Animals and animation steal the video screen By Jennifer Mangan

Some years back, a cadre of adults were lobbying to banish Barney. Not me. I wrote a newspaper column in his defense, then spoke on behalf of the purple dinosaur on public radio. I thought it ludicrous that these adults, many of whom were not even parents, thought Barney to be too saccharin sweet, sappy and unfit for children. I reminded these bullies that Barney was meant for little children, not adults.

I often think of this when I review videos that seem unsophisticated and overly simplistic to an adult viewer. I ask myself two questions: Is the video age appropriate? And are there any redeeming qualities that make it worth watching? I feel fortunate that after all these years my own inner child still surfaces when I see oversized puppets, talking animals and animated classics.

ROLIE POLIE OLIE: THE BABY BOT CHASE, rated G, 2003, $19.99 VHS; $24.99 DVD, ages 3 and up.

"Rolie Polie Olie" delivers solid entertainment, great family values and good humor. In "The Baby Bot Chase" older brother, Olie, and sister, Zowie, model ideal sibling behavior. They are polite, respectful and care for each other. Olie acts responsibly and seems to always do the right thing. The Polie parents are kind, nurturing, and supportive. In this episode, Olie and Zowie want to give their parents a gift for the annual Family Frolic Fun Day. They ask their Great Aunt Polieanna to help them find a wishing star so their parents' wishes can come true. Together they seek the help of Gloomy the Pirate, who lives in outer space and is a pro at fishing for wishing stars. Instead of catching a star, Gloomy snags a couple of baby bots lost in space. Their job is to get the bots back to their family.

AIR BUD SPIKES BACK, rated G, 2003, $19.99 VHS; $29.99 DVD, ages 6 and up.

What can't this dog do? He's a crossing guard, letter carrier, confidante, detective, baby sitter, star basketball player and now Air Bud is a champion volleyball spiker! No question "Air Bud Spikes Back" is about as predictable as lightning bugs in the summertime, but that's half the fun. My 17--year--old and I had the story line figured out within the first 15 minutes and we still loved it. It's the moving music, puppy love (between the sister and the boy next door), the cute kid, a perfect dog—all winners for a good family film. I also commend Disney for not casting perfect--looking teenagers.

In "Air Bud Spikes Back," school is out and Andrea Framm's best friend is moving to California. Andrea joins the local volleyball team competing for a championship title held in—guess—California, so she'll be able to see her best friend. When one of the players can't play, a substitute—guess—Air Bud, fills in at the last nail--biting minute.

I'm not sure the producers intended Air Bud's volleyball moves to be as funny as I found them to be, but the scene makes the movie. A typical Disney subplot involves two pathetic delinquents who plan to steal a precious jewel at the local museum. They think Air Bud is their perfect partner in crime and dognap him right before the championship game. Who could have guessed?

WIGGLE BAY, rated G, 2003, $14.95 VHS; $19.99 DVD, ages 3 and up.

While I may not bash Barney, I will whack the Wiggles. I know they are extremely popular with preschoolers, but I can't find a positive thing to say about this wacky, wayward video. The summer--themed "Wiggle Bay" is awash with ditsy dialogue and music that is one monotonous refrain. A new Wiggle friend, Magdalena the mermaid, pushes the video overboard with no life raft in sight. Save your money. Maybe the next "Wiggle" will be better.

THE JUNGLE BOOK 2, rated G, 2003, $24.99 VHS; $29.99 DVD, ages 5 and up.

I'm not a fan of sequels, but because "The Jungle Book" theme coincides with summer, I gave it a try and was surprisingly pleased. "The Jungle Book 2" picks up where the original film left off with Mowgli now living in the man village. His loving family includes a little stepbrother, Ranjan, and his best friend, Shanti, the beauty who wooed him from the jungle. But as his human father says, "You can take the boy out of the jungle, but you can't take the jungle out of the boy." Mowgli misses his papa bear, Baloo, who comes into the man village and lures him away for some jungle fun. Ranjan and Shanti try to find Mowgli to bring him back only to come up against the hypnotic snake Kaa and the menacing Shere Khan. The music still has that jungle beat and the characters are as good as ever. This video is on par with the original.

DENNIS THE MENACE: CRUISE CONTROL, not rated, 2003, $9.95 VHS; $14.95 DVD, ages 6 and up.

I'm not sure why I expected something different from "Dennis the Menace" other than what his label suggests. He's still a nuisance, especially to poor, old Mr. Wilson. This full--length animated feature is painful to watch because Mr. Wilson takes a beating at every turn. He has an accident with a skateboard breaking both of his legs, and after a miracle cartoon recovery, plunges down two flights of stairs, falls overboard on a cruise ship and lives to complain about it. Welcome to the world of cartoons, where reality does not exist. After 20 minutes, I turned it off.


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


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