My daughter really had her act together this past summer. She traveled to Washington, New York and Nashville, gossiped with State Department interns, operated a hugely popular blog and made me proud. Not bad for the bittersweet period between high school and college, between her old life and new. So, when it was time to pack up her room, I did not look over her shoulder. But panic began to set in when it took her brother and three friends several trips to get all of her stuff—everything from Batman action figures to Shel Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic—into the minivan. It seemed that very little of the old life was left behind. I guess we all like to hold on to what gives us comfort—it makes transitions from one part of our lives to another just a little easier. With this in mind, I bring you some parts of a series that should bring some welcome familiarity into your viewing life.
THE LION KING 2: SIMBA’S PRIDE SPECIAL EDITION, rated G, August 2004, $24.99 VHS, $29.99 2-disc DVD; all ages. A friend once proclaimed “The Lion King” the world’s best movie. It was a little strange to me, because he was a 30-year-old doctor from Kazakhstan, but it was his opinion, and he stood by it. I hope he gets a chance to check out the wonderful “Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride.” The music will please children and knock the socks off adults. There is a wide range of performers, from Suzanne Pleshette (younger parents: she was Bob Newhart’s wife on TV), R & B crooner Kenny Lattimore, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and, from the Broadway version of “The Lion King,” Heather Headley. The story is sweet and has a lot of opportunities to talk with younger children about how special everyone really is. Simba is a father now, and his daughter Kiara, in true Disney tradition, sets off on an adventure. In many ways, she follows the path that her dad took by venturing into the dangerous outlands, making new friends and finding her role in the circle of life. “Simba’s Pride” also brings back old friends Timon and Pumbaa, and the DVD includes a new animated short “One by One.” Sylvia says: A. You’ll love James Earl Jones as Mufasa, and listen for the voice of Broadway star and apple of her father John’s eye, Liz Calloway who sings as the adult Kiara.
WHY MOSQUITOES BUZZ IN PEOPLE’S EARS AND MORE STORIES FROM AFRICA, rated G, September 2004, $9.95 VHS, $14.95 DVD; ages 4-9. Talk about a story coming to life. “Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears” is a terrific collection of African folktales. The title story is similar to other tales of the misguided (think “Chicken Little”), and the garbled misunderstanding of the sort that comes from a game of telephone. In the end, the mosquito is just looking for an honest answer. Two other tales bring to life folklore that has often been overlooked in favor of more Eurocentric fables. Iguanas and pythons exist side by side with crows, monkeys and a very powerful owl. In “A Story, A Story,” Ananse (often spelled Anansi), we learn how one of the more familiar figures in African fables came to be the star of so many stories. Ananse covets the stories of the sky king and carries out Herculean feats to win them. “Mosquitoes” is colorful enough to hold a child’s attention and encourages memory. There is a soothing and literary rhythm to these stories, and there are valuable messages about not believing gossip and the triumph of wit over strength. Sylvia says: B+. Soothing more than stimulating; a nice bedtime choice for younger children. May be too slow for ages 7 and up. The bonus DVD features are not exceptional, but the two extra stories make up for the lack of innovation. In fact, my favorite story is the lovely look at West African life and culture in The Village of Round and Square Houses.
LASSIE: THE 50TH TELEVISION ANNIVERSARY EDITION, rated G, September 2004, $29.98 DVD; ages 3 and up. Today’s kids may recognize Lassie from General Electric commercials, but they should know she is a real television heroine. This is defiantly a collector’s item and an intergenerational program. Most of us remember what to expect from a Lassie story: Trouble comes, someone says, “What is it, girl?” and Lassie saves the day after someone miraculously understands her canine message. Over the years, the trouble has been everything from a cougar to going blind to finding an abandoned child to the infamous Timmy-fell-down-the-well drama. Somehow, it still works, and “Lassie: The 50th Television Anniversary Edition” is a beautiful use of the DVD format. It comes with a 24-page booklet that explains how “movies made Lassie a star, but television made her a legend” and much more. Its three discs include episodes I recall from my childhood, others from before I was born and, I must admit, episodes that I did not have time to watch. It is nearly nine hours of material. | Sylvia Says: A. Twenty-four episodes spanning from the 1950s to the 1970s make this a lot of entertainment for the money.
Sylvia M. Ewing is a mom and a writer. She also is a producer at WBEZ Chicago Public Radio.