A Barbie DVD that’s good for kids?
Barbie in the 12 Dancing Princesses
(82 mins., 2006)
In the interest of full disclosure, I am not a fan of Barbie. Sure, I played with the dolls as a kid and lusted after a particular Barbie box for toting pink ballet slippers (never mind that mine were black and for Irish dancing), but as an adult and a mother of two girls who will (thankfully) never remotely resemble that blonde-haired blue-eyed ”ideal,” I find the concept of Barbie an affront to the post-modern feminist woman.
But hey, this movie is good! Not your mother’s typical Barbie movie. Yes, she is one of 12 princesses, though Barbie, who plays Genevieve, is no dim-witted CGIed Paris Hilton lookalike — she often has her nose in a book; her sisters, no idle princesses they, have dirt on their dresses (riding horses) or paint in their hair (uh, from finger painting). These things are pointed out when their father King Randolph enlists his cousin, the evil Duchess Rowena, to bring the girls’ etiquette skills up to snuff since they lost their dear mother. Unfortunately, Rowena bans singing, dancing, and anything remotely fun.
Far from being damsels in distress waiting for the white knight to rescue them, these clever princesses find their way to a secret garden beneath their bedroom floor where they dance the nights away (choreography thanks to actual New York City Ballet principal dancer Maria Kowroski, with beautiful music to boot). And while Genevieve does marry in the end, it’s to the humble cobbler who made the dancing shoes, not some uppity knight. Lest you think this is strictly girls’ fare, I must say that my son kept asking to see this movie time and again too, mainly to witness evil Rowena’s poisoning attempts on the King. Now, if only I could look at Barbie without thinking of a vapid-eyed hotel heiress… A- —Eileen Clarke
Recommended ages: 3 and up
How do you feel about Barbie and other typical fare aimed at girls today? Holler back.
(PG-13, 103 mins., 2006)
What Bring it On did for high school cheerleading, Stick It does for gymnastics. The former pointedly infused the teen lexicon with biting and sassed-out phrases (”Let?s not put the ‘duh’ in dumb”), and this continues that tradition (”It?s not called gym-nice-tics”). With Stick It?s director Jessica Bendinger penning both, it?s no surprise. Aside from the similarities and drivel, however, the tart sports drama goes one step further and imparts an important message — one of individuality — that is sure to resonate with teens.
Gymnastics being the sport of conformity it is, body-bending star-gone-wrong Haley Graham (Missy Peregrym) can?t get down with matching spandex, among other things. After damaging property, the sassy teen is shipped off to a boot camp for Olympic hopefuls that has a motto of ”sticking” their routines (basically landing without falling). Haley butts heads with the other girls and her disgraced and clichéd coach (Jeff Bridges) because of the same bad attitude that got her sent away military-school style, but we see that she?s really just misunderstood and can?t stand being judged by others. Alas, that?s what gymnastics (and being a teenager) is all about. As her harsh edge softens, Haley uses her infectious personality and backdoor leadership to revolt and turns the judging around on the judges themselves.
Parents, you probably won’t flip for this one, but it’s worth seeing with your kids at least once. Despite its PG-13 rating (for a few crude remarks), the story of girl empowerment — and eventual friendship and team-building — is enough to let kids a few years younger watch, too. B+ —Tanner Stransky
Recommended ages: 10 and up
Pokémon Movie 8: Lucario and The Mystery of Mew
(Unrated, 101 mins, 2006)
I keep wondering when my eight-year-old son will get over his love of all things Pokémon (we?re going on year four now people!) and how much longer I’ll have to pick up the Pokémon and Yu-gi-oh cards perpetually scattered around my house. But with fare like this 2-disc collectors’ edition, I almost don?t mind. The legend of the Aura Guardian and a wealth of new characters are introduced in this 10th anniversary special that enlarges the fantastical world of pet-like creatures who battle each other with special attack skills. (Not to worry — it’s very cartoonish violence.)
As always, we are along for the ride as young Ash Ketchum (and friends) continue the journey for him to become a Pokémon Master. This time it leads them to Cameron Place, where legend has it that long ago a hero and his Pokémon Lucario helped stop a massive battle and saved the kingdom. But Lucario was trapped for hundreds of years believing his master had betrayed him. He is released, joining Ash on a quest to save Pikachu (Ash’s best friend and favorite Pokémon). As they head to the Tree of Beginnings, where Pikachu is with the magical Pokémon Mew, Lucario deals with issues of trust and the overarching theme of human/Pokémon relations.
The gang’s all here: May, Brock, and Max and Team Rocket are all up to their familiar highjinks. If you are open to the world of Pokémon, this is much more tolerable than the latest big-budget kiddie remake. And the included one-hour TV movie and manga comic are plusses for the kids. So what if this will reinvigorate my son’s interest and mean a few more years of me having to learn absurd Pokémon names like Squirtle and Pidgeotto? There’s no gore, there’s no real evil, and there’s sweet (if sometimes trite) lessons to be found. B+ —Abby West
Recommended ages: 5 and up
CBS, Saturday, check local listings
What with Dancing With the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance, America is growing more dance-crazed as we speak — and what could be better than that? (Okay, an obssession with reading or learning about geography wouldn?t hurt, but in an effort to avoid raising little couch tater tots, let us ponder the subject of physical activity.) Based on the popular video game Dance Dance Revolution, this American Idolish dance competition will have your tweens rooting for their favorite ”crew” (dance pairs who are eliminated each week) and learning some serious hip-hop moves (the Roller Coaster, the Charleston Brush, the Scoop, and the Glide, all broken down so even someone much older than 12 — we?re looking at you, Mom! — can bust a move). Host Rick Adams could give Ryan Seacrest a run for his money, and judge Tricia Gomez (a former Laker Girl, just like Paula) offers valuable constructive criticism — take note, Simon! B+ —EC
Recommended ages: 6-13
by Jez Alborough
Bobo, the extremely fetching little chimp, is back for his third book, and guess what? It’s bedtime. Bobo likes lots of things, including his bath. But one thing he most definitely does not like is going to bed. The gentle, rollicking little tale of how friends and fun in the bath lead to bedtime (well, okay, Bobo just falls asleep from pure exhaustion) probably won’t coax stubborn toddlers into their cribs. But…there?s always a chance it might. A- —Tina Jordan
Recommended ages: 1-4
Adele & Simon
Written and illustrated by Barbara McClintock
When Adele picks her little brother Simon up at school, he’s loaded down with a hat, scarf, knapsack, even a drawing. But as the two wind their way through the streets of early 20th-century Paris, stopping in museums and patisseries and parks, Simon manages to lose just about everything. Adele is worried: What will Mama say? The story is droll; the pen-and-ink drawings, glorious. A —TJ
Recommended ages: 3-8
Dinosaur Atlas: An Amazing Journey Through a Lost World
by John Malam and John Woodward
Even very young dinosaur enthusiasts will love this jam-packed compendium (and its accompanying cd-rom). It’s divided by continent and filled with photos, fabulous, vibrant illos, graphs, and maps. Kids will learn what the world was like hundreds of millions of years ago, what the different theories are about the dinosaurs’ demise, even how dinosaur bones have been preserved over time and how they’re excavated. A —TJ
Recommended ages: 6 and up
Kids Cook 1-2-3
by Rozanne Gold
The beauty of this cookbook is that, as its title implies, each recipe uses just three ingredients, making most of the dishes easy to prepare. Some of the techniques needed are tricky — even an adult, for example, might have trouble getting fried tomatoes just right, or slicing potatoes thinly enough for a gratin without using a mandoline or food processor — but most of the food is simple to make and has definite kid appeal: homemade pretzel sticks, maple pancakes, ”sticky finger” chicken wings. Gold is also very careful about stressing safety; a recipe might say, in bold type, ”You may want some adult assistance here” when something potentially dangerous, like hot oil, is involved. Good cookbooks for this age set are hard to find, so this one’s a keeper. B —TJ
Recommended ages: 10 and up