This month’s video selections offer a chance to take a march down memory lane while we await the arrival of spring. Turn on the fun with "The Best of The Electric Company," "A Shirley Temple Collection" and the story of a local landmark that has entertained five generations of Chicago families.
THE BEST OF THE ELECTRIC COMPANY, not rated, 2006, $49.98 DVD; ages 6-14.
If you already know about "The Electric Company," you are as happy as I am about the release of this DVD. If you are unfamiliar with the ground-breaking TV show, I’m happy to turn you on and, as they say on the show, bring you the power.
This was a series created by the nonprofit Children’s Television Workshop, the same group that brings us "Sesame Street." So you know you can expect quality, educational programming that teaches kids their ABCs and 123s. But "The Electric Company" is so much more. And this boxed set brings it home to you with more than 10 hours of programs.
This is a window into a world in which top actors and resources were called upon to teach children. You can see a younger, hipper Morgan Freeman, Bill Cosby and Rita Moreno, and hear the voices or see cameos of Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks and a pre-plastic surgery Joan Rivers. Twenty episodes capture the ensemble cast and regular characters such as Letterman, Easy Reader and J. Arthur Crank.
But this is also a window into the world of the 1970s, a time when diversity was more than a buzz word—there are lots of Afros and Farrah Fawcette-esque hair. The production values are fantastic—today we rarely see this combination of live action, sketch comedy and well-known characters such as Spider-Man coming together in one program.
Sylvia says: A+. Put your pennies together for this one. It’s worth the price.
SHIRLEY TEMPLE COLLECTION VOLUME 2, not rated, 2005, $29.98 DVD; all ages.
While I’m taking you down memory lane, we might as well go back even further in time with America’s original sweetheart in "The Shirley Temple Collection." This collection has three stories: "Baby Takes a Bow," "Bright Eyes" and "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm."
My favorite is "Baby Takes a Bow." Shirley plays detective to solve a mystery and prove her father innocent of a crime.
But the most famous song, "On the Good Ship Lollipop," is found on "Bright Eyes."
"Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm" is the most song-and-dance driven of the trio and includes a historic duet with the original Mr. Bojangles, Bill Robinson.
It’s kind of interesting that these stories are offered in both the original black-and-white and in re-mixed color versions. There was a backlash a few years ago over bringing color to the old classics but it doesn’t seem to make a big difference here.
Sylvia says: A. Sweet and simple family entertainment. The concepts and sensibilities are a bit outdated but Shirley Temple’s talent is timeless.
THE GREAT TRAIN STORY, not rated, 2006, $9.95 VHS, $12.95 DVD, available only at (800) 892-2822, www.tmbv.com and the gift shop at the Museum of Science and Industry; ages 7-12.
The subject of this release—the model train exhibit at the terrific Museum of Science and Industry—will mine memories for anyone who paid a childhood visit to the Hyde Park institution.
The museum’s classic train exhibit has been around for five generations, but this video from the same people who produce the toddler-friendly "I Love Toy Trains" series, is about the new exhibit, created in 2002. The statistics are impressive—35 trains and more than 500 HO-scale buildings. The production is a mix of real trains and scenery and the miniature world depicted in the model railroad display.
It all adds up to a DVD that is a bit of a hybrid. At its core, it is the detailed story of one of the museum’s signature exhibits. But "The Great Train Story" is also part PBS documentary and part travelogue.
The train travels between Chicago, Seattle and Washington in a colorful (if not always accurate) route with landmarks along the way such as Union Station, the Sears Tower and Seattle’s Space Needle.
The video does a good job explaining freight hauling as well as depicting the motion and romance of the rails that train lovers expect. There is also an overview of the Chicago Transit Authority and Metra trains that suburbanites and other visitors will appreciate.
In some ways this video tries to do too much and gets too detailed—naming the freight trains and designs, for example. But it is not what I had feared—a big commercial for the Museum of Science and Industry. It’s much more than that and will be fun for train lovers ages 2 to 102.
Sylvia says: B. An educational and fun keepsake.
Sylvia M. Ewing is a mom and a writer. She also is a producer at WBEZ Chicago Public Radio.