Great videos depict strong personalities By Sylvia Ewing

In the grownup world, the words "strong" and "personality" often addup to a diplomatic way for human-resource types to describe a person who is demanding and difficult. "Strong personality" is a code phrase-a nice way of saying someone is, well, not so nice. The term takes on a different meaning when used to describe a certain kind of youthful bravado, characters that are brassy and self-assured on the surface but vulnerable on the inside. The videos I review this month have a common theme in that they feature such personalities. These selections encourage family exploration and individual confidence-a good thing to accompany the sweet but fleeting days of summer. ARTHUR: D.W. THINKS BIG, rated G, 2004, $7.98 VHS, $12.98 DVD, all ages.

OK. I know millions of viewers watch the Emmy-winning Arthur programs on television and understand his world. But I encourage regular watchers to take a new look at this video and advise a new generation of families to check out this positive and entertaining selection. In the first of three stories on this selection, D.W.'s smoldering jealousy is fanned to a flame when she is left without a major role in a family wedding. In the second, she and Arthur combine forces to take on their messy rooms. In the third, she remains true to form, getting the last laugh after Arthur plays a mean trick that causes her to lose her voice. This sassy little sister steals every scene she is in. The series offers great life lessons, without being preachy. D.W. and family face issues that happen in real life. I also think that older kids will get pulled in by the catchy theme song by Ziggy Marley and stay because of the well-drawn characters and well-written stories.

Sylvia says: A-enjoy D.W. and her family from start to finish.

DORA THE EXPLORER: SUPER SILLY FIESTA, rated G, 2004, $9.95 VHS, $16.99 DVD; ages 2-5. Dora is ready for fun and adventure in the D.W. mold. But the lessons here are less subtle and Dora is interactive in a way that younger viewers can enjoy. When Avery, my 3-year-old niece, watches Dora, she is inevitably drawn into the stories-they're pretty light on plot, but seem to make perfect sense to her. Super Silly Fiesta follows the usual format with the same success. Dora and her monkey pal, Boots, help out their friends the Big Red Chicken and Diego. The DVD has two bonus episodes that make it a good value, though I could do without the Nick Jr. Baby sneak preview.

One minor setback: I don't know if it is intentional, but Dora always reminds me of a kiddie computer game for some reason, which is a little distracting at times. But at the end of the day, she brings a cultural flair to the preschool world that is valuable for all children and a long way from Strawberry Shortcake and the Care Bears.

Sylvia says: Big B-a must-see for the pre-school set.

MISS SPIDER'S SUNNY PATCH KIDS, rated G, July 20, 2004, $9.94, VHS, $ 14.95, DVD; ages 2-5. Mrs. Spider (to be more accurate) and her husband, Holley, have a web full of babies. The cute couple and their five kids bring the book series by David Kirks to life. "Miss Spider's Sunny Patch Kids" takes young viewers on an adventure to rescue Squirt, one of her (you guessed it) feisty youngsters. Squirt gets in trouble trying to help someone weaker than himself even as he puts his family in danger. This is a sweet take on a story as familiar as the classic Peter Rabbit or the naughty Little Puppy from Golden Books, but the animation and the parents perspective is all about today. I love the look of this selection. The computer animation seems to have depth and dimension to it. Comedian Rick Moranis and Brooke Shields provide the right tone as Holley and Miss Spider.

The DVD special features are really special in that they add value and longevity to the feature. For example, there is a printable coloring page; I really like the Bugstravaganza Game.

Sylvia Says: An eight-legged A.

CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN, rated PG, 2004, $22.98 VHS, 29.98, DVD; all ages. Here is a houseful of "strong personalities" with a cute set of teens. Add Steve Martin, Bonnie Hunt, Hilary Duff, Piper Perabo, Tom Welling and Ashton Kutcher in key roles and there is a star for just about every member of your family. Chicago native Bonnie Hunt is a treat to watch. It took me a while to get around to viewing this remake because it seemed pretty much like what you would expect a movie with 12 kids to be. The antics of Hunt and Martin as the parents, the many off-spring and a cute dog are predictable, but sometimes that's OK. This is one of those movies you want to buy for your collection. It has a cross-generational appeal that is sure to please for a long time to come.

Sylvia Says: B-this is one a family can agree on.

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


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