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1991's best (and worst) kids

See where ”Doug,” ”The Beauty and the Beast,” and ”Tar Beach” ended up on our list

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Best TV Shows

Doug
Featuring a level of drawing you’d find in the best kids’ books, this show about a shy but sturdy boy stood in sweet rebuke to the crassness of most kids’ programming this year.
— Ken Tucker

Pirates of the Dark Water
Vivid, detailed animation; literary storytelling; a swashbuckling adventure with convincing chills and thrills — how did this find its way onto the most banal Saturday-morning schedule in recent memory?
— KT

Best Videos

The Tiger and the Brahmin
Everything about this production rates a rave, from the story set in India (about truth and responsibility) to the dramatic narrative (by Ben Kingsley) and the evocative music (composed and performed by Ravi Shankar). Changing perspectives give the illusion of motion to Kurt Vargo’s illustrations.
— Jeff Unger

The Robert McCloskey Library
This anthology succeeds partly because of author-illustrator Robert McCloskey’s attention to visual detail. Although only one of the five stories is animated, inventive camera work enlivens the others, including the timeless Make Way for Ducklings and Blueberries for Sal.
— JU

The Sweater
The lushly animated title story, one of three in this wonderful collection, humorously conveys a man’s reminiscence of what he put up with as a 10-year-old forced to wear a hockey jersey of a team despised in his town. The Ride, a wordless color film, focuses on a chauffeur’s wild daydream about what could happen to his absentminded boss. Getting Started offers a look at the perils of procrastination.
— JU

Best Books

Tar Beach
Faith Ringgold
This picture book about an African-American girl in Harlem is a celebration of optimism. From the ”tar beach” of a tenement roof, Cassie flies over her neighborhood, dreaming a splendid future. The pictures are based on Ringgold’s ”story quilt” about her own life.
— Michele Landsberg

The Salamander Room
Anne Mazer; illustrated by Steve Johnson
In a playful dialogue between a boy and his mother, the child elaborates on a daydream of bringing a whole forest into his room to make a home for a salamander. Shimmering pictures reinforce the subtle message of delight in nature.
— ML

Lyddie
Katherine Paterson
Lyddie is a terrific heroine: brave, hardworking, painfully growing out of her childlike dreams and into heartening, adult-size ones. The background is 19th-century New England and the brutally exploitive textile mills where Lyddie drudges for a living. Exciting and poignant, Lyddie is a deeply involving novel.
— ML

Best Music

I’m Gonna Let It Shine: A Gathering of Voices for Freedom
With profits earmarked for civil rights groups, Shine is not only politically correct, it’s musically wonderful. ”Hold On” and ”We Shall Overcome” are among 19 songs sung by pros like Bill Harley (who with his wife took out a second mortgage to produce the album), Cathy Fink, and Cordell Reagon. Civil rights veterans will find Shine especially moving; parents of every stripe will want their children to hear its message.
— Susan Stewart

Down the Do-Re-Mi
This album by Red Grammer is worth its price for one song alone: the old campfire tune ”Land of the Silver Birch.” Or maybe for Grammer’s John-Denveresque version of ”Grandfather’s Clock.” Or maybe…you pick it.
— SS

Sharon, Lois & Bram Sing A to Z
Of all the tapes lying around your house, the one you’ll most hope not to step on and crush like a Cheerio is A to Z. Thirty-four witty and pretty ditties, performed with vigor. With Raffi saving the earth, S, L & B are the best in the business.
— SS

Best Movies

The Beauty and the Beast
Yes, it’s lavishly animated and filled with the Broadway-level songs of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken. But the real beauty of Beauty is in the character Belle, possibly the first Disney heroine who doesn’t fall for the first hunk she sees. Good thing. In this movie, the hunk is a lunkhead. Moreover, the Beast has character, the candlestick sings, the teapot talks, the clock sounds ticked off, and all who deserve to live happily ever after do.
— Martin F. Kohn

Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken
This Depression-era story, based on fact, about a young woman who rides diving horses in Atlantic City, was itself a dark horse among kid flicks. Sonora Webster (played with warmth by Gabrielle Anwar) finds excitement, appreciation, and romance in a peculiar form of show business. The film is beautifully photographed, Sonora is a strong role model, and Cliff Robertson is crusty fun as the impresario.
— MFK

An American Tail: Fievel Goes West
Its best scene — a rollicking white-water ride through New York’s sewer system — comes early, but Fievel get you 10 that kids stick around to see what befalls Fievel and his fellow mice as they head west. In this animated adventure, Fievel and his faithful feline companion, Tiger, team up with broken-down sheriff Wylie Burp (the voice of James Stewart) to foil an evil cat’s plot to devour most of the cast.
— MFK

Worst Trend in Kid’s Movies
In Curly Sue and All I Want for Christmas, characters crash wedding receptions and enjoy free food.

Most Exhausting Video Intro
In Jonny Quest: The ”Q” Missile Mystery, the first minute includes scenes of an alligator, two vicious dogs, three snakes, a panther, a monster, a guy wielding a spear, a prehistoric bird, an eagle carrying off a dog, a tank blowing up a spiderlike thing, and weapons unleashing destructive rays