Nothing is more appealing to a new parent than the promise of a calm infant, especially at 2:00 in the morning. This is undoubtedly why Dr. Harvey Karp's instructional system, The Happiest Baby on the Block (2002), continues to grow in popularity: it's easy, concise and available in a number of formats. This DVD edition is probably the easiest to digest (save for video clips that are undoubtedly available online), as the visual demonstration of certain techniques is helpful. Clocking in at just 38 minutes in length, The Happiest Baby on the Block discusses Karp's belief in "The Fourth Trimester" (providing a smoother transition from womb to world), "The Calming Reflex" and, of course, his system of "The Five S's" for improving your baby's sleep habits.
I'm in a uniquely objective position to critique The Happiest Baby on the Block, as my wife and I saw a portion of the DVD during an expectant parents' class two years ago. Our introduction to the material, then, was more out of curiosity than necessity, unlike many of the sleep-deprived new parents featured here. We put this material to use shortly after our daughter Anna was born and, fortunately enough, it worked quite well for everyone. Soon enough, Anna crashed for several hours at a time and, by her fourth month, slept soundly through the night. Whether or not these techniques were partially or fully responsible is unknown...but in the short term, their immediate effectiveness was clear. While we initially viewed only part of the program ("The Five S's"), the rest of it seems more casually informative than directly instructional.
Results may vary, of course, so I can't honestly say that The Happiest Baby on the Block will work for 100% of parents and babies alike. But it did give us a little more peace of mind during those turbulent first months, and that's more than enough to justify a recommendation. This recommendation, though, is more for the raw information itself than the DVD release under review: it's extremely limited in the A/V department and only features about an hour's worth of content, which might make the book a better option for value-conscious young parents.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
This isn't a visually ambitious production, so most of its shortcomings stem from the original source material. The Happiest Baby was shot in 1.33:1 on consumer-grade video; there's an obvious lack of polish and detail on display, while the natural color palette tends to fluctuate during different scenes. Shadow detail and black levels are low, but at least there aren't any nagging digital problems to report (save for a bit of edge enhancement, but nothing major).
The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix (also available in a Spanish dub) is similarly modest, as evidenced by the blown-out highs and lack of consistency in dialogue and narration. It's still easy to follow and understand, but don't expect big-budget documentary quality and you won't be disappointed. Optional English and Spanish subtitles are provided during the main feature.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above, the plain-wrap menu designs are easy to use and offer smooth, simple navigation. The 38-minute main feature (not 64 minutes, as listed on the packaging!) has been divided into four chapters, no layer change was detected and this disc appears to be locked for Region 1 playback only. It's housed in a white "eco-friendly" DVD case and includes no inserts.
25 helpful Q&A
segments are included here (1.33:1, roughly 1 minute each), presented as text-based questions that lead to brief video responses from Dr. Karp. This material typically goes beyond the main feature, though certain ideas are repeated. A short Preview
for Karp's follow-up production, The Happiest Toddler
(which I'll be reviewing next week), is also included.
At its core, The Happiest Baby on the Block contains helpful advice that will benefit the majority of panicked parents and their fussy, flailing infants. Lionsgate's DVD package is decent but overpriced, pairing a basic A/V presentation with a small amount of helpful bonus features. Still, this material is definitely worth owning in some form...so whether you opt for the book or this condensed DVD, The Happiest Baby on the Block is money well spent. Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey from Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects, teaches art and runs a website or two. In his free time, Randy enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.