By Jennifer ManganKids need choices. Whether it's movies, music or magazines, unless kids are exposed to something other than what's popular, they won't discover what they like or don't like, they'll just follow the crowd. When my kids were young, we watched old movies together. Although Shirley Temple never wet my appetite, her movies inspired my daughter at a young age to sing, act and dance. Temple's patriotic spirit and uplifting personality served people during the Depression and her movies still make an impact today. My daughter also learned to love old movies and often times chose the American Movie Classics channel over Nickelodeon (hooray)! There are plenty of alternatives available. When given choices, sometimes our kids surprise us.
SHIRLEY TEMPLE'S HEIDI and STAND UP AND CHEER, $9.98 VHS; all ages. It's Shirley Temple's 75th Birthday and for a limited time her entire library of movies is available on VHS. For the little ones, "Heidi" is a good pick where Temple plays the spirited young heroine of the classic novel. The orphan is forced to live with her gruff grandfather who comes to adore her. Older kids will enjoy "Stand Up and Cheer" as Temple is appointed Secretary of Amusement by the President in order to cheer up an American public still suffering through the Depression.
THOMAS & FRIENDS: JAMES & THE RED BALLOON, 2003, $12.98 VHS; $19.98 DVD; ages 2-6. "Thomas the Tank Engine" is a classic. The first book in the series by The Reverend W. Awdry was written in 1945. And the popular series created by Britt Allcroft debuted in the 1980s. The stories are timeless. But I'm struck by the amount of negative emotion and competitiveness in "James & The Red Balloon." Each of the six episodes involves conflict with pride and prejudice as the core causes of the engines' feuds. One engine tries to outperform another, derailing friendships and wreaking havoc in the yard. I commend the writers for using descriptive words such as: "groaned," "huffed," "proudly," "pompously" and "jealously" to illustrate the engines' feelings. I know these are worthy scenarios and the outcome serves the values of patience, perseverance, cooperation and friendship, but can't Thomas and his friends have one good day where everyone just stays on track? There's too much stress in 35-minutes. My favorite episode in the video is "Rusty Saves the Day" where Rusty and his friends work together to repair the line so his best friends, Rheneas and Skarloey, can work again.
PINOCCHIO, 2003, Available for rent on VHS; $29.99 DVD; ages 8 and older. Here is yet another remake of the classic "Pinocchio," this time starring Roberto Benigni, the Oscar-winning actor from "Life is Beautiful." It seemed like a good idea. The film set box office records in Benigni's native Italy, but bombed in the states. The good news is the two-disc DVD offers both the English language version of the film and the original Italian Language version. I watched the latter with my 13- and 12-year-old daughters who thought reading subtitles would be fun. After all, it's Pinocchio. A half-hour into the video, I lost my 12-year-old to a better offer and my 13-year-old to a nap. Unless your kids love to read (and fast), I would recommend the English language version, but I'm not impressed overall. It's dark, dank and sometimes confusing. Benigni does a remarkable job of portraying the self-indulgent puppet, Pinocchio. It's too good. His whining and screaming are annoying and difficult to tolerate. I prefer Disney's animated classic.
PIGLET'S BIG MOVIE, 2003, $24.99 VHS; $29.99 DVD, all ages. Piglet is my favorite character because he's cute and unassuming. In "Piglet's Big Movie" friends Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore and Rabbit think Piglet is too small to participate in a scheme to gather "hunny." Feeling left out, Piglet wanders into the Hundred Acre Wood, leaving his friends behind. When Winnie the Pooh and the gang find Piglet gone, they use his book of memories for clues to find him. By reliving Piglet's memory book, they realize his value in their experiences together and that it doesn't take somebody "big" to do big things. The illustrations are extraordinary and the songs are cute, especially the one about a mother's intuition.
BEAR IN THE BIG BLUE HOUSE: A BEAR FOR ALL SEASONS, 2003, $9.95 VHS; $14.95 DVD, all ages. All out of ideas for summer fun? Looking forward to a fall frolic? This video is an entertaining way to learn about the seasons. In "Summer Cooler" Bear, Tutter, Pip and Pop, Ojo and Treelo spend a lazy summer day doing their favorite things. Bear likes to play checkers in the cool comfort of the big blue house. Pip and Pop want to swim in the otter hole and Ojo and Treelo use their imagination to think up an undersea adventure using goggles and fins. Tutter makes his own poolside club at the kitchen sink. Loona and Bear serenade each segment with a beautiful song that recaptures all that happened in the big blue house that day. The video segues into "Falling for Fall" where Bear, Ojo and Treelo talk about why trees change color and lose their leaves and how the air is crisp and clean like biting into an apple. This is a great way for kids to understand the transition of the seasons and recall some of their own memories. .Jennifer Mangan is a freelance writer who lives in the western suburbs with her husband and four children, ages 17, 16, 13 and 12.