DVD Roundupby Kevin Krock, staff writer
At one time or another, all three of my young boys have watched some of the Baby Einstein titles, which combine simplified orchestrations of classical music with visually stimulating action images such as puppets, real-world environments, and toys. They are actually pretty good for keeping the attention of babies and toddlers, but beyond those age groups, if you have preschool or elementary school age children like my mine, you'll get some rather strong opposition to the very suggestion of Baby Einstein. Thus, the idea behind Little Einsteins was born.
Expanding on the concept of mixing classical music with art, animation, and real-world imagery, Little Einsteins introduces a team of five animated characters that star in the show. This team, which will remain constant through the TV series and subsequent DVDs, includes two young boys, Quincy and Leo, two young girls, June and Annie, and Rocket, the team's trusty spaceship that takes them around the world to solve a puzzle or mission.
In this first disc, the team must search around the world to help a caterpillar become a butterfly, and then they must help the butterfly find an invitation to his family reunion in Mexico. Throughout the show, children are introduced to classical music by Beethoven, art by Van Gogh, Hokusai, and Monet and several real world stills and video clips, including Niagra Falls, a cattle ranch, a cave, and others. The show also introduces musical concepts, like allegro and adagio, and vocabulary expanding words like chrysalis and metamorphosis. The show is actually pretty cute, and my 4-year-old, who is squarely in the middle of the target audience, enjoyed it quite a bit. My 7-year-old was less enthusiastic, but he hung in there and watched the whole thing without any complaints.
There is not a lot to say about either the audio and video transfers or the user interface. The video transfer is perfectly suitable for the intended audience, and colors and detail look very nice. The audio is equally pleasing but not particularly outstanding. As for the interface, it is child friendly, but not as much as some of the other discs Disney has targeted at preschoolers. For example, a couple of the older Pooh discs have a narrator that explains what each of the menu icons does, but the Little Einsteins disc has textual menus that may be difficult for preschoolers to navigate, if you let them handle the remote. However, the menus do feature plenty of animation, animated transitions, and background audio, and they fit in well with the theme of the disc.
As for the goodies, there are a few of them, and they will mildly entertain your preschoolers for a little while. There is a "Navajo Maze Set-Top Game," in which your child helps the team find their way through a maze made from a Navajo rug. Then, if the opening of the show is not quite enough to figure out who the team members are, there is a "Meet The Team" featurette that is an expansion of the show's intro. Finally, there is a brief Disneypedia program that takes your young viewer on a more in-depth tour through some of the scenes and topics in the show. Finally, there is a small "passport" in the DVD case that has stickers and little activities for your children to work on, and there is a code that they can enter on a website that will allow them to download Little Einsteins stuff. All of these are decent additions to the disc, and they all seem to be on target with my preschool viewer.
Overall, this is a cute disc that extends the Baby Einstein concept to the next child development stage. If you and your preschooler enjoyed the Baby Einstein tapes and DVDs, then this disc will probably play pretty well. The cute animation, educational tidbits, and characters your children can relate to.
For some time now, Disney has been releasing quite a few animated compilation DVDs. Some, such as the Walt Disney Treasures, focus on one character and are very comprehensive and targeted at collectors. Whereas others, such as the Walt Disney Cartoon Classics, have a more focused approach that takes a topic, such as sports, and pulls together several varied Disney animated shorts on that topic. The latter DVDs are shorter in length and have a more general appeal, but as a collector, I prefer the Treasures collections.
With the release of the Timeless Tales series, Disney delves deeper into their vault and puts together several of their classic animated shorts and intermediate length movies (approx. 20 - 40 min) that do not really fit into any of their previous compilation series. These first two discs focus on classic stories, including The Three Little Pigs, The Tortoise and the Hare, The Ugly Duckling, and others. Here are the specifics:
As you can tell, all these titles were animated quite a while ago, but the stories themselves are indeed timeless and well told. For the most part, both my 7-year-old and 4-year-old enjoyed watching these discs.
The unfortunate thing about the age of these shorts, though, is that the video transfers show a lot of the scratches, dust, etc. from the original prints. Also, the colors seem to be a bit washed out, and the end effect is that, while the story is timeless, the animation looks very dated. Granted, while I noticed the all the problems, it did not seem to lessen my boys' enjoyment all that much. As for the audio, it was acceptable, but you just have to keep in mind that there is only so much that can be done with approximately 70-year-old mono soundtracks. Finally, in somewhat stark contrast to the main content, the menus feature modern 3D animation, but they are suitable for the intended use.
Overall, these are pretty decent compilations of Disney's animated adaptations of classic stories. The presentation of the shorts leaves a bit to be desired, particularly for collectors, but for most people and children, these should be fine.