By Jennifer ManganLast month Chicago Parent Editor Susy Schultz wrote "The Rocky World of Movie Ratings," in which she says, "If you look to movie ratings for guidance, you are taking a big chance." I second that emotion. But I'm not perfect, and sometimes I fall into the trap of trusting those ratings-as I was on the day I allowed my 11-year-old to see "Agent Cody Banks" because it was supposed to be appropriate for kids her age. When I am being a responsible parent and my kids want to see a PG or PG-13 movie that I know nothing about I go to my favorite Web site, www.moviemom.com, and read the review. Instead of trusting the opinion of some obscure member of the Motion Picture Association of America board, I make my own decisions based on the information provided. That's on my good parenting days. AGENT CODY BANKS, rated PG, 2003, $22.98 VHS, $26.98 DVD; ages 12 and up.
When "Agent Cody Banks" first came out in the theaters, I was ecstatic about a live-action movie rated PG starring Hilary Duff, a.k.a. "Lizzie McGuire," and Frankie Muniz from "Malcolm in the Middle." I knew it was a cool-spy-guy-gets-the-girl action adventure and I let my then 11-year-old daughter go without further investigation. I learned a valuable lesson: Don't trust a rating to mirror your own family values.
The story begins with a bang. Cody performs a heroic feat by rescuing (on a skateboard) a toddler from behind the wheel of a runaway car as it plummets down a steep hill just moments before hitting an oncoming train. Whew, it was close! I liked Cody when he was just an ordinary teenage hero. It isn't until he is called to his secret life as a junior CIA agent that the movie becomes suspect. Cody's "boss" is a buxom babe with miles of exposed cleavage more fitting for a "007" flick than this supposed family film. Add to that spy gadgets such as X-ray glasses and the scene goes beyond the "I see London, I see France" mentality. Personally, I believe these scenes push the PG envelope. My 13-year-old had an interesting perspective on the movie: She was disappointed that Duff and Muniz, who she held in high regard, would do "such stupid stuff." The actors dropped a notch in her eyes.
BLUE TAKES YOU TO SCHOOL, rated G, 2003, $9.95 VHS, $19.99 DVD; all ages.
If you have a child going to school for the first time, "Blue Takes You to School" is a worthy primer. Blue's friend Periwinkle is a little nervous about starting school, but the good news is he admits it. Luckily, Blue and Joe are going with him and he asks the audience to come, too. Periwinkle learns about circle time, line leaders, rules, lunchtime and more. He makes new friends, identifies shapes and colors and learns valuable lessons about taking turns. The puzzle for the day is to figure out what is Blue's favorite part of the school day. The second portion of the tape, titled "Numbers Everywhere," is a fun exercise in counting, sequencing and number recognition. Perfect for the preschooler.
DORA THE EXPLORER: RHYMES AND RIDDLES, rated G, 2003, $12.95 VHS, $19.99 DVD; all ages.
On an educational level, "Rhymes and Riddles" covers it all. In addition to good English skills, Dora incorporates Spanish language skills into the fun, saying hello, good-bye, how are you and even telling a cow to jump (salte) over the moon (la luna). Musical and auditory skills are exercised by solving riddles such as helping the lost lamb get back to Mary's house and singing "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" and "Mary Had a Little Lamb." Visual and spatial skills are practiced by putting Humpty Dumpty back together in a jigsaw puzzle and using objects in Dora's backpack, such as a map to help find the way back to Mary's house. As my kids would say, Dora's "da bomb."
BIONICLE: MASK OF LIGHT, rated G, 2003, $19.99 VHS, $29.99 DVD; ages 8 and up.
I'm in uncharted waters when it comes to this stuff, but I don't want to overlook a franchise that claims to have "captured the hearts and minds of millions of 12-year-old boys in the U.S." Spawned from an interactive Web site, a series of comic books and a recent toy line from LEGO, "Bionicle: The Mask of Light" is a collaboration of the three put into cartoon/video game format. Akin to Pokemon, only darker and more intense, the cartoon explores a biochemical universe and the characters that live there. The video and DVD introduce viewers unfamiliar to Bionicles to the concept. The story line has predictable themes such as good and evil, darkness and light, heroes and villains. To keep the evil Makuta from taking over the island paradise Mata Nui, LEGO-like characters Takua and Jaller must obtain all seven masks of power to declare victory. For a more detailed description, visit www.BIONICLEmovie.com.
Jennifer Mangan is a writer who lives in the western suburbs with her husband and four children, ages 17, 16, 13 and 12.