August 17, 2006


 "The Barnyard"

What could be more relaxing on a hot summer day than a bag of buttery popcorn, a cold soda, and a fun movie?  As long as you are seeing "The Barnyard," the answer is nothing. Kevin James voices Otis the Cow in this animated movie about how a single animal can make a difference in many lives. "The Barnyard" is about farm animals who try to live life to the fullest. You can tell from the very start that Otis the Cow is very irresponsible and spontaneous. When coyotes kill his father, Ben (voiced by Sam Elliott), Otis must learn how to step up and be a leader. During the course of "The Barnyard," Otis falls in love with a pregnant cow named Daisy (Courteney Cox Arquette), who helps him gain the courage he needs. Toward the end of the movie, Otis is too overwhelmed by all of the pressure he is feeling, so he decides to pack his bags and leave the farm. At this point, he learns that the coyotes captured his friend, Maddie, a baby chick. Otis immediately drops everything he is doing and runs off to get even with the pack of coyotes that killed his dad and are threatening to harm all of his friends.  My favorite part of "The Barnyard" was when all of the animals got together for a big dance party. Some of the horses did a tap dancing act, imitating Michael Flatley and company. It's also funny when Otis imitates the mailman behind his back, when Otis's cell phone rings (complete with a "Hello Moto" ring tone) in the middle of an important barnyard meeting, and when the pizza delivery man makes a visit to Farmer Brown's animals. But that's not all-"The Barnyard" is full of many more fun moments. During the course of the movie, I felt happy, sad, angry and every emotion in between. "The Barnyard" has a powerful message. I gave this movie an A- because it came complete with funny parts that had me in stitches, and emotional parts, like when Ben died. My mom gave "The Barnyard" an A- because she thought it included everything that a good movie should have, and it had a good life lesson about accepting responsibility. I would recommend "The Barnyard" to all children ages 6 and over, but younger kids would enjoy it, too, if they can handle the death of Otis' dad.

Allie Sakowicz, 12, Park Ridge

"The Barnyard" opened Aug. 4 and is rated PG. It is classified as an Animation/Comedy/Family movie. It runs 1 hour and 23 minutes. Check your local newspaper for times and theaters near you.

 "Schooled" Unless you're a die-hard Jesse McCartney fan, or enjoy half-hour ads masquerading as TV programs, you'll probably want to skip tonight's ABC Family show "Schooled." It's scheduled to air at 6 p.m. CST, and will soon be available at

OfficeMax partnered with DDB Chicago, Hollywood Records and others to create what amounts to an infomercial. It relies on the trendy "practical joke" formula and makes no secret of its goal: painting OfficeMax as a cool place to buy back-to-school supplies.

In the show, a group of recently graduated eighth-graders are called back to Tuckahoe Middle School in Eastchester, N.Y.-just northeast of Manhattan-and told that despite having received their diplomas, they still will need to pass a new set of oral and written exams to move on to high school. If they don't pass, they will be funneled into grade 8 ½.

In reality, the whole thing is a prank set up by OfficeMax and the show's other creators. The school has been outfitted with hidden cameras and microphones to record the students' often-amusing, sometimes pathetic and occasionally profound responses to the oral questions delivered by actors posing as testers. One student is asked what three things he would take to the planet Pluto. Another is told to demonstrate the "stop, drop and roll" technique repeatedly.

The prank's payoff for students: A surprise private performance by Jesse McCartney in the school's gym, which begins just as the students are told to begin working on an enormous written exam. The payoff for the school: Tens of thousands of dollars in school supplies donated by OfficeMax, including everything from pencils and Post-its to computer printers and overhead projectors.

The program is not without its redeeming moments. The fake testers' dry deliveries of preposterous oral questions are funny. Principal Carl Albano's explanation of the effects of recent budget cuts-a factor in his decision to participate in the ruse, and thus gain a concert for students and supplies for the school-can make for a "teachable moment" about school financing, although that's a stretch. And Jesse McCartney fans will enjoy watching this preteen girl's fantasy come true; my 8-year-old daughter was riveted, even if the hoax details weren't entirely clear to her. (My 10- and 11-year-old sons, though, were as indifferent to McCartney's croonings as the bored-looking male students featured in the show.)

But the program's conclusion, in which the students race giddily through OfficeMax, filling carts with items being donated to their alma mater, left me a bit nauseous at the sheer commercialism of the venture. In the end, it is young consumers-and the adults who fund their school supplies-who potentially get "schooled" by this show. Jennifer Halperin

"Schooled." 6 p.m. Aug. 17. ABC Family. Check your local listings for channel information. Trailer is currently available on DVD will be available at Office Max in September.

 "Princess Natasha: Cloning Around"

If you are thinking about buying the new "Princess Natasha" book or DVD that was released Aug. 15, think again. The main problem with this story, based on the AOL Kid's Only Internet series, is its weak plot line. The characters' voices are all satisfactory in the DVD, and so is the animation, but the story is very boring and develops at a slow pace.

Natasha is the 14-year-old princess of Zoravia. Her evil uncle, Lubek is attempting to take Zoravia from her parents, King Carl and Queen Lena. Currently, Lubek is in Fountain Park, Ill., posing as the principal of a school. The King and Queen send Natasha to spy on him. She pretends to be a foreign exchange student and moves in with the O'Brien family, who have no idea she is a princess. Natasha and her 38-year-old sidekick, Oleg, try to locate Lubek in Illinois to stop him from taking over the throne. Natasha and Oleg both pretend to be 7th graders.

The plot sounded interesting to me at first, but don't be fooled. This book and DVD are a waste of money. One of the things that bothered me the most was this: "Princess Natasha" is marketed to 6- to 10-year-olds, but the character is actually 14 (even though her voice sounds like a 7-year-old's.) I think girls older than 8 would enjoy "Princess Natasha" more because they would understand the humor-younger children won't care for it at all.

The book, "Princess Natasha: Cloning Around" is the first in a series. The author uses a lot of hard words that might be difficult for 6- to 10-year-olds to understand.  If you do buy the book, parents should read along with their kids. The DVD includes all of the episodes from the first Web season, plus an exclusive episode. Season two is available now on AOL's Kids Only Feature. Keyword: KOL.   I wasn't the only person disappointed by "Princess Natasha." My mom thinks it's the worst children's book she has ever read-the plot line is lame and repetitious. It insults readers with vulgar antics (like jokes about nose-picking and booger-eating) and gives them nothing positive to think about. My 14-year-old friend, Katie, gave it a C- because it was boring. Katie also said that it reminded her of Disney's "Kim Possible" series. Katie's mom, Carrie, gave "Princess Natasha" a D+ because it was silly and immature. My brother's 9-year-old friend, Tyler, said this series is definitely for girls only. He gave it a C. I gave Princess Natasha a D- because I thought it lacked the intelligence to keep me interested. Allie Sakowicz, 12, Park Ridge

Kids Eat Chicago

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