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

Archive for November, 2010

Dr. Toy recently announced her Best Children’s Products for 2010.

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

DrToy2010.jpgDr. Toy (Stevanne Auerbach, PhD) is a long time board member of KIDS FIRST! Her annual report features information about 100 wonderful new toys and other products from large and small companies. The products selected meet Dr. Toy’s high standards for design, durability, price, quality, safety, and value. 

We often hear about products that fall apart after minimal use, a frustrating and expensive experience. In addition, products that do not meet safety standards can be dangerous. Dr. Toy endeavors to select products that are structurally safe and sound. But while focusing on those aspects of a product, let’s not forget that “play is children’s work” and should be respected and understood by all adults. We should be thinking: What products or “tools for play” can we obtain to provide wholesome experiences for children and provide plenty of positive play interactions? 

Dr. Toy spends a great deal of time reviewing many products created by myriad manufacturers and designers to make sure her selections are safe and lasting, valuable and fun. And certainly durable products, properly designed, and developmentally correct are always worth the money. For great tips on choosing children’s products, go to Dr. Toy’s 100 Best Children’s Products – 2010

A short interview with Dr. Toy.

’Tis the season to buy, buy, buy—and not just to keep the staggering economy afloat. No, it’s also an opportunity to fulfill your children’s wildest dreams (if only for half an hour) by selecting the perfect toy to celebrate whatever holiday it is you’re celebrating this month. For guidance on this journey, we turn to Berkeley’s own Dr. Toy, otherwise known as Stevanne Auerbach, director of the San Francisco–based Institute for Childhood Resources. Since 1995, the toy doc has been posting product ratings on the Institute’s website (Wacky Wiggling Doodle Desk, Dairy Queen Blizzard Maker, and Cleanupper the Dump Truck, for example, all get a hearty thumbs-up). She’s written three books on toys, founded the now-defunct San Francisco International Toy Museum in 1986, and, as a young U.S. department of education staffer in the late 1960s, approved the first grant for Sesame Street. Dr. Toy also has a Ph.D. in child development and, more importantly, a warehouse full of toys in Berkeley. I caught up with her recently for her take on vital playroom issues. Per usual, this is hard-hitting stuff. You have been warned.

Paul Kilduff: My daughter’s really into Barbies. Are you anti-Barbie due to it’s creating an unattainable standard for girls?

Stevanne Auerbach: No, I’m not anti-anything. The only thing I’m really anti, Paul, is violent toys. I’m very staunch against toy guns, violent video games. I think it’s a huge waste of money and resources and skills to create mindless video games that are only about shooting and destroying and killing. Kids need adventures, mountain climbing, and exploration of the sea, and I’d like to see the video game companies develop more educational, fun, interesting products.

PK: Not Mafia wars then, I guess.

SA: Yeah, that’s one of my pet peeves in the industry.

PK: Grand Theft Auto, you don’t have that.

SA: No, no, no, no.

PK: I remember I actually enjoyed playing around with toy guns.

SA: When you and I were growing up, things were different. With TV and with the Internet and the infusion of games that are video, I think there has been an overkill. There really needs to be more cooperation instead of destruction.

PK: You see this at the day care centers. Little boys, there’s no toy guns, but they manage to make a gun out of whatever. You know, a stick.

SA: They create it out of their own imagination. If they create one out of Lego or make it themselves, it’s different. It’s part of their play. But I don’t think parents have to go out and buy a gun to prove something.

PK: So if your kid is making an Uzi out of Legos . . .

SA: If they’re making it, that’s part of their natural play patterns. That’s very different.

PK: My daughter really enjoys playing Monopoly. Now, Monopoly is teaching you what? To become this capitalist pig, right? I mean, hey, let’s drive everybody else out of business. Is that necessarily a good thing for a kid to be learning how to do?

SA: Well, Monopoly is a fun game.

PK: Should there be a less greedy version of Monopoly developed? Social Democracy Monopoly? I’ll give half of my money to pay for social services?

SA: There are great innovations in products that could be improved and you might develop a Berkeley version. It would be unique to this area.

PK: That’s a good idea.

SA: They have Monopoly for different regions, not just the Boardwalk in Atlantic City.

PK: Monopoly for Berkeleyites who want to share the wealth.

SA: Berkeleyopoly.

PK: Berkeleyopoly, yes exactly.

SA: And it would be green.

PK: And since Bill Gates wants everybody to give their fortunes away, he might fund it, huh?
SA: Exactly. And it could be very creative fun—and your daughter could be involved in helping to design it.

PK: We keep referencing Berkeley here. This is kind of a Berkeleyish thought. A lot of these toys that you’re recommending are made in Third World countries, where a lot of kids don’t have any toys whatsoever.

SA: I have actually chastised companies for that, including Mattel. I feel that if they have kids working in factories, those kids should have a doll as well as their pay. I don’t want to see young children working in situations that are not healthy and good. Kids in this country don’t work at factories so that is an issue that is of some concern.

PK: And have you voiced this concern to toy makers?

SA: Yes, I actually worked for three years on the code of ethics for the toy industry. There wasn’t any and there was a lot of stealing going on and copying and so on. A lot of improvements have been made over the last few years on standards in factories and safety in toys.

PK: Are they actually providing toys now for the kids working in factories?

SA: Some are, and they’ve told me that they are trying to make conditions better. I proposed even in this country that we have toy lending libraries. There are children in Berkeley who don’t have toys. There are children in Oakland who don’t have toys. It is not necessarily the problem overseas. We have a lot of poverty in our community. So for the past five years, I’ve been in discussion with people in Oakland. There may be a space available that could be converted to a toy museum, a large place for kids to come and actually play with thousands of Legos and construction toys and dolls of all kinds and transportation toys and all kinds of art supplies and things like that. So I’m hopeful.

PK: I think there’s a mind-set that every kid needs to have their own version of every last toy. Really, it would be far better if we had a vast network of toy lending libraries.

SA: Exactly. That’s what I’m saying. You don’t have to purchase everything and not every family can buy everything so if a kid learns to play chess, they’re going to do better in school. They’re going to figure out strategies. They’re going to be thinking. These are very beneficial skills.

PK: If you put a Slinky on an escalator, and it’s slipping down to the next step, would it just go on and on forever?

SA: Oh yes. It would continue to go as long as there was another place. In fact, the first demonstration for Slinky—which helped to sell it—was putting it on an ironing board in a slanting position in the window of the department store, and they sold out all the products.

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Tangled – A New Twist on the Story of Rapunzel

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

Tangled.jpgWalt Disney’s new animated feature Tangled takes the story of Rapunzel and gives her a proper make-over.  When Princess Rapulzel (Mandy Moore) is born with a head full of magical golden hair, an evil old  woman, Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy), steals the baby and locks her safely away in a hidden tower.  For 18 years, she raises the girl as her own, using the powers of Rapunzel’s magic hair as her personal fountain-of-youth.  Enter the handsome rogue, Flynn Ryder (Zachary Levi).  Fresh from stealing the crown jewels, he’s chased into the woods where he stumbles upon the fabled Tower and encounters the stir-crazy and persuasive Rapunzel and her impossibly long locks.  What follows is an adventure-filled trek where the unlikely couple must evade the law, the bad guys and Mother Gothel if they are going to discover romance, redemption and truth.

Tangled covers comfortable territory for Walt Disney Animation –  A beautiful, long-lost princess; a handsome young thief redeemed by love; a conniving, self-centered Mother figure; a family reunion and wedding…stop me if you’ve heard this one before.  But while the formula may leave you with that deja-vu feeling, the movie leaves you thoroughly entertained.  Complete with catchy tunes by the immensely talented Alan Menken, a laugh-out-loud funny script by Dan Fogelman (Cars; Bolt), and engaging performances by the vocal cast, there is a lot to enjoy here.  Particularly fun are the animal characters – a horse who thinks he’s a dog and a chameleon side-kick with a wicked tongue – and the gang of baddies turned goodies dubbed the Pub Thugs who, down deep, are just sensitive, frustrated artists.

The film is rated PG for sequences of cartoon violence – Rapunzel’s weapon of choice is a cast-iron frying pan which she uses with authority to protect herself.   Very young children might find Mother Gothel to be a slightly frightening character, especially when she meets her demise.  Otherwise, the film is suitable for all ages.  (My husband who generally dislikes musicals and my twin 7th graders – boys – all loved it, if that’s any indication!)  Reviewed for KIDS FIRST! by Cyndi Menegaz 
Tangled will be released in Disney 3D Digital on November 24.

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Four New DVDs Perfect For Families on Your Christmas List

Monday, November 15th, 2010

Avatar.jpgAvatar. This almost three-hour epic is considered by many as the most beautiful movie ever produced thanks to its groundbreaking 3-D and graphics technology. Set in the far future, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), travels to Pandora, a lush, jungle-covered extraterrestrial moon and home to a sentient humanoid race, the Na’vi. The 10-foot tall, blue-skinned Na’vi fight when a human corporation attempts to remove the indigenous people from their native lands. Human scientists create genetically-bred human-Na’vi hybrids known as Avatars to infiltrate the locals and discover their secrets. Jake participates in this program and encounters many dangers and beauties on Pandora as he scouts around. DVD. 162 min.; Ages 12-18. Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.

 ChristmasCarol.jpgDisney’s A Christmas Carol. When three ghosts take penny-pinching Scrooge on an eye-opening journey, he discovers the true meaning of Christmas – but he must act on it before it’s too late. Complete with spirited bonus features, this exhilarating and touching Disney classic is destined to be part of a family holiday tradition, adding sparkle and heart to all Christmases yet to come. DVD. 96 min.; Ages 5-12. Disney.

WubbzyFlyMoon.jpgWow! Wow! Wubbzy: Wubbzy: Fly Us to the Moon. Join Wubbzy as he blasts off on the ultimate outer space adventure! What happens when Wubbzy thinks aliens are coming to Wuzzleburg? Why is Widget building a huge television with 30 different screen? How far will friends go to wake up the Man In The Moon? It’s an all-new collection of way-out Wubbzy favorites featuring spacemen, superheroes, rocket racers and even a visit from the Tooth Fairy! DVD. 70 min.; Ages 2-5. Anchor Bay Entertainment.

Thomas & Friends™: Adventure Pack 4-DVD Set. Full steam ahead for friendship and fun with Thomas and his engine pals! This full series set has exclusive, heartwarming tales on the tracks filled with more adventures, and more lessons than ever before. Capture the spirit of Thomas as he learns to share his workload and experience exciting festivals and surprises in these episodes, including never before seen on TV footage exclusive to the DVDs. Hop on board and put on your conductor’s hat for this thrilling all-in-one-set with Thomas & Friends. DVD. 178 min.; Ages 2-5. Lionsgate Home Entertainment.

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Great New DVDs – Just in Time for Holiday Shopping for Your Family

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

ToyStory3.jpgToy Story 3 welcomes Woody (voice of Tom Hanks), Buzz (voice of Tim Allen) and gang back as Andy prepares to depart for college and his loyal toys find themselves in… day care! These untamed tots with their sticky little fingers do not play nice, so it’s all for one and one for all as plans for the great escape get underway. More than a few new faces—some plastic, some plush—join the adventure, including iconic swinging bachelor and Barbie’s counterpart Ken (voice of Michael Keaton), a thespian hedgehog named Mr. Pricklepants (voice of Timothy Dalton) and a pink, strawberry-scented teddy bear called Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear (voice of Ned Beatty). Directed by Lee Unkrich (co-director of Toy Story 2 and Finding Nemo), produced by Pixar veteran Darla K. Anderson (Cars, Monsters, Inc.) and written by Academy Award®-winning screenwriter Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine), Toy Story 3 is a comical new adventure! DVD. 103 min.; Ages 8-18. Disney Home Entertainment.

SoundofMusic.jpgThe Sound of Music 45th Anniversary Edition. Starring Oscar winner Julie Andrews in one of her most memorable roles, the film adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical follows Maria, a spirited young woman who leaves a convent and becomes a governess to seven unruly children. Her charm and songs soon win the hearts of the children and their father but when Nazi Germany unites with Austria, Maria is forced to attempt a daring escape with her new family. DVD. 175 min.; $34.99; Ages 5-18. Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.

ChittyChitty.jpgChitty Chitty Bang Bang. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls start your engines. You’re about to take an incredible ride with one of the most wonderful family films of all time! Now celebrating its 30th anniversary, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang has never looked or sounded better. Dick Van Dyke stars as eccentric inventor Caractacus Potts, who creates an extraordinary car called Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It not only drives but also flies and floats as it leads him, his two children and his beautiful lady friend, Truly Scrumptious (Sally Ann Howes), into a magical world of pirates, castles and endless adventure. DVD. 145 min.; Ages 5-18. Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.


The Goonies (25th Anniversary Collector’s Edition). From the imagination of Steven Spielberg, The Goonies plunges a band of small heroes into a swashbuckling surprise-around-every corner quest beyond their wildest dreams! Following a mysterious treasure map into a spectacular underground realm of twisting passages, outrageous booby-traps and a long-lost pirate ship full of golden doubloons, the kids race to stay one step ahead of a family of bumbling bad guys…and a mild mannered monster with a face only a mother could love. Blu-ray. 114 min.; Ages 8-12. Warner Home Entertainment.

White Christmas (Two-Disc Holiday Edition). Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye are song-and-dance men who hook up, romantically and professionally, with a “sister” act (Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen) to put on a Big Show to benefit the struggling ski-resort lodge run by the beloved old retired general (Dean Jagger) of their WWII Army outfit. DVD. 120 min.; Ages 8-12. Paramount Home Video.

The Happy Elf. Based on the Grammy-winner Harry, Jr.’s original song, The Happy Elf will be sure to ring in the season with loads of holiday laughter. This delightful animated adventure is the story of Eubie, one of Santa’s helpers whose overly optimistic outlook is put to the test when he decides to bring Christmas joy to a sad little town called Bluesville. Will Eubie’s unbridled enthusiasm be too much for the town’s austere authority? Featuring the voice and brand-new holiday songs of Harry Connick, Jr. and the voice talents of Carol Kane, Lewis Black, Rob Paulsen and Mickey Rooney. Adult Juror Comments: Very encouraging. Happy Elf breaks the rules in order to do what is right for the townspeople, but it’s the only way to accomplish his goal. Good ending, especially when we learn that Bluesville changes its name. 45 min.; DVD. 45min.;Ages 5-12. Anchor Bay.


Families of Afghanistan. Meet Zamora, 13, who lives in the country with her parents, three sisters, two brothers and two uncles. An early riser, Zamora has chores to complete before breakfast, including tending to the cows and chickens.  She shows us how the homes in her village are built around a common courtyard to help protect them and their vegetable gardens from the elements.  At meals, she often helps feed her uncle, who lost his arms and eyesight to a land mine. She attends religion class, where she studies the Koran, and performs her daily prayers (five times a day). Twelve-year-old Madina lives in Kabul with her parents, two sisters, uncle and cousin. Unlike Zamora, who attends school in the afternoon, Madina’s classes are in the morning and include studies in math, science, language, history and sports. She also tutors another student twice a week in computers. After school and the midday meal she shares with her family, Madina helps with household chores like vacuuming and ironing, then enjoys an afternoon snowball fight before doing her homework, eating supper and playing games. DVD. 30 min.; Ages 5-12. Master Communications. 



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Family Classic Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Released on Blu-Ray

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010


 We all love when one of our favorite classic family movies is re-released in Blu-Ray. I just learned last week that one reason Blu-Ray is so popular with families is that the discs cannot be scratched. Or so I’ve been told. That makes paying a bit more well worth the investment.

In Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, families everywhere can experience “fantasmagorical” adventures, legendary sing-alongs and magical moments like never before in this all-new remastered version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang on Blu-ray.  Enjoy the fun of this family classic for the first time on Blu-ray disc with upgraded audio and new interactive games.  An original version of the film on DVD will accompany the all-new remastered Blu-ray.

Based on the children’s book Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: The Magical Car by Ian Fleming, the film tells the story of an eccentric professor (played by Dick Van Dyke) who invents wacky machinery, but can’t seem to make ends meet. When he invents a revolutionary car, a foreign government becomes interested in it, and resorts to skullduggery to get their hands on it.   The all-time family classic evolves from there and viewers are taken on a magical ride with the professor and loveable motorcar.

Special features include:

DISC ONE (Blu-ray):
• Chitty Chitty Bang Bang remastered feature film
• Newly upgraded 7.1 audio
• All-new “Toot Sweet Symphony” melody maker – the Toot Sweet Toots Musical Maestro
• All-new “Chitty’s Bang Bang Driving Game”
• Remembering Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with Dick Van Dyke
• “A Fantasmagorical Motorcar” featurette
• Sherman Brothers’ Rare Demos of the film’s most popular songs
• Vintage Featurettes including, “The Ditchling Tinkerer,” “Dick Van Dyke Press Interview,” and “The Potts Children’s Featurette”
• Photo Gallery
• Vintage Advertising Gallery including English and French versions of the theatrical trailer and several television spots
• Sing-a-long version of the film
• Music Machine

• Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
• Sing-a-long version of the film


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