Video recommendations guaranteed to entertain By Sylvia Ewing

May is a potpourri of a month-it has a little something for everyone. My daughter was born on Memorial Day, the holiday of remembrance, also a bridge between the school year and summer vacation. Spring is here, a hint of summer is in the air and wintry weather is in the rearview mirror. For me, this is a time to get active-instead of just threatening to workout-and to enjoy unique experiences. So this month's theme is in two words: active and unique.

When I say unique, I do mean unique and, in one case, not for everyone. But I promise this potpourri should provide at least one good choice to suit your family's tastes. *Guaranteed or your next copy of Chicago Parent is on me.

THE LEGEND OF JOHNNY LINGO, rated G, May 2004, $22.98 VHS, $26.98 DVD; all ages.

Combine an urchin or two from Dickens, a sea faring adventurer from Robert Lewis Stevenson, the beauty of the Whale Rider, a little bit of Cinderella and what do you get? Johnny Lingo. It is a story of one fateful stormy night on a South Pacific Island, an orphan boy who is dogged by bad luck and the homely daughter of the town buffoon.

The location is beautiful and unusual. The moral lessons on responsibility, loyalty and trust are worthwhile.

This family-friendly production won't be available until May 11, but it already has won a number of awards. Be warned: the marketing is a little misleading. This is not a surfing saga, but more of a moral folk tale. Although it is not necessarily historically accurate, it makes an interesting period story about a unique culture.

Sylvia says: A for overcoming adversity, and adventure.

LUCY MUST BE TRADED, CHARLIE BROWN, rated G, 2003, $9.95 VHS, $14.99 DVD; ages 4 and up.

T-ball and Little League fans take note: Nothing brings home the pleasure of baseball like the Peanuts gang. If your team has a painful loss, remember these guys have lost 900 games and they still play on.

Charlie Brown is the poster cartoon for the uncertainty that comes with childhood. As usual, this Peanuts classic has lessons that go beyond the baseball diamond. In the land of Lucy, Snoopy and all the rest, kids can be dirty, absentminded, clever and cruel. Just like in real life. I had forgotten how magical and also pragmatic creator Charles M. Schulz could be. Charlie Brown gives up a chance for snazzy new uniforms when the hardware store sponsor says the league won't accept a team with girls and a dog. Schulz was ahead of his time when it comes to equal rights.

The drawings are pretty basic and so are the visuals, but this video is more about what the kids say than how they look.

The DVD includes "Charlie Brown's All Stars" and "It's Spring Training, Charlie Brown."

Sylvia says: Batter up a B+ ...the lack of consistent illustrations make it just short of an A.

FRIEDA, THE TWINKLE TOES BALLERINA 2004, $19 VHS, not rated; ages 3-5.

"Frieda, the Twinkle Toes Ballerina" is a modestly produced production, but it works. Unlike the first two videos I reviewed from MGM and Paramount, respectively, this is a local effort from a dance instructor. Marianne Kyler is charming and has a real rapport with her young dancers. She is comfortable with the camera and the students seem to be having fun without paying much attention to it. This bunch seems refreshingly genuine.

Ballet basics such as first position are covered. Some of the moves provide good ideas for parents or anyone who wants to get a youngster up and moving. The instructor says she is an experienced educator and dancer but new to the video game. The presentation is straight forward and competently executed. That's all you need when you have cute and realistic kids. The video is only available by phone and on VHS. The price includes shipping and handling (708) 301-8181

Sylvia says: A all the way for this labor of love.

DOGGY POO, rated parental discretion, 2003, $24.99 DVD,, rated ages 3 and up.

Every now and then I hope to share a suggestion that will challenge you. Picture this: a bucolic scene that looks realistic but in a dream like way. Colors are so sharp you can see the bark on trees and the individual feathers on a colorful birds' back. An aerial view takes us over a Korean village of thatched roofs and dirt roads. A cute black and white dog ambles along and I think, "Hey, a classic like Snoopy and my Wally." This pooch starts to circle and sniff the ground, just like a real dog and just like Wally (gross-out warning for more sensitive readers) nature calls and Doggy Poo is born.

Words are inadequate to describe how this Doggy Poo could be so aptly named and yet so adorable. He has a big baby-like head and an expression that reflects awe and appreciation for the world. This expression doesn't last long before a mean bird shows him what the world thinks of him and it isn't very nice. He's poop all right. But he tells us he has feelings.

Doggy Poo is not for the easily grossed out but it is worth watching.

And there is a message here about grand and important concepts. Like "Charlotte's Web" or "Lion King," it is also about life, birth and our place in the world. The author of the book is a true naturalist who is said to live isolated in the woods. This, too, is an award winning feature and really worth including in your family movie library the way a good foreign film adds spice to your life.

Sylvia says: A, It's weird and wonderful and not to be missed.


Sylvia Ewing is a Chicago journalist and the mother of Eve, 17, Matt, 14, and Wally the wonder dog.


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