The latest in kids products
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Case of the Killer Pizzas and Cowabunga, Shredhead Family Home Entertainment; $14.95, 47 minutes eachAges 5 and up
Long before the smash live-action movie Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hit the theaters, the animated version was a best-selling video series. Turtles cartoons in one recent week held four of the top fivespots on Video Insider‘s children’s charts. (The lone interloper was The Land Before Time.) It’s time, then, to address the question: Is Turtles the Bullwinkle for a new generation, or just another dumb cartoon?
Sad to say, it’s just another dumb cartoon, although the idea of wisecracking, crime-fighting, pizza-loving turtles named after Italian Renaissance painters and living in the New York sewer system with a wisdom- spouting rat called Splinter surely sounds as clever as such Bullwinkle characters as Boris Badenov. The Turtles are named Raphael, Leonardo, Donatello, and Michaelangelo (yes, spelled wrong). They are difficult to tell apart, though differences become apparent upon prolonged viewing, the way objects in a dark room grow distinguishable as your eyes get used to the darkness. Leonardo is the leader. Donatello has a flair for technology. Raphael is cool but groovy. Michaelangelo is a party dude. (Okay, I confess. That’s how the theme song describes our four heroes.)
Their arch-nemesis is the evil Shredder. In Cowabunga, Shredhead, the masked malefactor and his hench creatures create a hologram of Michaelangelo — it talks like him, acts like hii, and craves pizza like him — to infiltrate the Turtles’ lair. Something goes wrong, though, and Shredder thinks he’s Michaelangelo. Splinter discovers how to control Shredder: Call him ”Michaelangelo” and he acts like Michaelangelo. Ultimately, the good guys discover the bad guys’ secret agenda — to pass their hologram of the U.S. president off as the real thing and thus get the American people to do their evil bidding — and virtue triumphs. In Case of the Killer Pizzas, Shredder and his mad scientist flunky, Baxter, have a new weapon — meatballs that are really eggs that hatch into monsters. Knowing the Turtles’ predilection for pizza, the bad guys easily lure them to a big pizza bake-off and eventually get them to take possession of the potentially lethal delicacies. Monsters and Turtles chase one another around a while before things are set right. Each tape contains a second adventure. Shredhead‘s companion piece, ”New York’s Shiniest,” is a knockoff of Robocop, and Killer Pizza‘s second feature, ”Enter the Fly,” a knockoff of The Fly. Short on genuine wit and original plots, neither of these tapes is especially appealing. Nor are they particularly harmful, unless you think of time taken away from reading or playing outside as harmful. C
The Frog’s Party Mary Lu Walker A Gentle Wind (518-436-0391) $8.95 Cassette Ages 3 to 8
Cute as crickets, tender as tadpoles, and always cheerful, the 19 songs on Mary Lu Walker’s The Frog’s Party have a lot going for them. Then why, an hour after listening to this tape, can’t I remember more songs? It’s not the lyrics. The lyrics are fine, and sometimes downright clever. ”Chemistry” is the first song I’ve ever heard about food additives: ”Cheddar cheese that’s make believe/A sausage made from soybean seed that’s not pizza!” ”200 Worms on the Sidewalk” panders to kids’ inborn love of the gross, hinging, naturally, on the classic worm-spaghetti metaphor. Yum, yum. And ”Waiting,” the subtlest song here, explores the painful theme of fulfilled wishes. (”Today is my birthday/Why do I want to cry?. . .I’ve waited all year long/Now it’s come and gone.”) It’s a pint-size ”Ode on a Grecian Urn.” But the handful of ditties about love, peace, and self-esteem contain nary a compelling story or character in the bunch. I don’t remember the songs because they gave me nothing memorable. Not even a tune. This collection is ultimately undone by its lack of hummability. Weak melodies float away, leaving frail impressions. I don’t mind listening to these songs, but I don’t want to sing them. A fatal flaw. C+
Eureeka?s Castle Nickelodeon, 10-11 a.m. Mon.-Fri.
Eureeka’s Castle has an educational agenda — it wants to teach your children how to act in various social situations — but it’s probably the subtlest pedagogical show on the air. In other words, it’s smart, funny, and kind. Eureeka, a puppet like the rest of the characters on this show, is an earnest female wizard who lives in a castle with a bunch of puppet-wizard pals. Instead of numbing kids with magic tricks, Eureeka’s Castle uses its wizards to prove a point: that, as the show’s press release says, ”problems can’t be solved by magic.” Thus, for example, Eureeka and her friends go through shows learning the polite, sensible way to deal with everything from hiccups to bullies. Lessons in how to answer the phone, how to give and receive gifts, and how to stop being bored are offered in quick, amusing skits. Why, the boredom episode even had the bravery to suggest that kids read a book! Each hour of Eureeka is supplemented by cartoons, but they’re not the usual limited-animation junk or Tom and Jerry cartoons your children have seen a thousand times. They’re a well- selected bunch of foreign-made efforts that tend to be far superior-in animation, imagination, and literacy — to most such American productions these days. Castle, which won an ACE award from the National Academy of Cable Programming in January, is fun for kids, and I’ll bet a lot of stay-at-home adults watch it as a soothing, lulling guilty pleasure. Don’t feel guilty: You’re watching excellent TV. A-
THE CLASSICS SHELF
Naughty Songs for Boys and GirlsBarry Louis PolisarRainbow Morning Music (800-541-9904) $9.98 Cassette Ages 5 to 10
The voice: Sort of Loudon Wainwright III in underwear a size too small. The songs: ”Don’t Put Your Finger Up Your Nose,” ”Never Cook Your Sister In A Frying Pan” — stuff like that. The perpetrator: Barry Louis Polisar, whose work master satirist Tom Lehrer calls ”a delightfully subversive antidote to Mr. Rogers.” This is not to suggest that Mr. Rogers would sing ”Do Put Your Finger Up Your Nose,” but rather that he wouldn’t find the subject funny. Most children’s performers would avoid the subject altogether — but Polisar is clearly not most contemporary children’s performers; he has been his own subspecies of troubador since his career began in the mid-’70s. Naughty Songs, released in 1978, is quintessential Polisar. Its 20 selections let youngsters know parents can be wrong, school can be stultifying, life can be funny, and it’s OK to be mad at a sibling as long as you don’t cook her in a frying pan. (”You better be careful when she’s nice and small/Don’t beat her with a bat or hit her with a ball/Or put her in a barrel and roll her down the road/ ‘Cause it all goes against the gentleman’s code.”) His songs always reflect the kid’s view, and he takes glee in overdubbing himself into a chorus and seeing how funny his voice can sound. A child let loose in a studio would do the same. That’s part of Polisar’s charm. B+
Antarctica Helen Cowcher Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $13.95 Ages 5 to 8
In stunningly vivid and gorgeous pictures, Cowcher depicts the life of Antarctic seals and penguins. The briskly minimal text is clear, informative, and astute in its selection of detail: We get a sympathetic impressiononf the way male and female penguins cooperate to hatch their young, and how they face natural perils around them. The pictures offer breathtaking sweeps of empty space, color-streaked skies, and penguins that are almost stylized in their crisp black-and-white outlines. The sense of great numbers, of survival against difficult odds, and of the adorableness of the chicks is overwhelming. Equally powerful is the intrusion of a noisy helicopter and the booming, crunching approach of ice-breaker ships. The text ends on an anxious note: Will the animals survive these new arrivals? Precisely because Cowcher’s paintings are so seductive, parents should be prepared to discuss the ecological issues with children. You fall in love with her rendition of Antarctic c auty, and you pay the price: eco-fear. A
Rachel Chance By Jean Thesman Houghton Mifflin, $13.95 Young Adult
This is a rich novel with historical depth and a subtly handled first-love theme. Rachel Chance is a tough, smart 15-year-old who lives on Grandpa’s hardscrabble farm. It’s 1940, her family is poor, and Rachel’s widowed Mama has an illegitimate baby, Rider, whom the local fundamentalist busybodies think should be put in a ”proper home.” The story is told from Rachel’s point of view, so the whole Family — cranky Grandpa, cute little Rider, retarded cousin Jonah, and pretty, overwhelmed Mama — is seen through loving eyes. When Rider is kidnapped, Mama weeps, the local cops shrug, and Grandpa writes futile letters to authorities demanding action. Rachel suspects the malevolent Pastor Woodie and sets out on his trail, aided by Hank, the hired boy — in whom she discovers new attractions. Gritty themes such as social injustice, the plight of itinerant farm workers, religious intolerance, and family violence are deftly woven into the story. They add authenticity to a novel that already abounds in humor, suspense, and lively characterization. A