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1990's best (and worst) for kids

1990’s best (and worst) for kids — See where ”The Secret of Nimh,” ”Woodsong,” and ”Home Alone” ended up on our list

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Best Videos

1. The Secret of NIMH
Kids whose knowledge of animation is limited to Saturday-morning TV will have their eyes opened by this spectacular, newly remastered production, about a diffident mouse who must test her will. Though Secret might frighten some young kids, the music, by Paul Williams and Jerry Goldsmith, and the narration, by John Carradine, Dom DeLuise, and others, are memorable. — Jeff Unger

2. Paul Bunyan
Narrator Jonathan Winters sounds so convincing as one of Paul Bunyan’s logging buddies that you’ll think he was there when Paul took that swing with his ax and felled 23 trees. Rick Meyerowitz’s clever illustrations include a plug of tobacco shaped like an electrical plug and a teddy bear and bull moose in Teddy Roosevelt’s Oval Office. — Jeff Unger

3. Owl Moon and Other Stories
Because these four charming stories are timeless, this videotape should have a long shelf life. The subjects are ones that children almost always find intriguing: things like animals, legends, the ocean, and stormy weather. The artwork (both animation and illustration) is evocative, and the narration is straight-forward and understated. — JU

Worst Video

Briar Rose, Rapunzel, Old Sultan
This looks like the ”before” lesson in a taped series on how to tell stories. Someone should have informed the producers that if kids wanted to watch a man (Jack Harper) standing stock still, holding a book, and reading from it — which is all that happens here — they could always seek out good old dad. — JU

Best Books

1. Tehanu, The Last Book of Earthsea
Ursula K. Le Guin
Eighteen years after the original Wizard of Earthsea trilogy, this fourth volume arrives ripe with wisdom and story-telling power. The most important young-adult novel of the year, Tehanu bravely revisits its characters in their middle age. A tough, moving exploration of love and the abuses of power, Tehanu even gives us one last glorious glimpse of the old dragon magic. A stunner. — Michele Landsberg

2. ”More More More,” Said the Baby
Vera B. Williams
This is the winner among baby books because of its zest, its artistic vitality, and the radiant tenderness with which it depicts the playful, loving bond between parents and babies. Williams’ color-drenched paintings make you fall in love. — ML

3. Woodsong
Gary Paulsen
This memoir of life with his beloved sled dogs is as crisply urgent as a race through winter woods. Paulsen’s muscular prose is a perfect fit for these thrilling stories. His respect and love for nature shine through. — ML

Worst Book

Musician From the Darkness
Claude Clément, Illustrated by John Howe
An unbelievable blunder, this arty picture book depicts a prehistoric time when everybody was male, the sensitive types who invented music were white and blue-eyed, and the brutish, blood-thirsty cave-oafs were all African. Musician is visually elegant, racist, and sexist, and should earn a demotion for every editor it slipped past. — ML

Best Movies

1. The Witches
Anjelica Huston, Jasen Fisher, Mai Zetterling. Directed by Nicolas Roeg.
Chief witch Anjelica Huston and her cronies scheme to turn kids into mice in this scary film, based on a Roald Dahl tale. Gloriously grotesque makeup and terrific chases through an aging English hotel, filmed from a child-turned-mouse’s point of view, make for chills galore. — Martin F. Kohn

2. The Rescuers Down Under
Voices of Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor. Directed by Michael Gabriel and Hendel Butoy.
This Disney cartoon is almost as delightful as its predecessor, The Rescuers. George C. Scott is deliciously evil as the voice of the villainous poacher, McLeach. Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor endearingly reprise their roles as dauntless do-good mice. Although New York is where they’d rather stay, the mice journey from their headquarters under the U.N. Building to Australia, where McLeach has imprisoned a boy who is trying to protect a rare eagle. — MFK

3. Home Alone
Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci. Directed by Chris Columbus.
Dumb but amusing, Home Alone pits an implausibly resourceful 8- year-old against imponderably inept thieves. Extremely violent but hilarious slapstick — the bad guys take a licking but keep on ticking — makes Home a guilty pleasure for adults and an unmitigated one for kids. — MFK

Worst Movie

Jetsons: The Movie
Voices by George O’Hanlon, Penny Singleton, and Tiffany. Directed by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera.
Even more boring than a half-hour episode of The Jetsons on television is this full- length movie about the space-age family. Bumbling plant manager George takes forever to figure out that a series of industrial accidents on his remote planet is no accident. Meanwhile, daughter Judy hangs out at the mall. Zzzz. — MFK

Best Audios

1. Shake Sugaree
Taj Mahal
The simplicity of Raffi, the soul of…Taj Mahal. The blues guitarist performs 10 folk songs (”Talkin’ John Henry,” ”Quavi, Quavi”) with great warmth and no fuss. This is so artless, it’s art. — Susan Stewart

2. The Alphabet Operetta
Mindy Manley Little
Encompassing every letter from A to Z and every musical style from basic blues to smoky ’40s jazz, this dense collection of ditties will teach your child something new every time he hears it.— SS

The Three Billy Goats Gruff and The Three Little Pigs
Read by Holly Hunter
Yes, Holly Hunter has a voice beyond that twang. Her Middle Goat is a Valley Girl Goat, and her Wolf a Catskills comic. Contemporary references (along with witty music) enhance these classic old stories. — SS

Worst Audio

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Noisy, charmless, and so busy with sound effects you can’t distinguish Piglet from Pooh, this tape bears almost no resemblance to the subtle and beautifully crafted stories by A.A. Milne. — SS


The best film depiction of a New Yorker who’s seen everything

In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, when one of our reptilian heroes ricochets off a taxi and the driver remarks to his customer, ”Looked like sort of a big turtle in a trenchcoat. Ya goin’ to La Guardia, right?”


The best homage to ‘Crocodile Dundee’

When narrator Dudley Moore, speaking as the fox in The Adventures of Milo and Otis, says to Otis the pug, ”You call that a tail? This is a tail.”


The statement in a video most likely to go over kids’ heads

”Why, you’re as naked as a jaybird, pardner. Why in tarnation you runnin’ around without clothes? Did you lose ’em in a poker game or you just glad to see me?”
(Cowboy to Pecos Bill in Rabbit Ears’ Pecos Bill)


The Jacqueline Susann Award for Prose that Kill Brain Cells

The entire Sweet Valley High series of brain-dead burble — written by a veritable factory assembly line — about teen love, gorgeous guys, and gold-plated consumerism. About as deep as the fuzz on your old polyester pullover.


The most incongrous dialogue in a video

In an otherwise traditional rendering of Snow White (in Hi-Tops’ My Favorite Fairy Tales, Vol. 5), when the mirror inexplicably says: ”Well, queenie, girl, I’ll tell you straight, at best you never looked too great. And furthermore, if you insist, you wouldn’t make the ugly list.”