By Jeff Unger, Video Reviewer, PARENTING Magazine - February, 1999
Give 'em a niche, and they'll take a mile. This year's winners demonstrate the increasing range of children's videos, as more top producers and independent filmmakers acknowledge that kids' tastes are as diverse as adults' and target specific audiences with a wide range of offerings. To hail their accomplishments: Parenting's 1998 Video Magic Awards. What distinguishes our picks from the run of the mill is a stellar combination of substance and style - wonderful topics presented with clarity and energy, as well as exemplary music and graphics.
PARENTING picks the following for 1998:
Best Videos for the Extremely Young
Infants will ebb enthralled by a parade of colorful objects, and toddlers by their familiarity - the sorts of items parents (and children) can name aloud. What's more, the simple visuals are accompanied by the music of Mozart in arrangements and instrumentation designed to appeal to youthful ears. (NOT CURRENTLY CARRIED)
Baby's First Impressions: Volume 10 - Food Fun
Kids will get an eyeful of familiar fruits and vegetables, accompanied by zippy rock and roll in this attractive primer on food. Occasionally, the narrator even slips in helpful advice about nutrition and table manners.
Best Minor Motion Pictures
Barney's Great Adventure
In his first full-length movie, Barney and a gang of kids try to find out what has happened to a mysterious egg. The funny, ultimately uplifting story plays out among a group of accomplished young actors and against visually intriguing backdrops. Parents will be glad to hear several original musical numbers.
This spectacularly animated musical about the young Romanov princess who supposedly survived the murder of her family during the Russian Revolution is historical hogwash, but little ones won't care. In addition to the requisite romance and beautifully rendered panoramas of Saint Petersburg and Paris, there's surefire kid-riveting excitement and a gripping showdown between good and evil.
The Education of Little Tree
Children will empathize with Little Tree, a part-Cherokee 8-year-old orphan raised in the backcountry of the spectacularly photographed Great Smoky Mountains. Little Tree deals with the bigotry of neighbors and an awful experience at boarding school - situations sure to hold the interest of young viewers.
Fairytale: A True Story
Based on actual events during World War I, when two English girls claimed to have seen fairies in the woods near this home, this enchanting film focuses on topics of perpetual fascination for youngsters: magic and make-believe. In this movie, exactly what they saw becomes the object of intense national interest in Britain. Although in real life the girls eventually confessed to their hoax, the film leaves the decision up to the viewer.
Best Forays Into the Animal Kingdom
Baby Animals at Uncle Larry's Farm
The producers of this delightful look at baby animals managed to take a seemingly trite subject and create an exceptional cavalcade of critters and innocent charm. The simple songs and plenty of rapidly changing shots of children happily interacting with animals have enormous appeal. (NOT CURRENTLY CARRIED)
The Teddy Bear Factory
Grandpa Bear, a silly puppet, is the perfect host for a visit to a factory where five youngsters learn how teddy bears are made. Enchanting music and a splendid theme song highlight a lovingly produced documentary, sure to enhance children's love of their fuzzy friends.
Amazing Animals: Desert Animals
There are plenty of surprising facts and compelling scenes of desert animals familiar (camels and snakes) and exotic (a fog-collecting beetle and the furry meerkat) in this episode from the first-rate series seen on the Disney Channel. Funny animated interludes break up the shots.
Amazing Insect Warriors
Art Evans, Ph.D., the insect zoo director for the Natural History Museum of Los Angels County, proves to be an excellent guide through the insect world, explaining bug behaviors. He never speaks down to viewers, but turns scientific terms into everyday language. The videography is exceptional.
This fact-filled and only slightly scary documentary stars creatures usually considered frightening, such as cobras, vampire bats, and Komodo dragons. The production lives up to the usual how'd-they-get-that-shot? standards of the National Geographic Television series, and includes plenty of murder and mayhem, albeit animal-style.
In the Company of Whales
Kids may not appreciate the majestic music performed by the Warsaw Philharmonic or the passionate commentary by a marine biologist in this informative documentary about whales, but they're sure to be awestruck by spectacular scenes of the planet's behemoths, shot in 15 locations around the world.
Best for Active Viewing
Pappyland: Volume 1
Dressed like a character from the Old West, Pappy starts each of these two 30-minute episodes by slowly drawing characters who become the lead players in lighthearted adventures. While at work, Pappy urges viewers to create their own illustrations at home. It's unique, creative, and interactive TV that encourages childhood imagination and artistry. (NOT CURRENTLY CARRIED)
Hey, That's My Hay!
As kids learn about the surprisingly arduous process of making hay, they'll also develop an appreciation for another way of life as they watch this video snapshot of daily life on a family farm in Massachusetts. Thoughtfully chosen music enhances the beautifully photographed scenes.
The Big Space Shuttle
Kids who think they know a lot about the space program will be surprised by how much they'll learn from this exciting documentary. While a young girls explains the steps involved in a shuttle launch, a seamless weave of animation, computer-generated graphics, and video supplied by NASA zips by, along with comments from astronauts and other space program experts.
Newton: A Tale of Two Isaacs
This intelligent screenplay about Sir Isaac Newton's battle to convince skeptics of the value of his scientific discoveries emphasizes the importance of perseverance and hard work, although kids may first get drawn into the story by a fictional subplot about a lab assistant more interested in romance than science. (NOT CURRENTLY CARRIED)
The West Point Story
This documentary about the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, NY, is so well done that it's bound to hold the attention of most young viewers, even if they've never expressed any interest in the military. The nearly two-hour tour mixes film footage, photos, and archival interviews of famous former students with interviews of well-known contemporary graduates. Parents will appreciate the history lesson and comments about the importance of education.
Trav's Travels: United States of America
Half an hour isn't enough time to cover the geography of the United States. But you're a squirmy kid, remember? Trav, the video's animated tour guide, hits only the highlights on a whirlwind trip to Cape Canaveral, the Everglades, Washington, DC, and many points in between. Somehow, he manages to mention wildlife, climate, and topography, as top-notch video footage flies by.
Little Bear: Parties and Picnics
All the elements that make the Little Bear series a hit on television - vivid animation, cheerful animal, simple plots, and happy endings - are abundantly evident here. In each of these four tales, Little Bear and the gang get together to share a meal and despite their differences, cooperate to help one another.
Elmo's merely a cute excuse to hold this musical tribute to Sesame Street's first 30 years, but he pops onscreen more than enough to satisfy his adoring audience (along with about every other major character on the show, human or not). The hour-long extravaganza includes performances by Shawn Colvin, the Fugees, and Rosie O'Donnell. Kids may not recognize many of the celebrities, but the music's so good they'll sing along anyway.
D.W., The Picky Eater/Buster and the Daredevils
Arthur, the adorable aardvark star of his eponymous PBS series, uses his wits to get his sister, D.W., to go to a restaurant, even though she hates nearly all the foods. Later, he's put on the spot by bullies who try to demean his friend. Kids will enjoy the constant action and plots based on familiar childhood situations.
Blue's Clues: Story Time
Blue, the animated pup from the Nick Jr. TV series, poses simple puzzles for viewers to solve, thereby separating this video from other kiddie fare. Children will have a ball learning important skills, such as recognizing different points of view and the value of relationships.
Best Book-to-Video Transition
Uncle Wiggily and the Pumpkin
Although a jack-o'-lantern figures prominently, this animated tale is more than a seasonal story. The plot, taken from the classic storybook about a rabbit and his screwy mishaps with a pumpkin, is great good-natures fun. Jazzy music and original illustrations add to the old-fashioned feel.
Most Likely to Inspire the Wearing of Tutus
Nutcracker: The Untold Story
The Minnesota Orchestra's fantastic production of the famous ballet uniquely blends live-action dance with bold illustrations from Maurice Sendak's Nutcracker book. An extra perk: shots of the orchestra performing the familiar Tchaikovsky score and a postproduction backstage peek.
Least Likely to Be Forgotten
Inspired by a Zen Buddhist tale, an old, ailing man entertains the children in his neighborhood by telling stories in this beguiling live-action gem. AS he begins each story, he holds a coveted mask to his face. A contest between the children in which the winner is to receive the mask results in a simple, important lesson about honesty. (NOT CURRENTLY CARRIED)