I had the strangest feeling watching this month’s selections. “Popeye’s Voyage: The Quest for Pappy” brought back memories of my childhood, when I asked my mom for absolutely horrid canned spinach so I could be strong like Popeye.
Today, Popeye’s bad grammar and Olive Oyl’s longing for marriage are far from politically in vogue, and I eat fresh baby spinach that has been washed three times and packaged for my convenience. Every now and then you just have to put aside the internal censor and take it all in with the fresh eyes of a child.
Each featured selection this month is one that you can appreciate with young viewers, and two of the four have exceptional extra features. So whether you give them as a gift or bring them home as a special treat, try to put aside your grown-up point of view for once and just enjoy.
POPEYE’S VOYAGE: THE QUEST FOR PAPPY, not rated, 2004, $14.98 VHS, $19.98, DVD rated; ages 5 and up.
Popeye is a guy who knows how to turn a phrase. Consider this little gem: “I don’t appreciate Bluto appreciating Olive, with me sitting right here getting no appreciation.” Does it get any clearer than that? But he also can be the kind father who tells his adopted son, Swee’Pea, to “use your big boy words and say, ‘Poppa.’ ”
This combination of old and new attitudes is at the heart of “Popeye’s Voyage: The Quest for Pappy,” in which a nightmare sends Popeye back in time to save the father who rejected him as a child. It is the holiday season, so Olive Oyl and Swee’Pea come along. A burger-loving Wimpy plays stowaway, drawn by the scent of a stash of food. First mate Bluto is not happy about bringing along landlubbers, but they set sail anyway (with a song, of course). Unfortunately, when they find the senior sailor, he is not happy to see his son, and scolds him for arriving “with a trunk full of crumbs and a fat guy.” A scowling Pappy makes Swee’Pea cry, Popeye is rejected again and Olive Oyl is put under a spell by the same villain who made Pappy so cruel toward Popeye.
“Popeye’s Voyage: The Quest for Pappy” can be a new holiday classic that people of different beliefs can enjoy year-round. Lots of talent is on board, including Kathy Bates, Paul Reiser of “Mad About You,” Billy West of “Ren and Stimpy” and music by Mark Mothersbaugh (the former Devo member who now does the music for Rugrats and those Wes Anderson movies my 18-year-old likes so much).
Sylvia says: aye aye, an A. Bluto’s wisecracking bravado and the mangled mumblings of Popeye are familiar, but the way both men treat Swee’Pea is a lovely look at how males can be tough and tender at the same time.
THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS, not rated, 2004, DVD $19.95; ages 4-8.
This Scholastic DVD release is true to the book, but the story is enhanced by some terrific stop-motion animation. The hijinks of Toad and his quest for motion keep the story moving. He’s happy to take to the highway in a horse-drawn cart with friends Rat and Mole, until they are run off by a roadster. Toad switches allegiance to this new form of travel, with disastrous results.
Meanwhile, Mole almost meets with chaos when he sets off alone to Badger’s house, and Rat (one of the few noble characters of his kind) saves him in the Wild Woods. This feature also breaks out into song every now and then, and there is a delightful duck ballet that manages to enchant without words. This is not a high-energy tale, but a selection that can be watched as your little ones settle down. Sylvia says: B. A warm tale for a winter day.
DISNEY’S PRINCESS PARTY, Volume 1, rated G, 2004, $19.99 DVD only; ages 3-10. A royal gathering takes place as Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, Cinderella, Mulan, Pocahontas and Snow White come together to sing a special number in the three titles that make up the Disney Princess Collection. OK, grown-ups, time to suspend disbelief and get on board the party train. I decided to review “Princess Party” because it’s a goodie bag of entertainment. The DVD has tips on fun activities such as making a tiara, background music fit for little queens and great interactive games. Avery, almost 4, was visiting and helped me review this feature. She wasn’t so interested in the special features—she’s a bit young—but she loved the music and stories. Mrs. Potts is the focus of a story involving the rest of the gang from “Beauty and the Beast,” who must work together to cheer her up. In another story, Ariel’s curiosity about humans leads to an encounter with a sea monster. The beast and the monster are pretty softened, so younger or more timid viewers won’t be afraid. On the other hand, the older kids may enjoy taking the DVD over to the computer, where they can play many of the games included. Sylvia says: a big B, interactive games that don’t involve violence rate high points. ELF, rated PG, 2004, $22.99 VHS, $29.95 DVD; ages 7 and up. This is another story about the search for a missing father who’s not too happy to see his son. Will Ferrell stars as Buddy the Elf, who goes to New York to meet his dad after learning that he’s really Buddy the Human. The message here is one of (nonsectarian) faith and family. The film is all Santa, all the time, but without overdoing commercialism. I think this movie works because of the believable wide-eyed innocence of Ferrell and great performances by a great cast. Ed Asner, Bob Newhart, Mary Steenburgen and James Caan are great, but young Daniel Tay (as Buddy’s brother) and Zooey Deschanel (as his fellow store elf) play their roles with a hint of sadness that I found to be really touching. Beyond all that, the DVD works because it has what my son calls “really dope” special features; it has tons of supplemental material for all ages. There is a just-rowdy-enough game that mimics the movie’s snowball fight in Central Park, a ski race game and Elf karaoke. Young film buffs can learn about the editing process, and the DVD-ROM content lets you make your own stories and holiday book. Sylvia says: A. Sweet performances and special features make for year-round fun.
Sylvia M. Ewing is a mom and a writer. She also is a producer at WBEZ Chicago Public Radio.