Some new stories, some old, but all are great By Sylvia EwingAh April, the time of year when many families put away their winter gear, and get out the suitcases for spring break. A good video or two is easy to pack whether you are loading up the mini-van and hitting the road or sending the kids off to stay with relatives. In fact, a good story is great to have around whether you are facing a rainy day in a hotel room or looking for a quick way to make your home a kid-friendly place to be.
With that in mind my first selection is the kind of story you want to have around, and the other three are just plain fun.
ELOISE AT THE PLAZA, rated G, 2003, $24.99; ages 4-adult.
My friend Jamie doesn't have children, but she is lucky enough to receive regular visits from young family members. They have a great time and she sends them home to their parents when they get tiresome. She is a lucky lady-and smart, too-because she keeps a video library to entertain her young guests. "Eloise at the Plaza" is a great movie that Jamie should add to her collection, and so should you.
There is a lot to recommend in this version of Eloise. The movie is faithful in capturing the whimsical sense of a special place and time. Eloise is a wiseacre, but one with a heart of gold. She finds out what happens when you pour water down a mail chute for example. She can be naughty but without the underlying meanness I so dislike in movies such as "Home Alone" and "Dennis the Menace."
The stellar cast is a treat to watch. Christine Baranski fits right in the stylish retro New York feel of the movie. Parents and older kids will recognize Julie Andrews as Eloise's Nanny and the great character actor Jeffrey Tambor, who is currently on FOX-TV's "Arrested Development."
My daughter, Eve, also watched the movie while babysitting 7-year-old Shelia, and while Eve liked the movie, she sneered at the actors' French. I guess that's to be expected from one who is a bit of a Francophile and, after all, a teen. Shelia adored the movie and really liked Eloise, but not the romantic parts. Mom and Dad will like those. Sofia Vassilieva really brought the title character to life and is a young actress to watch.
The special features are not all that special. But if you are looking for a way to spend your tax refund, you can take advantage of a Eloise package at the real Plaza Hotel in New York.
Sylvia says: A, a superb addition to your family movie collection.
MXP: MOST EXTREME PRIMATE, rated G, 2004, $19.99 VHS, $26.99 DVD; all ages.
The chimps in "Most Extreme Primate" are adorable. They continue the "ooh" and "awe" reaction you get when monkeys wear clothes. The plot is nothing new: A mix-up gets Jack the chimp separated from his human and simian pals and he ends up in snowy Colorado rather than sunny Mexico. The family structure is familiar as well; a single parent, a new town, kids facing challenges. But the relationship between the father and his two sons is different and very sweet.
Do you remember Robby Benson as a young heartthrob? Now, he is a graying parent-just like many of us-and he does a great job portraying a loving dad.
The shots of the snowy mountains and the snowboarding tricks alone will be enough for many kids. But the real difference here is that the writers took more than a sip of what I like to call plausibility punch. Strange things occur, but you can see how they really might happen. Maybe the filmmakers learned a lesson from their increasingly silly "Air Bud" movies. We have come a long way from Curious George and, in this case, that's a good thing. The DVD includes a very cool Jack sticker.
Sylvia says: Solid B for everyone. An A for active skaters and snow boarders.
IS YOUR MAMA A LLAMA ... AND MORE STORIES ABOUT GROWING UP, rated G, 2004, $9.95 VHS, $14.95 DVD; ages 2-7.
These are two new offerings for younger children from Scholastic. I have to admit that just the name Scholastic brings back my children's grade school days when we would eagerly review the class "book order" and look forward to the day when the teacher would pass out our selections. The name remains a stamp of approval for books, and now videos and games.
The four stories in this collection have a message about growing up. The overarching theme I see is helping younger children feel better about being different, whether it means learning slower than others or looking different than your family. It is a nice addition to your collection, especially when you are looking for lessons on diversity and self-esteem.
The stories are narrated by actresses Amy Madigan, Laura Dern, Lynn Whitfield and Mary Beth Hurt. The DVD has bonus features, including a read-along as well as a Spanish version of the title story.
Sylvia says: A, look for it on your school book order.
RED RIDING HOOD ... AND MORE JAMES MARSHALL FAIRY TALE FAVORITES, rated G, 2004, $9.95 VHS, $14.95 DVD; ages 2-7.
If you are like me, you will instantly recognize the illustrator of stories starring Miss Nelson and the Stupids. This second Scholastic offering has just enough movement and action to entertain today's kids while being soothing enough to help younger ones settle down. "Red Riding Hood" is joined by "Goldilocks," "The Three Bears" and "The Three Little Pigs."
Opinions on many of these old stories have changed with the times and they may not be in favor in your household. But James Marshall's drawings bring an offbeat humor to these stories. Special features on the DVD include a nice introduction to the artist and the two full-length bonus stories and a getting-to-know-James-Marshall story are great.
Sylvia says: Solid B and a good value for the price.Sylvia Ewing is a Chicago journalist and the mother of Eve, 17, Matt, 14, and Wally the wonder dog.