The Leapfrog brand of toys and animation is generally regarded for a certain level of quality, using its curriculum-based system to promote early math and reading skills for anyone working their way through the single-digits. Leapfrog's newer "Scout and Friends" line of DVDs follows a colorful group of talking animals as they get younger audiences ready for early childhood and kindergarten. Like all educational DVDs and books, these aren't designed to be "virtual babysitters"; though they don't necessarily require a parent or guardian present at all times, such programs are more effective when shared as a family.
Released simultaneously with Adventures in Shapeville Park, this new Leapfrog DVD follows Scout and company as they visit the brand new "Magnificent Museum of Opposite Words". Problem is, the big grand opening gala is just around the corner and several exhibits have yet to be finished, so our furry friends need to help by finding opposite items to put on display. According to the packaging, this release aims to build vocabulary skills with synonyms and, of course, opposites through a blend of colorful characters, fun lessons and catchy songs. Colorful characters? Check. Fun lessons and catchy songs? Not really.
Unlike its shape-based sister, The Magnificent Museum of Opposite Words is a mess from start to finish. The setup feels extremely forced, the lessons are poorly designed and often confusing, and a lot of the dialogue would probably go right over the heads of its target audience. The examples of opposites aren't exactly intuitive (a loud goat and a quiet pig?) and the quasi-educational songs are typically obnoxious. My two-and-a-half-year-old enjoyed Shapeville Park for several weeks (as did I) but looked pretty bored throughout this one...and to be honest, both of us probably had the same "distracted zombie" look on our faces instead of engaged, entertained smiles. Teaching kids in an enjoyable manner is harder than it sounds, and lackluster productions like The Magnificent Museum of Opposite Words offer plenty of proof. More than likely, it's not going in the DVD player again unless my daughter specifically asks for it.
Lionsgate's one-disc DVD release of The Magnificent Museum of Opposite Words pairs the 30-minute main program with a few extras (including one for parents), as well as a strong technical presentation that showcases its colorful visuals and annoyingly crisp audio. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, The Magnificent Museum of Opposite Words looks terrific. Colors and line detail are exceptionally crisp (though some of the reds and blues are a bit over-saturated at times), black levels are solid and only a few minor digital issues were present, including light banding and mild edge enhancement. Overall, there's not much to complain about and viewers will be pleased.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround mix is bright and well defined. Dialogue and music don't fight for attention, while strong channel separation gives busier scenes an appropriate atmosphere. Unfortunately, no read-along subtitles are included, though some of the bonus features include them. Perhaps I'm in the minority here, but all educational kids' DVDs should include such an option to make it easier to follow along.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen below, the colorful menus are simple and easy to follow, though little ones are prompted to let their parents help with the remote. A number of trailers and ads must be dealt with beforehand. This one-disc release is housed in a green keepcase; a promotional insert and matching slipcover are also included.
Extras include a Sing-Along
feature for all four songs (with karaoke subtitles), a handful of unrelated Additional Songs
, an abbreviated Curriculum Commentary for Parents
, the narrated read-along story "A Surprise for Scout"
(also with subtitles) and a few Trailers
. Unfortunately, these extras are all recycled from past "Scout and Friends" releases, except for the commentary and sing-along songs. It's no big deal if this is your first Leapfrog DVD, but what we get is hardly the definition of value-added content.
The Magnificent Museum of Opposite Words is another colorful and well-meaning Leapfrog DVD, but as an educational tool it doesn't hit the mark. The synonym and opposite examples are poorly connected and occasionally confusing, and that's from an adult perspective. I couldn't imagine expecting many kids to sit through the whole thing more than once or twice; its core lesson is probably geared towards two to three-year-olds, but other necessary story elements will go right over their heads. It doesn't help that this DVD recycles older extras from releases like Adventures in Shapeville Park, which makes Magnificent Museum a completely non-essential release that kids and parents should actively avoid. Skip It.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey from Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off and juggling HD DVDs. Also, he don't shiv.