Classic tales told as read-along videos
The Story So Far
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:
Corduroy...and more stories about caring:
Good Night, Gorilla...and more great sleepytime stories:
Harold and the Purple Crayon...and more stories to spark the imagination:
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.
The Bottom Line