I like February. It’s the month in which my son was born and I’m ever optimistic that spring is just around the corner. But right now, baby, it’s cold outside, so it’s time to heat up the heart of winter with this month’s video selections.
My suggestions for your viewing pleasure include a beautiful commune with nature in "The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill," and a favorite tune come to life in "The Wheels on the Bus." Plus, the romance-inspired heroics of video game hero "Viewtiful Joe." And just in time for Black History Month, I hope you make a new DVD about the life of Martin Luther King Jr. and other notables part of your video library.
THE WHEELS ON THE BUS AND MORE SING- ALONG FAVORITES, not rated, 2005, $9.95 VHS, $14.95 DVD; ages 3-5.
Yes, we all know that the wheels on the bus go round and round. The driver, the babies and so on and so forth. We learned that about the time we heard the fate of the itsy-bitsy spider. But the Scholastic treatment of this chant/movement song opens a new door to the senses. This version comes from a gorgeous book by Paul Zelinsky, and the lyrics come alive in vibrant color and vivid animation. I don’t think kids will really care that the musical score in "Wheels on the Bus" is done by the Bacon Brothers, including the most famous brother, the actor, Kevin. But it is hard for anyone under 8 to resist the way these babies go, "Waah, waah, waah!"
Other selections on this video include Burl Ives singing his classic "I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly," and a really clever take on "Dem Bones," the old African-American spiritual.
Sylvia says: A all the way, especially for those under 7.
THE WILD PARROTS OF TELEGRAPH HILL, rated G, 2004, $26.95 DVD; ages 7-14.
A movie where animals take on the personalities of people with complex relationships? Is it "March of the Penguins"? Why, no. "March of the Penguins" is a wonderful movie, but it can be challenging and even frightening for younger viewers. Like I said, it’s cold outside, so we will go to a warmer climate with "The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill."
We have a front row seat as these beautiful birds swoop and soar, squabble and care for each other against the stunning backdrop of San Francisco. The narrator, Mark Bittner, is kind of a hippie, a loner who is nonetheless warm and obviously intelligent. Grown-ups: Put aside your opinions about the narrator’s career path, and just let the story of these wonderful birds take you in. Picasso, Connor and the other parrots are personable and unforgettable.
Beware: This is a circle of life story, and a couple of the birds die. There is a fuzzy picture of a falcon with his prey in his clutches, but this is still easier for younger viewers to handle than some of the more intense scenes from "March of the Penguins."
Sylvia says: A. A beautiful film that will warm the soul.
VIEWTIFUL JOE, not rated, 2005, $19.98, DVD; ages 8-14.
Joe is a distracted boyfriend who is besotted with action movies until a real adventure comes along. OK, like so many productions these days, "Viewtiful Joe" is based on a video game, but I think it is really a clever story and you don’t need to love games to enjoy it (although loving video games helps).
Joe is a Jughead for a new age, not interested in much except chilling out, despite all the efforts of Silvia, his adoring girlfriend, to capture his attention. Silvia, sick of competing with fictional hero Capt. Blue for Joe’s attention, is ready to break it off. Before she does, she is kidnapped by a movie villain and Joe sets out to save her. Along the way, Joe meets Capt. Blue, a good guy who is past his prime.
Predictably, Joe ultimately realizes how important Silvia is to him and faces the limits of his hero’s powers and the growth of his own. The action is exciting but not gory, and the dialogue includes funny double entendres and lots of slang. Some of the Japanese animators’ attempts at being hip don’t translate well, but that actually adds to the humor.
Sylvia says: B for Batman-and-Robin type action and romance—of the campy Adam West variety.
MARTIN’S BIG WORDS ... AND MORE STORIES FROM THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN TRADITION, not rated, 2005, $9.95 VHS, $14.95 DVD; ages 5-9.
This is a wonderful addition to your video library any time of year, but it’s especially appropriate to help celebrate Black History Month. Scholastic is a seal of approval for me, and this DVD does not disappoint. "Martin’s Big Words" is an accessible yet accurate introduction to Martin Luther King Jr. based on the Caldecott award-winning book by Doreen Rappaport. Plus, the other stories honor heroes from John Henry to Ella Fitzgerald. This is a beautiful collection from start to finish.
Sylvia says: An A+ opportunity to learn about your own history or the history of another culture, and an excellent piece of entertainment.
Sylvia M. Ewing is a mom and a writer. She also is a producer at WBEZ Chicago Public Radio.