THE STRAIGHT DOPE:
Good stories for tots that can also be appreciated by adults aren't that easy to find, which is why Peggy Rathmann's simple but extremely entertaining "Good Night Gorilla" is so special. The story is simply about a sleepy zookeeper who wishes each animal good night on his way to bed himself. He doesn't realize, however, that a rascally gorilla is tracing his steps, releasing all the animals from their cages. These sweet critters (including a lion, and elephant and a giraffe) all find their way into his bedroom, leading to an adorable (and extremely funny) finale. When we first found the book we were doubled over with laughter at the great expression on the gorilla's face when he gets caught.
Such a simple story doesn't need expanding for TV treatment and the respectful rendition on the Good Night Gorilla & More Bedtime Stories DVD is perfect. The images are exact duplications of Rathmann's style and the pacing has the same whimsical drift. The major addition is the light jazz score, which is the perfect musical accompaniment to the piece. "Good Night Gorilla," the book and the film are perfect for very young kids (Amazon lists it as baby to preschool) but the wit and art are appropriate for much older kids as well (like thirty year olds).
To round out this DVD six other animated children's books are included (each only runs about 5 - 10 minutes). They are of varying quality. Overly earnest narration makes Happy Birthday Moon, The Napping House and How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight cloying and tough to watch. That's not to say that very young children won't enjoy them but they don't have the hip quirkiness of Gorilla. Dinosaurs in particular is a weird lesson-story that tries to talk kids into going to bed quietly by lying and saying that dinosaurs respect their human mommies and daddies by kissing them and rolling over. Anyone who's ever babysat a T Rex knows that that is simply not true.
The Paperboy which follows a young kid through his early morning routine is interesting for showing a youngster hard at work. It doesn't get too cutesy and kids will probably appreciate being talked to on a grown-up level. Patrick is a surreal (almost LSD-inspired) story of a guy whose violin has the ability to turn everything multicolored and happy. Even the abrupt, confusing ending can't take away from this unique, wordless entry. And The Hat is another fantastical tale about a magical inanimate object, this time a top hat that can fly on command and save lives. Another interesting and unusual story that should entertain kids and adults.
This collection is not necessarily consistent but the better pieces are really fun. Considering the low price it's worth it just for the great Good Night Gorilla, with a couple of good additional pieces thrown in for good measure.
The full-frame color picture is fine, if some of the prints (which range from 1982 to 2002) don't look so great. The worst is probably The Napping House, which looks gritty and grainy. Most are colorful and vibrant.
The Dolby Digital audio is simple and fine. Good Night Gorilla really sounds pleasant, with the score lilting softly and the sporadic voicework sounding clear. None of the pieces is particularly challenging but they all sound acceptable.
The Paperboy, Patrick and The Hat are listed as bonus features, and considering that they're some of the best films on the disc, the extras are pretty good. Subtitles are also included (billed as "Read Along") as is a trailer for other Scholastic releases.
Good Night Gorilla is one of my favorite kid's books and its clever, minimalist style never gets old or loses its humor. Having it animated is fun but wouldn't be essential if not for the wonderful addition of the score. Some of the other pieces didn't connect with me the same way but kids will probably like them. Even so, the headliner here is worth the price of admission.