Children's video recommendations

For those of you looking for videos for kids, here are some that Hayley likes.

Everyone loves to hate Barney, the big purple dinosaur. He is cloyingly good and nice, has an annoying voice (his sidekicks Baby Bop and BJ are even worse) and a singular lack of imagination in the tunes to the songs he sings.

Despite this, I actually think Barney videos are pretty good. They are aimed at young kids, who don't seem to mind the constant sickly sweetness of the show, and I think kids see plenty of darkness and violence and gloom elsewhere -- there is no need to inject it into every program.

Hayley went through a phase from about a year to 18 months when all she wanted to watch was Barney (I am sure there will be more Barney phases later). She would stand or sit, transfixed, for half an hour, sometimes just watching, sometimes singing and dancing along with them.

Winnie the Pooh
I expected to hate these videos, since I loved the books when I was a child, and I don't like the distortions Disney often introduces. In fact, the videos follow the books almost word-for-word, and the animations are delightful. One of them (Pooh and the Blustery Day) won an Academy Award for best animation.

Hayley switched from Barney to Pooh at about 18 months, and now this is all she wants to watch. The Pooh videos are less involving, so she mainly just watches them, but these were the first things on TV I saw her laugh out loud at. She doesn't seem to tire of them -- she will laugh at the same spots over and over again, and jump at surprises again and again too...

Sesame Street
Hayley has two Sesame Street videos that she likes: The Best of Elmo and The Best of Bert and Ernie. They are both pretty entertaining for adults as well as children; I think Sesame Street does a good job of adding in little things that adults find funny, but that don't disrupt the flow for children. The Elmo video has lots of movie stars like Julia Roberts and Whoopi Goldberg too.
The Snowman
Hayley liked this a fair amount, but Kathy and I really loved it. It uses a strange kind of animation that gives the impression that the frames were (very well) drawn with crayons, making it look much more artistic than normal cartoons. The music is enchanting.
The 101 Dalmations
This is a Disney classic, and a pretty entertaining story. Cruella DeVil's expressions and driving style are wonderful, and the dog-caricatures (e.g., a bluff old hound as the Colonel) are hilarious. Hayley watches it again and again, and sometimes gives us a running commentary on the film.
The Fox and the Hound
Another Disney film, about the friendship of a fox and a hunting dog despite the dog's owner's dislike of the fox. I found it quite an enjoyable cartoon, and Hayley likes it a lot.
Mickey Mouse sing-along tapes
Tapes of kids singing and dancing to popular tunes. The words are given in subtitles, which is probably good for older kids, but obviously doesn't help Hayley much. Hayley loves dancing and singing along to these things. Not something that adults will want to watch, but very entertaining for kids.
The Little Toaster
A cartoon about a bunch of animated appliances that are abandoned in a summer cottage. They decide to go out to look for their master, and have many adventures on the way. Enjoyable for adults too.
The Land Before Time I, II, III
A cartoon series about a herd of dinosaurs of different kinds living together. Very PC. I don't know enough about dinosaurs to know whether the films are historically accurate. At two and a half, Hayley loves the songs; she will play Hip's "When you're big" song over and over again, and dance around to it.
Balto is based on a true story about a half-dog-half-wolf who leads a pack through a blizzard to bring medecine for typhoid to Nome, Alaska. It is heavily anthromorphised, so it is hard to know where reality and imagination separate. For example, I found it interesting that at the end, where they show the statue of Balto (in film, not cartoon), Hayley vociferously denied that that part was real, though I was pretty sure it must be. She is very keen on Balto and Steel, and spends a lot of her time on all fours imitating them.

It is very interesting how children's film makers slip things in to titillate the older audiences... In Balto, there are numerous exchanges between Balto and Boris the goose (Boris Ustinov) that are way beyond her comprehension.

Some of the scenes require substantial explanation, even though she has seen the movie enough to have it practically memorized. For example, early in the film is a scene where Steel and his team are racing down the street. Rosie, an absolutely adorable little girl who has just been given her first sled, is so excited at seeing them coming in the distance that she jumps around and her new hat flies off, to land in the path of the oncoming Steel and his team. The adults are all too busy cheering to see what has happened. Rosie tries to run after the hat, but her dog Jenna wisely stops her. Balto sees what is happening (no way) and runs alongside Steel to get to the hat before he does. Steel snaps at him, but he jumps over the snap and grabs the hat, pulling it to safety. He returns it to Rosie, who is delighted. Rosie's parents are horrified, and pull her away from this unknown dog. Later Rosie's father approaches Balto again, but as he holds out his hand, Steel stamps on Balto's paw to make him growl (again, no way in the world). Rosie's father dismisses Balto as a violent and untrainable dog.

I had to explain all of this in a lot of detail before she understood. She would point out things sometimes, like "X is doing this because he knows that Y thinks this", which is pretty sophisticated, but she often has a hard time understanding what people say when there isn't much context.

Batman and Robin
This is the version with George Clooney as Batman, Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy, Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl, and Schwarzenegger as Freeze. I thought it was pretty good as a translation of the comics, which I remember as being pretty campy. A number of people I know hated with a passion; they are typically younger than I am, so perhaps they read the comics later, when they were less campy.

In any case, what I was concerned about was not the quality, but how violent it would be, since Hayley hasn't seen much violence. Like in Asterix, the violence is very "fake" --- I don't recall anyone dying in the film --- Freeze has a big gun that shoots ice and freezes people, but they all get melted in the end by Batman. Hayley was very concerned about a dog that got frozen, and anxiously waited for it to be unfrozen in that scene :-) I thought it particularly funny that Freeze has just zapped a bunch of policecars, but it was the dog she was worried about. I'm glad to see she has a good sense of priorities :-)

Clooney is as wooden as ever, and Robin is pretty annoying. At least Batman is irritated by Robin, and they spend the whole movie bickering. Catgirl is a computer wizard, and I was impressed to see the first realistic password breaking in any film I have seen (I'd be interested to hear of others). She is trying to break into her uncle Alfred's computer; he is dying. She spends a long time trying different passwords she thinks he might have used; names of relatives, etc. and finally guesses the right one. A little later is another scene where she and Robin are trying to hack some piece of hardware that controls where some satellites (owned by Bruce Wayne, Batman's alter ego). The screen is upside down, and Robin suggests standing upside down or something equally stupid. Batgirl rolls her eyes and hits a few keys to invert the screen (not particularly unlikely that this would be possible). "Men," she sighs. "Always everything the hard way." She then proceeds to make the changes to the program. It was funny that Hayley thought that Robin and Batgirl were both working on the problem, whereas in fact (as I explained to her), she knows more than he does, so she is doing it alone with him as moral support ("what's moral support?", followed by a long diversion).

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Jak Kirman
Last modification : 27 Mar 1996