May 4, 2006


 “The Jungle Book”

The whole audience becomes part of the Seeonee wolf pack at Emerald City Theatre’s “The Jungle Book,” and the wolf pups I took to see the show gave the performance a howl of approval.

But don’t come to the show expecting the bubblegum pop tunes from the animated Disney film, or you’ll be disappointed. The story takes place in India, so songs, dances and costumes have a much more cultural feel.

The hour-long play recreates the classic Rudyard Kipling story of Mowgli, a human baby who is abandoned in the jungle only to be adopted by a pack of wolves. With a bear named Baloo for a teacher and a panther named Bagheera for a friend, Mowgli explores and learns the jungle law.

But his childhood isn’t completely carefree. A tiger named Shere Kahn, the jungle villain, is after the “man cub” in hopes of a tasty snack. Bagheera sends Mowgli to the “man village” to bring back fire, which Mowgli ultimately uses to scare the tiger away.

The kids were on the edges of their seats throughout the fight scene, and the bittersweet ending made my young friend, Kate, 8, cry. “I was sad because Mowgli had to leave the tribe,” she said.

But the song and dance during the curtain call cheered everyone up again.

Expect a few hilarious run-ins with a group of pink and orange monkeys, the favorite characters of many young audience members. Their goofy voices and floppy bodies made the kids giggle.

Request an aisle or front-row seat if you want to interact with the characters. Six-year-old Alex sat on the end of the first row and Kaa, the huge boa constrictor, burped monkey fur (pink feathers) on him. He rushed to kick the “snake puke” off his chair, but laughed about it afterwards.

The costumes were pretty simple, but still entertaining. The giant puppet snake was the most impressive as he slithered around on the back of actress Star Velazquez. The monkeys were puppets too, and most of the other characters wore hats that resembled the head of their animal.

The show is recommended for ages 5 and up, and with good reason. The loud roars of Shere Kahn and the nighttime hunting scene made some litter ones cry. But the scare was soon forgotten.

There is no intermission and the characters use the aisles to come and go, so make sure everyone uses the bathroom before the hour-long show begins. Bring markers so kids can do the maze and word search on the back of the program while they wait for the show to begin. For the older kids, the post-show autograph session was a highlight. Kate ran all over the set collecting signatures and silly doodles on her program.

On the way home, the kids wanted to go around the car sharing everyone’s favorite parts and commiserating about how mean Shere Kahn was. They were so busy remembering the play they forgot to complain about the traffic. Anne Halliday

"The Jungle Book" is playing at Emerald City Theatre, 2540 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago. 10:15 a.m. Thursday and Friday. 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Call or check Web site for other showtimes. $12, $9 kids 12 and under. (773) 935-6100,


The much anticipated family movie, "HOOT," based on the Carl Hiaasen book of the same name, is worth a look for families with older kids. But leave the little ones with a sitter—there isn’t much here to keep them engaged.

The movie, which opens nationally on May 5, is the story of Roy, a teen whose family has moved to Florida from Montana, and his new friends, who band together to save a bunch of owls.

You don’t have to have read the book to enjoy this movie—in fact, my 8-year-old daughter, who hasn’t read the book, enjoyed it more than I did.

In her mind, the movie was a winner because the owls are cute, the kids are likeable and, in the end, the kids save the day. But I was torn on this one. I couldn’t stop wondering why all the adults had to be such idiots.

When the movie opens, we see Roy trying to cope with his sixth move in eight years. On his first day at his new school, he is attacked by the school bully. He fights back and breaks the guy’s nose.

That was the moment I began to dislike all the adults in the movie. Roy’s parents have no sympathy for their son. They don’t seem to understand what it is like to be the new kid. They don’t understand why he had to stick up for himself. They make him write a letter of apology and seem to think that will be the end of it.

Then the kids hear about a new pancake house going up in town—on land where the owls nest. The developer is too greedy to care about the owls. The policemen are clueless. The mayor only cares about the 12 new jobs the pancake house will create. Not one of the adults notices that the environmental report has been tampered with.

Despite the clueless adults, the movie ultimately is fun. Good triumphs over evil, the Florida scenery is beautiful and seeing singer Jimmy Buffet on the big screen was, well, a hoot. The music, written for the movie by Buffet, is memorable and fun.

And we learn that owls burrow in nests in the ground and that being environmentally friendly is cool. But most of all, we learn that it is important to stand up for what you believe in. Sandi Pedersen


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