In short, this is a collection of 100 stories on 16 DVDs, running just over 19 hours in all. Most of the material was released previously, notably in nearly identical packaging (also with slimpack DVDs cases) in a boxed set released in February 2008 confusingly also called Treasury of 100 Storybook Classics. In that release an image from Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are dominates the box containing all the DVDs. This new release features H. A. Rey's Curious George on one side, Crockett Johnson's Harold (of Harold and the Purple Crayon) on the other. The suggested retail price is the same, but the contents are definitely different, though with some overlap.
Here's what's included:
Alligators All Around
This set offers some short films not included in the earlier box while other stories, including Goodnight Gorilla, Is Your Mama a Llama?, and Corduroy have been excluded here, possibly due to expired rights to the film versions and/or the original stories themselves.
In any case, these adaptations seem to have been licensed from all over the place, though held by the same distributor. Harold and the Purple Crayon, for instance, is a one-reel, independently produced animated short directed by David Piel in 1959. Igor Kovalyov and Aleksandr Tatarskiy's Here Comes the Cat!, despite English-language signage onscreen, was produced in the Soviet Union just before its fall in 1992. A 1971 short cartoon adaptation of The Foolish Frog features co-writer Pete Seeger singing and narrating the soundtrack, and was a co-production between the United States and Czechoslovakia.
The shorts are generally very handsomely produced and feature many familiar star names: James Earl Jones narrates Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears, Danny Glover The Talking Eggs, Patrick Stewart The Elves and the Shoemaker. Helen Hunt and Hank Azaria tackle Chicken Little, Meryl Streep reads Chrysanthemum, Andy Richter narrates I Stink!, while Michael McKean, Diana Canova, and David de Vries are on Arnie the Doughnut.
One film I looked at, Curious George Rides a Bike was not actually a cartoon but filmed pages of the famous book, with no actual animation. A handful of others, such as Let's Give Kitty a Bath! are live action, with no animation at all. Most of the material appears licensed from Weston Wood Studios. Some of the discs are grouped by author - Maurice Sendak gets one all to himself - others are vaguely grouped by subject matter: dinosaurs, counting, etc.
The collection is well designed in some ways but not others. The addition of optional English subtitles, featuring karaoke-style subtitles, is obviously a useful tool for beginning-level readers. The DVDs offer age recommendations (varying from 2-9), a good idea. Conversely, finding a favorite story is almost impossible without taking everything out of the box and spreading it across a kitchen table or flipping through it like a deck of oversized cards. (However, this isn't such a bad thing: I've been letting my two-year-old daughter choose which story she wants to watch, and that's worked out quite well.)
Video & Audio
Presented full-frame, this is a set of 17 individually packaged DVDs, each disc running between 54-87 minutes apiece. The image quality varies slightly, depending upon the film source, the age and condition of the original elements, some now 50 years old, but most everything looks bright and colorful, and the mono audio is adequate. Also included are alternate Spanish audio tracks for Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type, Curious George Rides a Bike, Danny and the Dinosaur, Harry the Dirty Dog, How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night?, Make Way for Ducklings, Moon Man, Owen, Strega Nona, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, The Caterpillar and the Polliwog, The Snowy Day, Where the Wild Things Are (also French audio on this), Whistle for Willie, and Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears.
Supplements include an interview with Maurice Sendak and a slim but worthwhile 14-page activity booklet, with coloring pages, connect-the-dots, and other activities related to the various stories.
Though parent-approved the real question was whether my two-year-old would embrace this set or not and, for the most part, she has, enormously enjoying the majority of story adaptations, some of which she now wants to have her parents read to her in book form. Which, I suppose, is exactly the point.