Up to date information about children’s entertainment – film, TV, DVD and more…. from founder and president of KIDS FIRST! Ranny Levy

Archive for December, 2009

The Princess and the Frog Reviewed by Moving Pictures Magazine

Sunday, December 27th, 2009
Reviewed by Eric Kohn
(December 2009)

Directed/Written by: Ron Clements and John Musker
Starring:  Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Keith David, Michael-Leon Wooley, Jennifer Cody, Jim Cummings, Peter Bartlett, Oprah Winfrey, Terrence Howard, John Goodman

Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog” makes history by featuring the first African American heroine in one of its animated productions but, in its old-school charm and casual pilfering of folk motifs, it offers nothing new. Instead, it offers a classic formula and makes it work: catchy songs, exotic fantasy and happy endings. The story centers on
Tiana (voiced by Aniki Noni Rose), a young waitress living in poverty amidst 1920s jazz-era New Orleans and dreaming of running a restaurant of her own. Her plight equates class and race without exploring the tension too deeply; the setting implies much about the respective social statures of whites and blacks in the city, but only as a basic framing device. In its vibrant, classically animated 2-D style, the movie gradually becomes color-blind.

The Princess and the Frog
“The Princess and the Frog”

Of course, that may have something to do with its protagonists going green. By the second act, Tiana has smooched a croaking amphibian named Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos), who’s actually a down-on-his-luck French emigré transformed into his current state by the scheming voodoo meddler Dr. Facilier (Keith David). Here, Disney mildly subverts the original parable, as Tiana’s lip-lock with Prince Naveen turns her into a frog as well. The bulk of the remaining running time morphs into an amusing road trip as the two transformed humans join forces with a trumpet-blowing gator (Michael-Leon Wooley) and a spirited lightning bug (Jim Cummings) to journey across the swamp in search of an elderly priestess with the capacity to set things right.

Strung together and mainly reliant on the comic interplay between the eventual match-made-in-heaven coupling of Tiana and her prince-to-be, “The Princess and the Frog” is likable for its familiar Disney tropes. Tiana’s personal longings provide an underlying emotional arc, and the romance holds a fundamental appeal. In general, however, the plot functions as a way station for some decent musical numbers – and a few quite remarkable ones. The setting provides the excuse for lyricist Randy Newman to let the funky rhythms flow. Dr. Facilier’s solo, “Friends from the Other Side,” offers one stand-out, but none of the tracks are hard on the ears.

The Princess and the Frog
“The Princess and the Frog”

Nor do they raise any truly problematic racial issues. I counted one or two vaguely troubling stereotypes, but nothing on the infuriating level of the lyrics from the opening sequence of “Aladdin” (“They’ll cut off your ear if they don’t like your face” sounds about as hateful as things can get), which was also directed by Ron Clements and John Musker. Their sins in this case seem far more superficial. The potential dangers are undone by the anchoring presence of two credible black protagonists (Tiana and the prince), whose ethnic nature remains safely unconnected from the fairy tale backdrop (with the exception of the voodoo element, although it could be argued that this has become more of a Southern stereotype than one specifically related to black traditions).

In his landmark 1968 tome, “The Disney Version,” Richard Schickel wrote of a “cultural neutrality” in Disney narratives that makes it difficult to take its stereotypes too seriously. And so it goes with “The Princess and the Frog.”  Rather than turning nostalgia into something more progressive, the studio has turned progressiveness into nostalgia. It’s the wildest coup d’état since Obama aped the style of JFK.

http://www.movingpicturesmagazine.com/reviews/movies/the-princess-and-the-frog

Little House on the Prairie, The Musical – Reviewed for KIDS FIRST! by Danny Diaz

Friday, December 25th, 2009

“Little House on the Prairie, The Musical” currently has shows running at the The Buell Theatre located in the Denver Performing Arts Complex.  The musical is the first attempt at a new way to experience the Laura Ingalls Wilder “Little House” Books.  

Filmmaker, Danny Diaz, who just received a first place KIDS FIRST! award for his film, Drama Kids reviewed the show for us this week. Here’s an excerpt:
As a filmmaker I’m always skeptical about other entertainment mediums, the “Little House” musical put all those fears to rest.  The live theatrics boasts a beautiful frontier world created with simple set designs and costumes that rival any major motion picture.  The 1800s come alive all around the stage.
The visual effects play an important role as the cast moves west, fights disasters, gets caught in blizzards, and competes in outrageous horse races.  During the race, the children around me began to sit up higher and higher as their eyes began to open wider and wider.  As much as the ancillary effects assist in the storytelling, the cast brought a new level of space and movement to the theater with their own brand of live-action slow motion to create many mesmerizing visuals sure to capture all.

Club Penguin’s Annual Coins for Change Campaign, Dec 11 – 22

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

For the third consecutive year, Club Penguin is encouraging its players to make a difference in the lives of others by donating Coins for Change. Between December 11 and 21, players can donate coins they earn playing games on Club Penguin to support kids who are sick, kids who are poor or the environment. Each donation is a vote to decide how a $1 million cash donation will be shared by organizations working to make the world a better place.

Support Valuable ProjectsDonations to kids who are sick will help provide health care and medical treatment. By choosing kids who are poor our players support a nutrition program and a peace centre to educate children displaced by war and conflict.

Giving coins to the environment will help educate and encourage other kids to protect the world’s wildlife and the places they call home. Explore New Ways to GivePlayers can visit one of several donation stations around the island or buy one for their igloo and invite their penguin friends to a fundraising bash. Kids can also attend a special fundraising concert at the Lighthouse, and even visit the “Fun Activities” section to check out suggestions on things they can do in their own community to make a difference.

Results will be announced December 24th!

For more on the projects and organizations Coins for Change 2009 will support, click here.

Traveling with kids this holiday season? Here’s some helpful tips.

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009
For busy parents, planning a family getaway can be a daunting task. These 6 tips can help your family take the work out of traveling:

1. Keep it close to home

In a recent study, 94% of Americans agreed that family vacations are worth the money, even when faced with the recent economic downturn. However, many families are trading in the sites of Paris and Rome for the lights of Broadway in New York City or Boston’s Freedom Trail. Many large cities now offer GO! Cards that provide families with discounted or free admission to popular attractions, tours and restaurants.

2. Keep them entertained

This is a great time to pull out your favorite holiday movies for long distance plane, train or automobile rides. And, it’s also something that you can enjoy once you get to your destination, along with other friends or relatives. For a list of our favorite holliday DVDs, go to KIDS FIRST! News, Dec 16.

3. Give tiny travelers the run of the place

Many hotels have amenities and programs for children and teens, while some, like the Nickelodeon Suites Resort, are specifically designed with kids in mind. Some family resorts offer camps for children of parents looking for downtime, such as the Maui Ritz Carlton Hotel, which offers a Jean-Jacques Cousteau Ambassadors of the Environment Program, providing children with snorkeling and underwater photography lessons. The Holiday Inn began its “Kids Eat Free” program in 1993 and many hotels have since followed the trend, giving parents more bang for their buck.

4. Offer a vacation on cruise control

With endless entertainment options and clubhouses for children and teens of all ages, cruises are an appealing option for clients traveling with little ones. Carnival Cruise Lines recently added a fleet wide “Club 02” teen program that provides access to spa treatments and exclusive shore excursions. Check cruise line minimum age requirements, as many ships have age restrictions for infants or require travelers under 21 to book a room with a parent or guardian.

5. Give them a taste of the local culture

A great way to make family getaways extra special and boost commissions is through organized activities and tours, available in most tourist destinations. Look for enriching activities that will be fun and appropriate for your children. Book tickets to the Mary Poppins musical in New York City or an interactive Spy Tour in Washington, D.C., for elementary school-aged children. Teenagers might enjoy a parasailing excursion in Key West or an Ice Walk through the canyons of Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. Or recommend an activity that the entire family might enjoy, such as a Your Love of Food Tour to discover the culinary delights of Chicago or a helicopter ride over the island of Maui.

6. Help, please!

While family trips are all about creating memories together, sometimes parents need a ‘vacation from the vacation.’ Gulf Air recently introduced Sky Nanny, a free in-flight childcare service. Many hotels and resorts also offer similar services to parents needing a break, and independent nanny services are available at many popular vacation spots.

Checklist for family travel before take-off:

All children, regardless of age, are now required to have a passport to travel outside the US. Check the State Department Web site to ensure that even the youngest travelers will be ready for their trip abroad.-Visit the CDC’s Web site to check for required or recommended vaccinations and immunizations before departure.
-Book non-stop flights and inform the airline if clients are traveling with young children requiring Child Safety Seats. Request bulkhead seating for young families to give you more floor space. Many airlines also offer first-time flyer keepsakes or certificates to help calm the nerves of tiny travelers.

-When booking rooms in hotels, ask if they offer baby proofing kits. These kits usually consist of electrical outlet covers, padded covers to protect children from sharp table corners, door locks to prevent children from going out into the hallway, and even netting to stretch across a balcony so a tiny one can’t slip through.

-More and more holiday destinations are accommodating children with autism and other disabilities. Check with cruise lines and resorts about special, inclusive activities or excursions. Walt Disney World and several other theme parks provide front-of-the-line passes for autistic children who may find it very difficult to wait in line.

For more info, go to http://extranets.us.amadeus.com/newsletters/archive/2009DECPRO01/Top_Story_v1.html

New Mexico State University Learning Games Lab Offers Parents Tips on Holiday Shopping

Friday, December 11th, 2009

The holidays are around the corner and for many parents, video games are certain to be on your children’s lists. Buying video games for family members can seem daunting: adults often don’t play games with kids, and don’t know what to expect or what is appropriate. More than just providing entertainment, there are many fantastic game options that encourage physical activity, help kids learn, and facilitate family togetherness. Here are some simple guidelines from Barbara Chamberlin, PhD, Extension Instructional Design and
Educational Media Specialist at New Mexico State University. 
 
1. Refer to the  Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) ratings printed on every game package as a guide. Many of the games your kids may hear about and request could be inappropriate for their age. Based on violence, language, and mature activities or themes, the ESRB has a consistent rating system for every
game sold. A game will be rated for “Early Childhood”, “Everyone”, “Everyone Ages 10 and Older”, “Teen”, “Mature”, and “Adult”. Titles rated “Mature” may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual
content and/or strong language, and should be purchased only for gamers 17 and older. Be sure to check the icon on the game package: many of the games your child may hear about and ask for are rated “mature” and are likely inappropriate for young teens. See more information about these ratings at esrb.org.

2. Replace some passive screen time with active screen time. Instead of using only their thumbs while relaxing on a couch, your gamer can move jump and swing through a series of “active games” or “exergames”.  ames like “Dance, Dance Revolution”, in which players dance on a physical mat while following music and stepping to the beat in the game, can burn considerable calories. Nintendo’s Fit board, used with their Wii console, facilitates games that require balance and stability, including yoga, pilates and strength training. Active games include games that challenge players with score and fun activities, as well as more interactive fitness programs. For more information, visit learninggameslab.org and exergamesunlocked.org.

3. Encourage educational gaming. Educational games aren’t easy to find, they usually aren’t highlighted at the front of the store with their better-selling cousins. However, several quality titles exist. Rather than look specifically for grade-specific titles, browse the shelves for titles that include language, math, and science development. By integrating these titles into your family’s collection, you take advantage of the clear strengths games have in encouraging learning, and you demonstrate the importance of learning outside of the classroom. Ask your student what types of educational games are interesting and you may find an entire section of the game store or online product search that your children have yet to explore.

4. Find ways to play as a family. One of the benefits to systems with nontraditional interfaces (or games where you don’t have to use only your thumbs or a joystick) is that families tend to play together. Grandma, your teenager, and your 6 year old can all easily use the Wiimote with the Nintendo Wii to bowl or even play tennis.Instead of gaming being an isolated activity in which your child plays on their own, encourage a family game night where family and friends can all play together. Get involved in the gaming life of your children
and ask them to show you how to play.

5. Depend on the experts. Use your children to find the best games. Tell them your goals, and give them guidelines, such as including at least two exergame and educational games on their wish lists. Store clerks know games, often because they are young adults who play them. Let them know the ages of the children in your family and if you are looking games that the family can play together, educational titles, or exergames. Commonsensemedia.org, kidsfirst.org and other websites are designed to help families identify age appropriate and beneficial games. Search “educational game recommendations” in any search engine to find additional blogs and online resources to help in your search. By taking an active role in choosing and evaluating the games your family plays, you can find significant benefit in how gaming time impacts your family. Games are fun, even for adults.

For more information, visit http://www.learninggameslab.org/about.html

PBS Kids and PBS Kids Go Offer Holiday Themed Programming for Decembe

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

PBS KIDS and PBS KIDS GO! celebrate the holidays with snowy explorations and super-powered parties with new episodes of DINOSAUR TRAIN and WORDGIRL, as well as favorite holiday specials from ARTHUR and CURIOUS GEORGE. Following is a listing of holiday-themed episodes airing this month. Click here to see listings in your local area: http://www.pbs.org/tvschedules/
On PBS KIDS GO!, for early elementary school children: December 10

WORDGIRL – “Oh, Holiday Cheese” (NEW)

Who moved the Botsfords’ cheese? In a brand new episode of WORDGIRL, Dr. Two Brains uses his cheese-swiping ray to ruin the holiday spirit of young Becky Botsford and her family. Can WordGirl save the party and teach Dr. Two Brains an important lesson about his curmudgeonly ways?

Throughout December (check local listings)

ARTHUR’S PERFECT CHRISTMAS

Everyone’s favorite aardvark gives kids a new spin on seasonal traditions in his first one-hour prime time special, showing children many ways to celebrate “the holidays.” Plans are underway in Elwood City for the best holidays ever as Arthur, D.W., their family and friends make preparations for perfect gifts, perfect parties and perfect family traditions for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and even “Baxter Day” (Buster and his mom’s special celebration). The only problem is, just like in real life, perfection is hard to attain and things start to fall apart.

CYBERCHASE – “When Penguins Fly”

Penguins can’t fly – or can they? In Cyberspace, on one special night each year, the penguins of Penguia take flight to deliver gifts to young borgs across the virtual universe. For the first time ever, the CyberSquad’s friend Fluff is participating, and invites his pals Matt, Jackie, Inez and Digit to join him in the impressive Penguin March. But Hacker, up to his usual ruinous tricks, doesn’t want a happy holiday (let alone happy little borgs) so he creates a giant ditch in front of the Ice Palace and traps all the penguins in its icy depths! The CyberSquad must get the penguins ice-shoes so they can climb out before midnight, but how many do they need? Can the CyberSquad save the penguins and their favorite holiday too?

MAYA & MIGUEL – “Miguel’s Wonderful Life”

What might life be like without Maya? At first, it seems like Miguel’s Maya-made troubles are over, but then Miguel sees how the lack of Maya’s influence has adversely affected the world: Maggie and Chrissy aren’t friends because Maya’s not there to help them sort our their differences and Mr. Nguyen isn’t their teacher because Maya wasn’t there to make him feel appreciated. Miguel soon regrets wishing Maya away, and poof! The world goes back to normal. Maya is back and Miguel couldn’t be happier to have a twin sister.

On PBS KIDS, for preschoolers: December 14

DINOSAUR TRAIN – “Dinosaurs in the Snow” (NEW)
Buddy and his Pteranodon family ride the Dinosaur Train to the North Pole – where it’s cooler out and the skies are dark all winter long! The kids get to play in the snow and slide on a frozen pond for the first time.

Throughout December (check local listings)

CURIOUS GEORGE: A VERY MONKEY CHRISTMAS

Curious George and The Man with the Yellow Hat are having a wonderful time getting ready for Christmas. There’s only one dilemma – neither of them can figure out what to give the other for a present! In the end, both gift-giving predicaments are simply and beautifully resolved, revealing the true spirit of the holiday season.

SUPER WHY! – “The Nutcracker”

Princess Pea doesn’t know what to do about her friend Sleeping Beauty who is very, very grumpy! Super Why and his friends dance their way into the story of The Nutcracker, accompanied by Tchaikovsky’s memorable music, to find out why the Mouse King is so cranky and give an innovative twist to the holiday classic. But will the super readers be able to restore magic to The Land of Sweets?

BARNEY & FRIENDS – “Gift of the Dinos and A Visit to Santa”
Gift of the Dinos — It’s Christmas and BJ dreams of getting a new baseball glove to go with his baseball, while Riff hopes for new drumsticks to use his drum. Barney reminds them that Christmas is more than just getting gifts and helps them learn the meaning of Christmas.

A Visit to Santa — Melanie spends so much time helping her friends at Christmas that she is late writing her own letter to Santa. Barney takes her on a trip to the North Pole to deliver the letter in person.

CAILLOU – “Caillou’s Christmas”

Caillou goes out caroling for the very first time with Mommy, Daddy, Rosie, Grandpa and Grandma. He finds out caroling is lots of fun – you get to stay up late and surprise your friends with carols, and you even get treats! They finish up the night with a big finale at the seniors’ home and Caillou imagines he’s really ‘dashing through the snow’ in a horse and sleigh.

WORDWORLD – “The Christmas Star / A Christmas Present for Dog”

The Christmas Star — It’s the night before Christmas and Frog needs a star to hang on his Christmas tree. Duck thinks this will be the perfect present for Frog, and tries to lasso one out of the sky for him. Try as he might, Duck is unable to catch a star for Frog, and cries himself to sleep. But while he sleeps, someone leaves him a wonderful present: the letters S-T-A-R…

A Christmas Present for Dog — It’s Christmas morning, and all the WordFriends are excited by the presents Santa has brought for them! Pig has a sled, Bear has a doll and Ant has a cookie. But not all the letters for Dog’s present came down his chimney. All he has is a B-A-L. Bear gets filled with the Christmas spirit and makes a sacrifice to ensure Dog’s Christmas will be merry!

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