These A+ movies will entertain, educate

Video - October 2005


Sylvia Ewing

I know this is the month when many families celebrate Halloween with parties and trick-or-treating, and I do have a video suggestion for the spooky season—a how-to make-up guide from two Hollywood experts just in time for the local costume contest.

But I also have DVDs to take your family far beyond the pumpkin patch, such as a field trip to the planets and an extraterrestrial search for cheese with Wallace and Gromit. All rate an A+. These are sweet treats you don’t want to miss.

FIELD TRIP TO THE PLANETS, rated G, 2005, $14.98 DVD; ages 3-8.

This is a great production on every level. The story is about Jake, a boy who loves everything about astronomy, in the passionate way young children have. (I’m sure you know a little one who’s crazy about dinosaurs, or bugs.)

He misses a field trip to the planetarium and is bummed out. This is important because Jake is a boy who is allowed to show emotion. He cries; his mom acknowledges his feelings but can’t fix everything. The young actor is cute and real and does not come off as unrealistically hyper-precocious for the sake of cheap laughs.

That night, magic occurs. Jake takes off, and before you know it, he’s saying goodbye to Earth and hello to a personal visit to the solar system.

Mercury brags about being first and teases Venus for having gas. Uranus hates being far from the sun, but at least he has Neptune and Pluto to keep him company. Those three complain about being the last planets and beg for hot chocolate and soup to warm them. One of the best visuals comes from watching this trio blow cold air to cool Jake’s space ship.

"Field Trip to the Planets" makes astronomy accessible to kids of all ages. It is a great example of what "edutainment"—an over-used but rarely realized term—should be. Younger viewers will love the visuals and can memorize the planet song. Older kids will have basic facts about the planets reinforced.

Sylvia says: A+. You’ll enjoy singing the planet song. Remember, Earth is No. 3, home is what she’ll always be. Watch it together, then watch the stars and look for Mars.

WALLACE & GROMIT IN THREE AMAZING ADVENTURES, not rated, 2005, $19.99 DVD; all ages.

If you don’t know the work of Nick Park, here is your chance. This DVD has a trio of stories. All three are filled with whimsy and fun.

Wallace and Gromit are friends in the same vein as Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad. Wallace is an inventor with gadgets that do everything from dress him to butter his toast. His dog, Gromit, is silent and efficient while Wallace has his head in the clouds thinking up new inventions and luxuriating in his favorite snack, cheese and crackers.

In "A Grand Day Out," Wallace’s search for cheese takes them to the moon. Check out the mean bulldog in "A Close Shave," and pay attention to the penguin in "The Wrong Trousers." Only Gromit can see the villainous creature wants to use Wallace’s automated trousers to pull off a robbery.

Sylvia says: A+. You care, you laugh, you are taken to another world. If our lives are graced with friends like Gromit, we should consider ourselves lucky.

MAKING-UP FACES: A GUIDE TO FANTASTIC FANTASY FACES, not rated, 2005, $26 VHS and DVD; ages 5-14.

Brian D. Furer is a professional make-up artist who shows how to take face painting to another level. He makes great faces worthy of a horror flick or fantasy film, just in time for Halloween.

My daughter loves Halloween. Since she was a bumble bee at age 4, she has been the type of kid who spends 10 months of the year planning her costume. If you are a Halloween fan, too, you’ll love this video. But "Making-Up Faces" can also be used for theater camp, slumber parties and more.

This DVD is hosted by DJ Colbert, who claims a master’s degree in metaphysical science and does body art. She also owns an Internet site called Prosperity Corner (, which sells metaphysical items and has a psychic hot line. But don’t let that stop you. This is a video you will want in your collection.

I have done my share of "face painting" butterflies on the cheek. "Making-Up Faces" opens a new realm to make someone look like the cats from "Cats," or not just a clown, but a Glam Clown. My teenage son enjoyed learning to create werewolf and Frankenstein faces. The producers, who say they have worked on the movies "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "Pearl Harbor" and the TV show "Lost," tell you what to do and what supplies you need to do it.

It’s fun to watch how faces get transformed while helping younger viewers understand how scary characters are created and helping older kids get creative.

Sylvia says A+. Younger kids will enjoy watching but can’t really do the faces. Older kids should do fine and the supplies should be easy to find. If you see a 40-something woman in the market rocking a Glam Clown look with a 4-year-old girl wearing pixie ears and a glitter face, it just might be me and my niece Avery.

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

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