Some videos are just right for family time By Jennifer Mangan

Every year about this time I put out our “dancing bears” flag, heralding the beginning of Chicago weather warm enough to encourage dancing outside without a coat. The advent of warm weather suggests less TV, video and computer time, which is a good thing. But even if the weather is delightful, after a long day outside, your family can use a special time to relax together and watch a family movie. The following are a few of those:

JONAH: A VEGGIETALES MOVIE, rated G, 2003, $19.98 VHS; $24.98 DVD; all ages.

My 11-year-old daughter saw the kid-friendly, Christian movie “Jonah” twice at the movie theater. She didn’t much care for it. My 13-year-old daughter, however, saw “Jonah” on video at home without the yummy perks that make any movie more palatable. She loved it. Go figure.

Most kids know the story of a whale swallowing a man, but chances are they remember it from Pinocchio (reviewed in this column) and not the Bible. That’s the beauty of “Jonah”—it’s a story any child can enjoy, regardless of religious background.

The movie begins with the Veggie bunch driving in a van to see a concert. After countless hilarious mishaps on the road, the car rolls to a dead stop in front of a seafood restaurant where a bunch of “Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything” tell the Veggies the story of “Jonah.” It’s 90 minutes of high-spirited music and comedic entertainment. The production company, Big Idea, which is headquartered in Lombard, had a good idea when it incorporated Khalil, a chatty caterpillar, into the story line. Khalil is Jonah’s sidekick on his journey and adds most of the humor to this animated adventure. Beneath all the fun and laughter is a simple message—everyone deserves second chances. What better gift can we give our children and ourselves?

LITTLE SECRETS, rated PG, 2003, $14.94 VHS; $24.95 DVD; ages 8 and up.

Emily Lindstrom is 14 and has an unusual job. She gets paid 50 cents to keep the neighborhood children’s secrets. At first glance, the concept seems fun and innocent but, as we learn, secrets always come with a price.

Emily (Evan Rachel Wood) is a gifted violinist who skips summer camp with her best girlfriends to prepare for an audition with the San Francisco Youth Orchestra. Her secret-keeping business is a way to contribute to the costs of her dreams but, as the story unfolds, Emily starts giving bad advice to her young clients, causing problems with many families. What begins as an innovative side job turns out to be a front for what Emily does best—keep her own secrets. It’s the new boy in the neighborhood who inspires Emily to open up about herself.

I love that Emily talks about her mistakes and the lessons she learns. She says, “You can’t keep secrets about yourself and lead a true life.” By Emily sharing her biggest secret, she is able to help others. She says, “If you want to be close to someone, you can’t keep secrets from them.”

THE OTHER SIDE OF HEAVEN, rated PG, 2003, $19.99 VHS; $29.99 DVD; ages 10 and up.

Disney calls this a true-life family adventure. I call it a coming-of-age love story that touches many levels. Shot in spectacular locations around the Cook Islands and New Zealand, this film is about 19-year-old John H. Groberg (Christopher Gorham) and based on Groberg’s memoirs, In the Eye of the Storm, about traveling to the far-off island kingdom of Tonga in the 1950s to become a Mormom missionary. He leaves his love, Jean Sabin (Anne Hathaway from “Princess Diaries”), hoping to return and marry her someday. We follow John as he assimilates into a culture where the people live solely off the land, speak a different language, have unusual ritualistic customs and initially find John very strange. We see how John’s passion enables him to learn the dialect and pave a path toward trust and acceptance that evolves into family like relationships with the Tongan people. There is a lot of adventure in this film, but a few images may be too graphic for some kids.

THE NEW ADVENTURES OF PINOCCHIO, not rated, 2003, $14.98 VHS; $14.99 DVD; ages 10 and up.

There are some sequels that work and some that don’t. This one doesn’t. It is the only video on my list that isn’t worth staying in to watch—even in a downpour.

The newest version of Pinocchio stars Martin Landau as Geppetto alongside Gabriel Thomson as Pinocchio. Thomson is said to have been chosen as the original Harry Potter. I hope he didn’t forgo Harry Potter for this.

This video offers a sick twist from the original story. Here, the evil puppet master Lorenzini (disguised as his widow), turns Geppetto into a wooden puppet to dance in his bizarre carnival show. This darker version boasts real circus people such as clowns, the Strongman, the Fat Lady and a few other strange characters. Most disappointing, however, is the Blue Fairy, who historically is enchanting and nurturing. In this rendition, she is a freaky girl who sits on a swing and speaks in riddles. Unfortunately, any heartfelt message is overshadowed by an eerie composition.




Jennifer Mangan is a freelance writer who lives in the western suburbs with her husband and four children, ages 17, 16, 13 and 11.



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