In 10 Words or Less
Classic tales told as read-along videos
Likes: Good children's books
Hates: When anthology DVDs consider additional content an extra
The Story So Far
Scholastic's Storybook Treasures series has released more than 60 DVDs collecting various retellings of classic children's stories into discs of six or seven stories. The sets normally are headlined by a well-known title, accompanied by a handful of lesser-known entries. With a large bank of these DVDs, they've also begun to release "treasuries," which offer several discs in a set. DVDTalk has reviews of several of these releases:
Though unfamiliar to myself before checking out this set, Weston Woods Studios, which became part of the Scholastic corporation in 1996, has to be one of the most prolific short film production and distribution companies ever, putting out scores of adaptations of classic children's books since 1953. Though you may have never heard of them, you've likely seen one of two of the shorts, as they've been shown in schools and on kids TV shows for decades, and they've produced well-known versions of beloved characters including the classic Harold and The Purple Crayon.
These are no cheap dollar-store adaptations of public-domain fairy takes either. There's a wide variety of adaptation styles, from full-out animation, to slightly-animated versions of the original storybook art, to Ken Burns-style camera movements over that art, and even a live-action take on the classic Corduroy. While some of them are rather simple in how they approach the story, there are some real stand-outs as well, in large part due to the studios long-time collaborations with Czech animators who brought unique style to the proceedings. For some stories though, like The Napping House or Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin, where the art style is just perfect for the tale and action isn't key, just adding music, sound effects and narration was all that needed.
There are some truly excellent parts of this set, including the excellently minimal animation on the three Harold and The Purple Crayon shorts, the somewhat-creepy, yet entertaining Smile for Auntie and the fantastically adorable Good Night, Gorilla. The Harold cartoons are taken all but exactly from the books, but animate them in a way that only adds to the stories' charms, while Smile for Auntie is an example of the Czech influence, with an art style that reminds one of Ralph Bakshi's films. While I wasn't intimate with Good Night, Gorilla, I found it to be my favorite out of the entire set. There's something about the limited animation style and cute story of a night-out for zoo animals that is tremendous fun, and the fact that my daughter couldn't stop laughing at Gorilla's silly dancing didn't hurt either.
While there are plenty of fine, entertaining stories to watch here, including Happy Birthday, Moon, The Happy Lion and The Wizard, some just didn't cut it. Some, like Time of Wonder, didn't offer a lot of story, while others, like The Rainbabies or I Love You Like Crazy Cakes, were just a bit too overwrought or emotional for kids stories, and felt out of place. Then, there's Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears. The story itself is a fine example of an African myth, with quality narration by James Earl Jones (one of several celebs on board, including Laura Dern, Mia Farrow, Anthony Edwards and Pete Seeger.) The problem is in the plot. As part of the story of how Mosquitoes became so annoying, is the death of a baby owl, which is shown on-screen. Now, it's not graphic (a branch hits the baby on the head, killing it) it is the focus of the story and is shown several times. My own daughter is pretty sensitive about death (she doesn't even like it when batteries "die") so I'm not showing this to her, but I can't imagine this is going to go over well with most children.
Here's the full line-up of stories. If you own other sets, you'll notice overlap in places. Odder still, you may see line-ups have changes from the disc you own, like Good Night Gorilla, which has changed from the disc released in 2003. Also, the read-along option, on these discs, which puts subtitles on the screen that change color as the words are spoken, is only available on the main stories, not the bonus tales.
Curious George Rides a Bike...and a lot more monkeying around:
Curious George Rides a Bike
Fourteen Rats and a Rat-Catcher
Why Mosquitos Buzz in People's Ears
Here Comes the Cat
Frog Goes to Dinner
Corduroy...and more stories about caring:
Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel
The Happy Lion
I Love You Like Crazy Cakes
Smile for Auntie
The Happy Owls
Good Night, Gorilla...and more great sleepytime stories:
Good Night, Gorilla
Happy Birthday, Moon
The Napping House
Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin
Harold and the Purple Crayon...and more stories to spark the imagination:
Harold and the Purple Crayon
A Picture for Harold's Room
Time of Wonder
The Foolish Frog
A four-DVD set, the discs are packaged in four clear ThinPak cases, which are held in a cardboard slipcase, along with a promotional brochure. The discs feature static, full-frame menus that list the stories on the disc, along with a play-all option, any extras and the read-along option. There are no audio options, no subtitles and no closed captioning.
There's a pretty wide range of sources here, with some video that's more than 30 years old, to far more recent productions. While nothing has that public-domain level of poor quality, some of the older stories have definite issues, including shakiness (most noticeable on The Wizard) and dirt and damage. Keep your expectations reasonable, and you should find it to look just fine.
The audio is offered up in a very standard Dolby Digital 2.0 presentation, with a balanced, center-focused delivery. Nothing impressive, but nothing negative either.
Unless you consider the read-along option an extra, all you get are Spanish-language versions of Curious George Rides A Bike and Why Mosquitoes Buzz In People's Ears, along with the supposed trailer on each disc, which is a cute piece of animation showing many of the Storybook Treasures' biggest stars, presented in their own animation style, sitting down to watch a movie.
The Bottom Line
My daughter's bedroom overflows with children's books, both old and new, but the majority of the titles in this set were unknown to us, so there were plenty of new stories to experience, but at the same time, a lack of familiarity made her want to watch the better-known stories. And for anyone who owns any Storybook Treasures DVDs, you'll find you own portions of this set already. Those concerns aside, there are some fun tales to enjoy, and the presentation is solid, if aged in places. If this was to be your first set of such stories, it's well-worth picking up for a little one to watch.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.