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It's ''Bellobration'' time for Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey

It’s ”Bellobration” time for Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey circus. Plus: an animated baseball movie, and some great chick lit (the yellow fluffy kind)

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Heinz Kluetmeier

It’s ”Bellobration” time for Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey

LIVE SHOW

Bellobration
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey
I remember that as a kid, going to the circus was a really big deal. Where else could you see people twisting their bodies into unrecognizable shapes or performing death-defying leaps hundreds of feet up in the air? Today’s kids are a tougher bunch to impress. In a world where they can flip on the TV and see people wrestling anacondas, scarfing down bull’s testicles, or bungee-jumping into barracuda-infested waters on a dare, watching a woman hula-hoop with a giant Slinky might not be terribly captivating.

Giant Slinkys aside, one of the best parts of Ringling Bros.’ new circus, Bellobration, is a you-are-there pre-show that lets little ones actually get on the floor of the three-ring extravaganza and see everything up close. Whether it’s watching the clowns, trick bikers, acrobats, or men-on-stilts do their thing (even jumping rope), there is something about being two feet away from live action that is incredibly exciting. When a herd (okay, there were six, does that still count?) of elephants meandered by, it was that undeniable whiff of, er, eau d?elephant that got the kids in the crowd roaring, something you’d only experience by being mere inches away. (Watching the elephant paint a picture? Not that exciting, and a little sad at the same time.)

In an age when Cirque du Soleil shows take your breath away and the way animals are treated is an increasing concern, it seems only right the new emphasis should be on human tricks. Of course, the acts involving horses, zebras, tigers, pooches, and pachyderms are still there, but they’re not the main focus of the show as in years past. The red-nosed circus staple set put on an amusing segment with ”Dancing With the Clowns,” a great riff on the popular TV show; and Bello himself, a goofy comedic daredevil who?s more CircusFit than he lets on, brings back that hold-your-breath feeling when he gets up on the Wheel of Steel. Add a terrific high-wire duo and somersaulting trapeze act, and Ringling is slowly making gains to recapture its ”Greatest Show on Earth” title. Now if only kids would concentrate on the spectacle rather than those $22 lighting wands and $12 cotton candies… B-Eileen Clarke
For all ages

DVD

Everyone’s Hero
(G, 90 min., 2006)
The animated baseball tale Everyone’s Hero is a rare modern treat. It’s a straightforward, wholesome children’s movie that doesn’t resort to double entendres to engage the accompanying adults, and isn’t afraid to keep the children’s characters full of a refreshing naiveté. Part of the reason for this might be the movie’s setting — it takes place during the Depression, and captures the full extent of the nation’s passion for baseball at that time.

Everyone’s Hero tells the story of a 10-year-old baseball fanatic, Yankee Irving (guess his favorite team), who isn’t very good at his beloved sport. When the bat of his idol, Babe Ruth, is stolen, and Irving’s father, night watchman at the stadium, is fired, the boy sets off on an adventure to return good old Darlin’. He?s helped by Darlin’ and a foul ball named Screwy, both of whom, it turns out, talk to him. Along the way he’s met by characters that drive the never-give-up theme of the movie home.

The all-star cast (Mandy Patinkin, Whoopi Goldberg, and William H. Macy) and the fact that this movie was a passion project for the late Christopher Reeve, the film’s original director and executive producer, are not the only reasons to see it. The simple message and the way the story captures the imaginations of children used to big special effects are the movie’s real selling points. B+Abby West
Recommended ages: 5 and up

BOOKS

I’m used to seeing a large crop of bunny, duck, and chick books every spring, and this year is no exception. My vote for the best ones:

I loved a pair of simply drawn board books from Olivier Dunrea, Ollie and Ollie the Stomper. In Ollie, the pugnacious duckling — not yet born — simply refuses to come out of his egg, no matter what the entreaties, until his mother uses a little reverse psychology on him. And in Ollie the Stomper, the little fellow decides he simply must have a pair of boots. Parents will be charmed; tots will definitely identify with the scrappy little duck. Another pair of board books features the return of Sloan Tanen’s saucy little chick Coco. In C is for Coco, the bow-bedecked creature offers up her version of the alphabet (”C is for Coco, the very best chick!”). And in Coco Counts, she uses her vivid imagination to conjure chicks from 1 to 10. Tanen, who creates adult books with her unusual dioramas (Bitter With Baggage Seeks Same) has actually accomplished the impossible: She’s created an appealing, loveable chick book that doesn’t look remotely like anything else on the market. That said, I adored Charlie Chick, a great big pop-up book from Nick Denchfield and Ant Parker. Vividly illustrated, with laugh-out-loud text, its pop-up mechanics are simple enough that the book should last through repeated manhandling by toddlers. All books: ATina Jordan