Scholastic, in association with New Video, has recently released several DVDs which contain animated versions of classic children's books. Each of these DVDs has an overriding theme, such as stories by the same author, or tales that approach the same subject. That is, every DVD except for "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom", which contains seven stories that don't seem to be related at all, save for the fact that each segment is playful and fun. (I guess that's as good a theme as any.) It is clear that this collection is aimed at younger viewers, as the recommended age range is 2-7 years. These stories are all very simple and each contains a rhythmic pattern that youngsters can easy latch on to.
(As this DVD contains several different episodes, each will receive a capsule review which includes an overview of the video and audio aspects as well. It can be assumed that these shorts were captured on film for classroom use. Each contains a stereo soundtrack.)
"Chicka Chicka Boom Boom" -- 5 minutes -- "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom" is based on a very simple rhyming children's story, which offers an innovative way to teach the alphabet. Here, the story has been set to music and the song is inescapably catchy. In the story, all of the letters of the alphabet race to the top of a coconut tree. However, all 26 letters prove to be too heavy and crash to the ground, hence the "Boom Boom" of the title. Then, each wounded letter wanders away. I'll dispense with any formal review and go straight to the endorsement -- my three-year-old loves this song and can't (won't) stop singing it. There you have it. The video is very sharp and clear, and the colors are great. The audio sounds very good, offering a nice bass response and stereo effects.
"Trashy Town" -- 6.5 minutes -- "Trashy Town" is an odd little story, which features two rats who follow Mr. Gilly, the trash-man, as he travels around town picking up all of the trash. The story shows the many different locations that Mr. Gilly visits to collect the trash, before he finally takes it to the dump. This is the kind of fun, silly story that kids love, but the redundant nature may grate on adults. The animation offered here is very colorful and interesting. The video is clear, showing only a slight touch of grain.
"Rosie's Walk" -- 4 minutes -- Rosie the chicken takes a walk around the farm. However, she doesn't realize that she is being pursued by a hungry fox. Fortunately for Rosie, the fox is clumsy and not very smart. This extremely simple story features Rosie visiting the various locations in the barnyard, teaching youngsters what goes on at the farm. The animation resembles medieval wood-carvings, making this piece stand out from the others in the collection. The image is clear, and the odd colors (golds and dark reds) look fine.
"The Caterpillar and the Polliwog" -- 7 minutes -- A young caterpillar marches around a pond, announcing to everyone that when she grows up, she's going to change into something else. A young polliwog hears this and is intrigued by the idea. The polliwog is surprised when he is informed by a passing fish that he too, will change. When the caterpillar reaches the polliwog, she loses her boastful nature upon learning that the polliwog will change as well. Unfortunately, whereas the caterpillar knows that she will become a butterfly, the polliwog doesn't know what he'll become. (Where are his parents?) While this particular DVD isn't full of morality tales, this story teaches a nice lessons about bragging and respecting others. The animation is very simple, but it has a certain charm. The video is somewhat grainy and there are defects from the source print.
This disc features three bonus stories.
"The Foolish Frog" -- 7.5 minutes -- Rather than being a formal story, "The Foolish Frog" by singer Pete Seeger, is more of a folk-tale set to music. The story is quite simple, and is essentially a running joke. While on his way to the general store, a farmer sees a frog hopping from one bank of a stream to the other, and makes up a silly song about it. When he reaches the store, he sings the song and everyone loves it. From then on, everyone and everything (and I mean everyTHING) in the area comes to the store and joins in the song. Kids will love the silly nature of this song, but the animation look like something a child did with magic markers. Video shows a great deal of grain and lots of dirt. The audio has a noticeable hiss.
"Joey Runs Away" -- 7.5 minutes -- When a young kangaroo (named Joey. Where do they get this stuff?!) doesn't want to clean his room (which is in his mother's pouch), he runs away. Once on the road, Joey tries to find a new place to live that will be as nice as the pouch. Meanwhile, other animal's are trying to move into Joey's mom's pouch. This odd, but entertaining story will delight kids, and the farcical nature will bring a smile to adults as well. The image shows minor grain and some occasional defects from the source print.
"Changes, Changes" -- 5 minutes -- In this very simple feature, two wooden dolls use blocks to build a variety of items. There is no dialogue here, as it isn't necessary. We simply witness the dolls and their creations, which actually have a logical flow -- When there is a fire (don't ask), they use water to put it out, and because of the water, they build a boat, etc. This is the kind of video that youngsters will watch in amazement, as the animated blocks arrange and re-arrange themselves. Very slight grain here, and the colors are fine.
The final extra is not really an extra at all. A "read-along" is offered, but this is essentially the addition of English subtitles on each of the main selections. The subs are the same size as standards subs. They would need to be bigger to be effective as a "read-along".
There aren't many DVD titles which are aimed squarely at toddlers, so "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom" is a welcome alternative to "Teletubbies" and the "Baby Einstein" series. These stories are fun, and if your kids are like mine, the "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom" song will be worth the price of admission.