This month I am reminded of how old concepts can become fresh again. Remember the stop-motion animation from "Frosty the Snowman" and "Gumby"?
Well, "Bob the Builder" has the same charming look. That story and this month's other selections are linked by similarities to an earlier era.
But first, congratulations to 10-year-old Allie Sakowicz of Park Ridge. Her mom, Catherine, suggested that she read this column as part of her research on the difference between a review and a report and Allie's book review was selected to appear in the Chicago Tribune in a special feature in August. I can't promise everyone a prize like that, but I can offer this month's video selections along with an extra tip-everything old is new again but newer isn't always better.
SNOWED UNDER: THE BOBBLESBERG WINTER GAMES, rated G, September 2004, $9.99 VHS, 14.99 DVD; 2-8.
Can we do it? Yes we can! That is the motto of Bob the Builder and his friends. Bob and his team continue to demonstrate how "cooperation makes it happen," to quote a song from "Sesame Street."
This time, a new friend named Benny joins Bob, Wendy and the crew of helpful machines. Their mission in "Snowed Under" is to travel to Bobblesberg to build a sort of Olympic village for the mayor and other dignitaries. Their assignment changes when a serious snowstorm sidetracks other machines. Our heroes save the day while having adventures that both boys and girls will enjoy. I don't want to see snow until well after all of the Halloween candy is eaten, but my young friends enjoyed the adventure and so did I.
Sylvia says: A for another adventure that is fun and preschool friendly.
THE BEST OF BEAKMAN'S WORLD, rated G, September 2004, $9.95 DVD; ages 7 and up.
This show was on television in the mid-1990s and deserves to live on in your video library. It follows the tradition of early science shows such as "Watch Mr. Wizard," but is much more inventive. Beakman's world is engaging and filled with colorful characters. Reviewing Beakman is pure pleasure. It is full of facts and figures and answers to science trivia, from the length of the veins and arteries in your body, to why the sky is blue.
This info makes an impression and provides the kind of know-it-all trivia that 'tweens thrive on. The 15 experiments could be used at science fair time for younger students. My son, Matthew, watched this DVD several times. He reenacted an experiment using a playing card to keep an upside-down glass of water from spilling. When I exclaimed "great trick," he answered with an air of superiority, "That's no trick, it's science." This program really does make learning fun. It is not available on VHS but the DVD price is right.
Maybe it's just me, but Beakman, Josie and Lester the Rat have accents that sound like a weird combination of Mayor Daley and the Sopranos. More sophisticated sound comes from two penguins named Herb and Don. They are watching the show on a TV set in some polar region and are the equivalent of hecklers in the cheap seats. They are clearly patterned after the crusty curmudgeon who cracked wise from the balcony on the Muppet Show. Sylvia says: A+ and, by the way, our veins and arteries would go around the earth 2½ times if stretched end to end.
GODZILLA THE SERIES: THE MONSTER WARS TRILOGY, not rated, August 2004, $14.95 DVD; ages 7 and up.
As I said, everything old is new again but new isn't always better. Godzilla seems to have a persona to fit every generation.
This is one version of the story I could do without. I was looking forward to reviewing "Godzilla the Series: The Monster Wars Trilogy." After all Godzilla is celebrating 50 years of action and adventure in 2004. Plus, I thought the monster from the past would be fun to watch as Halloween approaches.
But this Godzilla is like a performer who knows all the right moves but is still a terrible dancer. It features the right cool characters, and the look and tone is similar to the early Ghostbusters or Batman urban cartoons. It is even a bit like Captain Planet with its Ecological team. But the three stories are chaotic and ultimately boring. Perhaps it worked on TV when it ran on the Fox Family Channel but I say it misses the mark here.
Sylvia says: C-. Serious fans may want this DVD as a collector's item but it's a poor way to meet Godzilla or celebrate his 50th birthday.
Sylvia M. Ewing is a mom and writer. She also produces Eight Forty Eight on WBEZ Chicago Public Radio.