Super WHY: Jack and the Beanstalk and Other Fairytale Adventures
PBS // Unrated // $14.99 // July 28, 2009
Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted August 12, 2009
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In 10 Words or Less
Super-powered learning in a land of fairy tales

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: Animation, Noggin
Likes: PBS Kids, Super WHY
Dislikes: Most CGI series
Hates: How short kids DVDs are

The Show
My daughter is a devout follower of the cult of Noggin, but PBS Kids has its appeal to her as well, mostly because of the old standby Sesame Street and Arthur. But a recent discovery has caught her eye and that's Super WHY. On a recent trip to Toys R Us (as much for me as for her) we passed the kids TV toy aisle, and despite attractive offerings from Yo Gabba Gabba and The Backyardigans, two of her favorites, we left with figures of Wonder Red and Alpha Pig, two of the star Super Readers. Considering the series they come from, it was a choice I could definitely get behind.

The series is all about words, putting the lessons right out in front, rather than bury them subtly in a story. Each adventure is built around a fairy tale, and the solution to the challenges faced in those tales, like a Princess who can't solve her puzzle test to get her crown and a Pig whose toy constructions keep getting knocked down. To find the solution, each character uses their language skills to help find super letters that combine to reveal the final answer. The skills include knowing the alphabet, rhyming, spelling and reading, and the application of each sets the formula for the show. You know what to expect in each episode, and that creates a comfortable, structured way for kids to learn.

The characters, including Alpha Pig, Wonder Red, Princess Presto and Super WHY, are all based on fairy tales as well (except the lead hero, WHYatt, who's tangentially related.) They are fun, big-eyed creations, with sunny dispositions, standing in stark contrast to many other series, which, for some reason, tag some of their characters with either bad attitudes or unwelcome traits. There's no chance your little one will pick up an annoying personality quirk from these four heroes, outside of a desire to spell correctly or change words in a sentence.

The great thing about it is, even though the lessons are in your face, the show doesn't feel preachy or "educational." The lessons are a means to an end for the characters, and not just add-ons, like the tests in Go, Diego, Go, which makes them flow with the plot. There's also a nice use of direct address with the viewer, as kids watching are told they are Super YOU, including them in the fun as a member of the Super Readers, with the power to help. Thankfully, you don't have the massive, awkward pauses while waiting for reaction, ala Dora the Explorer.

A one-disc release, this DVD is packed in a standard keepcase and features a static, full-frame menu, with options to watch the episodes and check out the bonus features. There are no audio options and no subtitles, though closed captioning is included. Annoyingly, there's no play-all option for the disc's four episodes, so you have to keep returning to the menu.

The Quality
The anamorphic widescreen transfers on these episodes are excellent, delivering the show's bright, clean animation and brief live-action segments very well, with a crisp image that sports vibrant, appropriate color and a solid level of detail, showing the different textures in the image well. There are no noticeable issues with dirt, damage or compression artifacts.

The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track is standard for kids cartoons, with a center-focused track that bring clean dialogue and strong music. It's not a stand-out presentation, but is just fine for the material.

The Extras
The first extra is a group of four videos, for the characters' signature songs, including "ABC Sing With Me" and "I Love to Spell." If your kids enjoy them in the show, they'll like getting to watch them as much as possible here.

The rest of the extras are available by putting the disc in your DVD-ROM drive. Up first are a quartet of games, one per character. The games are tied into the characters' special skills, so you play by spelling words or finding rhymes, and the speed won't be too much for younger players to keep up with. There's enough depth to the games to get a decent amount of playtime out of them as well.

The rest of the extras are PDFs, including a summary of the show for parents, four activities, and a handful of coloring pages and word-finds. If you need something for kids to do on a rainy day, these are as good an option as any.

The Bottom Line
Super WHY is pretty straight-forward in its method of delivering its educational payload, leaving out some of the more entertaining elements other series utilize, but the animation is cute enough, the music is catchy enough and the formula is paced well enough to keep kids hooked through all the spelling and rhyming lessons. The DVD looks and sounds as good as you would expect for a kids series, and the extras are good, if scant. If you want a disc your kids will watch and really pick up a lesson or two about language, this is a good pick, but it's certainly no babysitter.

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