Caution is key to kids' safe movie watching By Jennifer Mangan

I love writing this column because every month I learn another parenting lesson. As I was perusing my stack of videos deciding which ones to review, I picked a sports video because it had a picture of young twin boys posing with a soccer ball. I thought Cole and Dylan Sprouse (from "Big Daddy") might be the next Olson twins for boys. "A Great Film for the Whole Family" reads a testimony on the cover by a Parenting magazine reviewer. Plus it features soccer star Cobi Jones. I thought, This is gonna be good. My lesson: Don't judge a video by its cover.

JUST FOR KICKS, rated G, 2003, $27.50 VHS; $29.98 DVD, ages 12 and older.

The video to which I am referring is "Just for Kicks." It's not a big name video but it looked good, just like those magazine covers that promise to solve all our problems in one issue. The picture on the video cover sold me and I feel duped. I expected a movie like "The Mighty Ducks" where the underdogs, by nothing short of a miracle, soar to the top in an exciting finish. I also expected fun and mischief not offensive language, genital name-calling, sexual innuendo and disrespect toward women. Tom Arnold is featured as the dad and coach until he is called away on business (for the entire season) leaving his wife and her ditsy sister to lead the team with the help of a strange but gifted neighbor. The only redeeming quality to this film is a one-minute cameo appearance by Cobi Jones who shows off his soccer skills.

HOLES, 2003, $22.99 VHS; $29.99 DVD, ages 10 and older.

On to quality entertainment. This film got a head start by ranking as one of the most popular award-winning books among kids. According to a recent poll by Read magazine, Holes ranked No. 1–beating Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. "Even Stevens" star Shia LaBeouf plays Stanley Yelnats (spelled Stanley backwards) who is convinced by his grandfather that the family's bad luck stems from an ancient family curse. Stanley is sent to Camp Green Lake, a disciplinary boot camp for juveniles, after being wrongly convicted of stealing a pair of celebrity gym shoes from a homeless shelter's fundraiser. The juveniles' job while attending the camp is to dig holes in the desert, once a beautiful lake, to "build character." But digging holes is just a cover for the Warden's (Sigourney Weaver) hidden agenda. Stanley and his camp mates must stick together to discover what's really hidden in the dessert.

If your child hasn't read the book, the movie may seem confusing. Two separate stories are interwoven using flashbacks to illuminate the plot. I recommend a parent watch with a child to answer some inevitable questions and to cushion some of the more intense scenes. "Holes" is rated PG, but there are PG-13 elements such as language, murder and suicide. Because of the quality of writing and production, these PG-13 elements are overshadowed and not as gratuitous. What rises to the top is love and compassion, helping other people and that the good guys wins.

GOOD NIGHT GORILLA, rated G, 2003, VHS $9.95; $14.95 DVD, ages 2-7.

Bedtime can be a nightmare for many parents whose kids just don't want to go to sleep. I'm not a proponent of watching videos before bed (I'd much prefer parents read these books to kids), but a few of the stories in this video are too cute to miss. My absolute favorite is "Happy Birthday, Moon." Reminiscent of the classic Good Night, Moon in its gentle repetition and lullaby appeal, "Happy Birthday, Moon" begins with Bear asking Moon when his birthday is. When Bear doesn't get an answer, he travels to the top of a mountain so Moon is sure to hear his question. Bear repeats his question, but is surprised when Moon asks him the same question back. Bear doesn't understand he is hearing his own echo and is very excited to find out that he and Moon share the same birthday. There's very little about sleeping in this story; however, it's melodic and whimsical manner is pacifying and very sweet.

"Good Night, Gorilla" is another quiet tale that is more about staying awake than going to sleep. The zookeeper is making his rounds and saying good night to all the animals when the baby gorilla steals his keys to the animals' cages. Unbeknownst to the zookeeper, all the animals follow the zookeeper home and when he turns out the light to say good night to his wife, several other voices join in.

"How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night?" uses dinosaurs to mimic how some kids fuss before bedtime and "The Napping House" is wonderfully animated and narrated, giving this classic an added dimension.


The title tale in this trio wins hands down. "Click, Clack, Moo Cows That Type" is not only clever, it's downright funny. Most kids read the book written by Doreen Cronin in elementary school, but I don't think any of the teachers sound like Randy Travis, the country music star who narrates this barnyard mutiny on Farmer Brown's farm. "Cows that type, hens that strike. Impossible!" hollers Farmer Brown. It's a stand off between Farmer Brown and the cows, the hens and even the ducks who won't produce until Farmer Brown honors their request for electric blankets in the barn!

The farm fable "The Day Jimmy's Boa Ate the Wash" is about a school field trip to the farm that goes berserk when Jimmy's boa gets loose. It's one catastrophe after another, not any of which is amusing. In the last tale, "The Pigs' Wedding," the bride and groom decide their guests are too stinky to attend. After some scrubbing and rinsing, the bride creatively uses body paint to dress them up for the occasion including jewelry, bow ties, shoes and more. After the pigs say their vows, it's on to the best part, the reception. Have you ever seen pigs dance? No need for the pigs to take a shower, a rainstorm washes them clean. The perfect day, the perfect little story.



Jennifer Mangan is a writer who lives in the western suburbs with her husband and four children, ages 17, 16, 13 and 12.



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