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The Video Buzz
The latest new releases

By Buzz McClain
(8/29/00)

My 5-year-old daughter loves it when the door bell rings late in the afternoon. "It's the 'fax man,'" she exclaims, excited by the idea of yet another new video arriving by overnight delivery.
("Fax man"? Well, that's Samantha showing off her incipient reading abilities: She thinks "FedEx" spells "Fax." But she knows it has something to do with mail.)
Here are a few of the new arrivals that have particularly jazzed Samantha and her brother Luke, 2 3/4. We reviewed the films together; following each capsule is their reaction.



The Jewel Kingdom: The Ruby Princess Runs Away:
(Blackboard Entertainment; VHS: $14.95, DVD: $19.95): This is the first of a proposed series of short - 45 minute - live action musicals based on the 12 "Jewel Kingdom" books. In this one, precocious princess Roxanne (played by Disney voice veteran Michelle Horn) runs away from the kingdom on the day she's to be crowned, only to encounter evil Darklings who replace her with a nefarious substitute. If not for her faithful dwarf companion Twitter (Cork Hubbert) and the help of a friendly flying dragon (voiced by comic legend Harvey Korman), all would be lost.

Dad says: Lively, broadly silly and patently kid-friendly, the film would be lost on viewers much older than the 5- to 10-year old target audience. Check out the related educational game at www.blackboardkids.com, accessed via a password on the video box.

Kids say: "Let's see it again!" Sometimes they ask for it twice a day (they only get it once, though). Luke, always drawn to the dark side, sings the Darkling song around the house.



Bilingual Baby:
Volume 1, French (Small Fry Productions; $14.95): The folks behind the best-selling "Brainy Baby" series offer this series - French, Spanish and German - of 45-minute videos that stream a series of live-action (toddlers, mostly) and computer graphics, about 60 of them, accompanied by one-word translations of the image or activity. Example: An apple appears and you hear "pomme." Classical music plays in the background. If the "Mozart Effect" truly works, this one will make infants bilingual brainiacs. Tapes in other languages are forthcoming.

Dad says: Who knows if this stuff works on kids that can't speak their native languages yet? But kids 3 to 5 - it can't hurt, especially if they're not getting a second language taught at their daycare environment.

Kids say: Quel est ceci? O&Mac249; est "Dragontales"?



Faeries:
(Paramount, $19.95): This British animated feature follows the exploits of young Brigid - voiced by "Titanic" star Kate Winslet - as she ventures into Fairyland to save her little brother from the menacing Shapeshifter (voiced by Jeremy Irons). Just when it looks as if all is lost, along comes the Fairy Prince (voice of "Mission: Impossible 2" bad guy Dougray Scott), but he has big problems of his own.

Dad says: I must have missed something in the first hour. A lot of what happens doesn't seem to follow. This is a very long 75 minutes. Still, older kids - especially tweeners with active imaginations - might stay engaged.

Kids say: "Do we have to watch all of it, Daddy?" Yep, it was long for them, too.



A Century of Lionel Trains:
(TM Books & Video; $29.95): Tom McComas makes industrial films for the Lionel factory. A few years ago he got the idea to start making homespun videos of his outtakes to capitalize on the raging fever a lot of people have regarding the authenticity and details of the motorized trains. Now he's pulled out all the stops with two 60-minute tapes that capture the 100-year history of the firm (Boomer note: Lionel is partially owned by rocker Neil Young) and the products. And he's gone and hired none other than Tom Snyder, newsman and train aficionado, to narrate it.

Dad says: Anyone who can remember what the smell of an electric transformer or how the smokestack smoke was made will get a kick from this. Collectors of the trains probably already have bootlegs of the tapes.

Kids say: Luke is a train nut, and he watches "I Love Toy Trains: Christmas" twice a month, even in the summer. Of course, two hours of trains running on their tracks - interspersed with the occasional talking head - is a bit much, but it's great background while doing other things, such as cleaning up the day's "activity pile" before mom gets home from work. Samantha paid no attention to the tapes.


Enter the Yo Zone:
X-Treme Yo-Yo (Simitar Entertainment; $12.95): The humble yo-yo has blasted off into the high-tech, high-dollar zone occupied by skateboards, bicycles and other things previously a part of a low-tech, low-dollar childhood. There are now yo-yos that cost $100!

Dad says: Not that we would ever buy one for that kind of jack, no siree. But we still need help figuring out how to work the one they gave us for free after getting a haircut, and this 46-minute tape - edited at the blistering pace of an MTV video - provides pointers. Still, you need a yo-yo with ball bearings (expensive) to do the harder tricks illustrated, but just watching the experts is entertaining.

Kids say: "When are we going to get a yo-yo that lights up?" If your kids catch on, you may wind up buying one of those $100 toys.





Buzz McClain, a music critic for the Washington Post and video critic for Video Business magazine, reviews videos for dadmag.com






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