In 10 Words or Less
Learning to read via song
Likes: Leap Frog's educational toys
Dislikes: Simplistic kids DVDs
Hates: Getting little content
The Story So Far...
Leap Frog has built an impressive empire of educational toy offerings, adding fun to learning via various handheld and laptop units, and have expanded to include non-interactive material, using the characters from its traditional products in DVDs. A series of titles were released starting in 2003, and new titles and reissues began in 2009. DVDTalk has reviews of several titles.
If there's something released with the LeapFrog name on it, you can be assured of two things: 1) my daughter will own it at some point, and 2) shortly thereafter, she will be infatuated with it. This pattern continues to this day, with her recent acquisition of the LeapPad, which she now uses to make her own movies and animations. Well, that rule applies in nearly every case, with the exception of the Sing-Along Read-Along Early Reading Set, which I picked up for her when she began to learn to read. A set of 12 small soft-cover books with an accompanying DVD, it never caught her imagination, and has rarely graced the screens in our home since that ill-fated purchase.
Well, it's found it's way back into our house with a disguise, as the disc has been re-packaged as a DVD, now titled Sing and Learn with Us!, and the books are now the passenger (see The Extras.) Outside of the change in format, it's essentially the same product, with twelve short "music videos" focusing on short vowel sounds, featuring a new gang of characters, including Al, Og, Meg, Izzy and Gus (with no Leap or any of his family around.) The videos come with exercises teaching about the sounds by showing various word roots and how the sounds form new words by changing letters. There's no thread tying it all together, nor is there any real story to follow.
That's probably part of why it's been the black sheep of the LeapFrog family around my home, as it's very loose in its construction and very different than the rest of the successful LeapFrog DVD series. The other part of the issue is the level of the educational material. The original set was marked for three years and up, while this set says three to six. Now, yes, my daughter is a bit advanced in terms of her reading and language skills, but she was incredibly bored watching this disc at the age of five (and wasn't much more impressed back when I first bought it.) The thing is, it's not the material, but the way it's presented, as she has had other vocabulary DVDs that she's loved (the Meet the Sight Words series being her favorite.)
Though the musical numbers are certainly catchy examples of pop songwriting, they are nonsensical, presenting the short vowel sounds first and foremost, at the expense of any kind of tale or logic. Part of that may be because of the rushed feel of the clips, with the entire presentation, including 12 "books" is crammed into just 32 minutes. By comparison, the first Meet the Sight Words DVD spends 40 minutes focusing on just a few WORDS. As such, there's just too much happening here too quickly, and you don't get the opportunity to spend a great deal of time on any one concept. That's unfortunate, because the new characters were what interested my daughter the most, and could probably serve as effective hosts for the material.
A one-disc release packaged in a standard single-width keepcase (unlike pretty much every previous release, which arrived in green), the DVD features an animated anamorphic widescreen menu, with options to watch the show, select scenes and check out the extras. There are no audio options, no subtitles and no closed captioning.
The full-frame animation is OK, but is a touch washed-out and very soft, with a lack of fine detail and some rather obvious issues with pixelation and compression artifacts. One wonders if this is a result of the content's origins.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 track sounds fine, but it's fine in that way that leaves you thinking, why present music this way? And then you think, do toddlers care about such things? And the answer is no.
Aside from some LeapFrog promos, the extras on this disc are all PDF downloads, with the 12 books from the original set, along with a trio of coloring sheets, available for printing. Considering several of the books from the original set are long since lost, this resource is certainly welcome.
The Bottom Line
Until I watched the disc, I had no idea it was simply a DVD repackaging of the previous set's release, and now, it actually feels even less impressive when it stands alone as a DVD, and it's clear it's aimed at a younger audience than your usual LeapFrog release. Super short and not very entertaining, this has to be the "worst" LeapFrog DVD to date.
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 follow him on Twitter
*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.