Witch in the Cherry Tree (10:42)
David and his mother are baking muffins one dreary day, when they are visited by a witch with a sweet tooth. Based on a children's story by Margaret Mahy, The Witch in the Cherry Tree intriguingly mixes a bit of realism with a matter-of-fact fantastical scenario (a bargain-bin Miyazaki, if you will). Like its witch, however, the tale nearly wears out its welcome.
The Three-Legged Cat (10:20)
Another cartoon based on a Margaret Mahy story. The Three-Legged Cat is a wonderful, wistful yarn involves elderly Mrs. Gimble; her adventure-seeking brother, Cyril; Mrs. Gimble's cat, Tom; and an old Prussian helmet. Quirky and clever, this episode is the most conventionally constructed story of the lot -- and arguably the best.
The Three Robbers (5:31)
The Three Robbers is a dark and inventive story of three dastardly robbers who steadily compile a huge amount of loot. Tomi Ungerer's 1963 tale takes on an unexpected "three men and a baby" twist when the robbers wind up with custody of a little girl named Tiffany. The moral ambivalence might be a bit off-putting for some parents, but the cartoon is funny and surprisingly sweet.
Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain (10:31)
Based on the 1936 children's picture book by Edward Ardizzone, Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain follows a little boy who sneaks aboard a ship in search of adventure. Tim's parents say the child is too young for life on the high seas, and -- whad'ya know? -- it turns out they're right, although Tim does get his share of derring-do.
The full-frame picture is sharp and clear, with a nicely saturated color palette.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 mix is solid, if perfunctory. Clean and clear.
Aside from the so-called "read-along" function, the only supplemental material is a trailer for other
A Very Brave Witch ... and More Halloween Stories is another quality product from Scholastic Treasures. The animation is simple, the stories gentle and somehow soothing. Older kids might be bored silly, but preschoolers are likely to be enchanted (along with their parents).