Something old, something new

Video - April 2005


Sylvia Ewing


Every time I hear a classic song in a commercial or as a cover tune, I am reminded that the entertainment world is full of imitations and strange re-workings of original material. Movies are a prime example—they recycle everything to come up with something that’s sort of new, but rarely better.

Not to worry, though. I have here some instances where things do go well. This month’s selections also include a couple of originals that can’t be topped by imitators. I am talking about the one and only Mister Rogers and the original duo of Chip ’n’ Dale. I think that the other titles, Russell Simmons’ Higher Self presentation of “The HistoryMakers on Success” and Jim Henson’s “The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss,” show that great things can come from the right partnerships and new perspective.

And so, as we enter into the season of renewal, I wish you a happy spring and happy viewing.

MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD—ADVENTURES IN FRIENDSHIP, not rated, April 12, 2005, $12.98 VHS, $16.98 DVD; ages 2-8.

The legacy of the man with whom so many grew up continues with the first DVD release of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” No one before and no one since has captured his unique blend of gentle friendship and willingness to talk about challenging issues. It is lovely to be able to bring this sweet man and his positive messages to your living room whenever you need an escape from the commercial world or advice from an older relative. The late Fred Rogers was truly a partner in parenting. His program provided a calm, old-fashioned presence, but always managed to be inclusive, respectful and diverse.

“Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood—Adventures in Friendship” will be familiar to anyone who knows his PBS program. I don’t know how they selected the two episodes on this DVD from the 900 original shows that were aired over almost 40 years. But they are typical “Mister Rogers” fare, with life lessons on cooperation and kindness presented with a kind of field-trip sensibility. In “When Friends Fight,” Mister Rogers visits a musician friend who plays a Ukrainian lullaby and also gives tips on how to eat at a restaurant. An episode titled “Love” focuses on the land of make-believe and provides the message that even when parents feel sad or angry, love remains.

The DVD also has bonus features, such as a trip to the teddy bear factory narrated by Mr. McFeely.

This is one of two releases from the estate of Mister Rogers, and has the blessing of his wife Joanne Rogers.

Sylvia says: A+. Especially valuable for parents looking for videos with a more soothing pace. Includes caregiving tips that are very helpful.  

STARRING CHIP ’N’ DALE, not rated, January 2005, $14.99 DVD; ages 2 and up.

This is classic funny stuff from the vast Disney archives. When my teens were much younger, they watched a different Chip ’n’ Dale in “Chip ’n’ Dale Rescue Rangers,” a 1980s remake that featured the two chipmunks working as private detectives. It was OK, but it seemed like an adult attempt to fix something that wasn’t broken. My opinion was reinforced as I watched 10 clever and engaging stories starring the two chipmunks that give Alvin a run for his money.

This DVD is a reminder of an era when animators did not skimp on quality. The boys engage in a never-ending search-and-store mission, rolling around nuts almost as big as they are. They take time out to court the lovely Clarice, upset Donald Duck and mess around with Pluto. “Starring Chip ’n’ Dale” is one of four “classic Disney” releases. Other titles feature Mickey, Donald and Goofy, but this is my favorite.

Sylvia says: B+. The little creatures’ antics are cute, but sometimes the chipmunk voices are a bit much for adult ears. THE WUBBULOUS WORLD OF DR. SEUSS: THE CAT’S PLAY PALS, not rated, January 2005, $9.95 VHS, $9.95 DVD; ages 2-4.

Dr. Seuss’ work really deserves better treatment than it received in the creepy—and not very child-friendly—big-screen version of “The Cat in the Hat.” I am please to note that “The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss” does a much better job at translating the magic from page to screen. This is an example of a partnership that works. Jim Henson’s shop seems right at home with “The Song of the Zubble-Wump.” This is the story of a little girl’s strange egg, which ends with an important lesson about sharing; it also features an appearance by the Grinch. The other two episodes have sweet stories, but the real appeal lies in the rhymes and the fuzzy, furry, colorful characters saying them.

This is a great way to boost a child’s vocabulary—in English and Seuss-talk—and reinforce reading by bringing favorite characters to life.

Sylvia says: A. Seuss has lots to say in a funny, rhyming way.  

THE HISTORYMAKERS ON SUCCESS, not rated, February 2005, $19.99 DVD; ages 9-14.

This DVD is one of four that comes from collaboration between hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons and the Chicago-based oral history archive the HistoryMakers. If you believe that learning about people left out of the history books is a year-round pursuit or if you just want entertaining and positive stories for your young adults, you’ll love this DVD. Here is a chance to learn more about contemporary African Americans in a format that is engaging and highly entertaining—a chance for inspiration from individuals who have made a positive difference in the world despite challenges and adversity.

The series is hosted by James Avery of “Fresh Prince” fame. It uses personal narratives and interviews to tell the stories of people such as photographer Gordon Parks, the late actor and activist Ossie Davis and singer Isaac Hayes (in a way his “South Park” fans have never seen him). The series has two other titles: “The HistoryMakers on Faith” and “The HistoryMakers on Courage.”

Sylvia says: A+. A wonderful way to bring these stories into your home and a great educational resource. 

Sylvia Ewing is a mom and a writer. She also is a producer at WBEZ Chicago Public Radio.

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