Recommendations for the kids
The Family Channel
Fridays, 6 and 11 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays, 6:30 p.m.
This new version of Zorro features a masterful casting job: Physically, Duncan Regehr is a perfect new Zorro; he looks like a youthful version of the Zorro from the ’50s, Guy Williams, right down to a little mustache that resembles a black French fry. And Regehr plays the part well, capturing this masked swordsman’s playfulness and romanticism. At the same time, Regehr is careful to keep his interpretation from slacking off into a winking, campy character.That said, however, I’m obliged to report that this new Zorro is dull and humorless, its stories tiresomely didactic. And in what I’ll bet is a misguided effort to cut down on TV violence, Zorro doesn’t even flick his sword to make a ”Z” on the shirt fronts of his enemies! This is a peaceful Zorro; an earnest Zorro; a Zorro who spends more time lecturing his enemies than crossing swords with them. They should have called it Z-Z-Z-Zorro. C- (Ken Tucker)
Syndicated; Check Local Listings
One of the most successful children’s shows in syndication is also one of the best. The folks behind DuckTales have gone back to the comic books written and drawn in the ’50s and ’60s by the great Carl Barks. Seizing on Barks’ amusingly complicated adventure plots and beautifully detailed illustrations, the DuckTales animators have done their best to transfer Barks’ imagination to TV. Unlike most contemporary cartoons, which consist of slapdash slapstick or bombastic moralizing, DuckTales simply provides a good time.
As a baby boomer who grew up puzzling over the slurred squawks of voice-man Clarence ”Ducky” Nash, I had a little trouble getting used to the clear articulation of the heroes, Uncle Scrooge and Huey, Dewey, and Louie (Donald Duck’s nephews). But obviously, kids coming fresh to Huey, Dewey, and Louie aren’t having that problem. DuckTales is at once the hippest and most old- ) fashioned cartoon show on the air. B+ (KT)
Little Peep By Jack Kent
Simon & Schuster, $5.95
Ages 4 to 8
Little Peep is a barnyard fable about a bossy rooster who thinks his crowing makes the sun come up; a bold little chick, Little Peep, who wants to usurp the throne; and the amiable cows, chickens, pigs, and goats who dissolve in merriment when both chick and rooster are unmasked as vainglorious boasters.
Kent’s primary-color paintings on white backgrounds have just the right feeling — like 1950s cartoons in which visual humor was more jolly than grotesque.
Kent is also a genius at comic movement. The strut of the rooster, the mini-strut of Little Peep, the chorus-line docility of the other animals, and especially the night scenes with their witty black-and-white minimalism would be funny even without words.
But the words are terrific too. The language is so snappy, and at times so goodly inventive, that it begs to be read aloud.
Despite Kent’s accuracy about the way children boast, argue, make excuses, or bully one another, there is no meanness here. The book is so suffused with affection and good humor, in fact, that it will be requested repeatedly. A (Michele Landsberg)
Tell Me a Trudy By Lore Segal
Illustrated By Rosemary Wells
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $4.95
Ages 4 to 8
Lore Segal is a celebrated New York novelist (Her First American) whose children’s books have a distinctively urban tone of rumpled veracity and tolerant irony. Trudy is a worthy sequel to Tell Me a Mitzi, published in 1970; both these picture books include three short stories-within-a-story told aloud by a patient parent.
The Trudy stories star a little girl who is, realistically enough, sometimes a nudnick and sometimes a resourceful big sister.
Two of the stories take aim at typical family conundrums. When Jacob squabbles with a cousin over ownership of a new red truck, Trudy takes charge and gets everyone to share, nearly turning the tables on the grown-ups who didn’t mean them to share quite so much. And when Jacob decides Martians are hiding in the bathroom after dark, Trudy promptly summons Superman, with hilarious and satisfying results.
Rosemary Wells illustrates the book with the sorts of characters who have an infallible appeal for child readers.
Her pictures, tumbling along beneath the text or sprouting up beside it, are filled with devilishly funny vignettes — such as Daddy trying to unfold the stroller — that add incident and insight to the stories. A (ML)
Old Mother Goose By The Hubbards
North Star, $9.95 (Cassette)
Ages 3 TO 6
Most people are relieved that the Middle Ages are over. (That plague was the pits!) But not, apparently, the Hubbards, musical medievalists who set 10 nursery rhymes to the music and musical instruments of the pre-Sesame Street epoch.
I don’t know a vibraslap from a cornemuse. The only instrument I recognized here was a kazoo — which doesn’t do a whole lot for ”Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Like ”Hot Cross Buns,” ”Old King Cole,” and ”Hickety, Pickety, My Black Hen,” ”Mary” sounds like a dirge, appropriate for the plague years, not for preschool ones.
On the plus side, the Hubbards’ rendition of ”Baa, Baa Black Sheep” is sad, beautiful, and evocative. But then ”Baa, Baa Black Sheep” is sad, beautiful, and evocative even when you read it to yourself. If you own a zither, have ever attended (and enjoyed) a Renaissance festival, or will admit to having sung a madrigal, mount your trusty steed and head to ye olde music store to get this tape. If you still believe in progress, stick with Raffi. C- (Susan Stewart)
Shake Sugaree, Taj Mahal
Music for Little People, $9.95 (Cassette)
Ages 2 and Up
Wire whisks, salad forks, steak knives. Watch out when you play this tape. Your toddler will start jumping and banging cooking utensils immediately. Even if he never exhibited even a hint of rhythm, Shake Sugaree will give him the appearance of having a future as a drummer. It’s captivating.
The 10 songs on this well-known blues guitarist’s first children’s tape are fresh yet familiar, and highly danceable. A Gambian fruit seller (”Quavi, Quavi”) and a young Caribbean girl (”Brown Girl in the Ring”) seem as friendly as the kid next door.
Don’t expect ironic, double-edged lyrics here. Shake’s sophistication is in its music, not its storytelling. ”Fishin’ Blues” has the quiet humor of its genre.
And Taj Mahal updates the old folk song ”Talkin’ John Henry” into casual conversation: ”Well, there’s always been some question about, well, was John Henry really that big? I’m here to tell you that the man was really that big. He was six-foot-five, 235 pounds, in good shape.”
If that doesn’t make your kid smile, see your pediatrician immediately. A (SS)
The Muarice Sendak Library
Children’s Circle Home Video $19.95, 35 min.
Ages 3 to 5
I wish The Maurice Sendak Library had been released when my son Reid was younger; then I wouldn’t have had to sneak back to watch it a second time (because he didn’t want to). At 6, he prefers tapes with more-complicated plots than this video offers, though he was happy enough to watch it once, snapping his fingers (a freshly acquired skill) to the wonderful Carole King scores for the stories ”Alligators All Around,” ”One Was Johnny,” ”Chicken Soup With Rice,” and ”Pierre” (about a boy so recalcitrant that Reid said with some astonishment, ”He’s worse than I am!”). Two Sendak books, Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen, are faithfully but creatively adapted for video. The narration and orchestral accompaniment perfectly capture the strong natural rhythm of Sendak’s prose.
But what’s best about these Sendak stories is that in all of them, the young characters are in control — sometimes even commanding. All parents know how difficult life becomes when a child discovers his own power; it’s almost inspiring to see this aspect of growing up treated with such good humor and respect.
Never mind that you and your child, even at 3, already may know by heart most of the stories on this tape. In this case, familiarity breeds content.
(The video would have rated an A+ had there been more girls depicted.) A (Valerie Monroe)
The Worst of ‘You Can’t Do That on Television
Nickelodeon/Elektra Video $14.99, 29 Min.
Ages 6 and Up
A guy counting money sneers into the camera. ”Suckers!” he says. ”If you kids want to waste your good money on a dumb tape like this, you get what you deserve.” Is he kidding? Apparently not.
What follows is a collection of Laugh-In-style skits, some of which appeared on the Nickelodeon show You Can’t Do That on Television. Most involve some form of slimy liquid being dumped on a child’s head — all young kids I know find this hilarious. But many of the skits also contain a disturbing undercurrent of contempt.
An adult tells a boy, before throwing a bucket of water at him, ”You really are a stupid kid, aren’t you?” A teacher hits a kid so hard upside the head that he falls off his chair. A Dickensian-looking character, missing most of his teeth and wearing several days’ stubble and a chef’s hat, introduces himself as the Children’s Cook. He’s proud to have the job, he says, but he’s never cooked any children before. Any volunteers? he asks his home video audience. My son raises his hand.
By the end of the skit, the ”chef” has pulled out a long, bloody kitchen knife and decided the best way to cook kids is to ”whack ’em on the head and shove ’em in the meat grinder.” In a culture where real brutality is often inflicted on children, this skit is tasteless.
The cast of kids plays a strong role in creating the skits, a Nickelodeon spokesman says. That explains a lot of its slapstick humor. But what to make of the video’s disdain for the child? Wherever it comes from, best not to spread it around. F (VM)