Eileen Clarke on the new ''Little Einsteins'' DVD: The Disney Channel series scores by mixing classical music, sophisticated art, and a sense of fun

By Eileen Clarke
Updated April 27, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT

Eileen Clarke on a new ”Little Einsteins” DVD

Little Einsteins: Team Up for Adventure
(Disney, $19.99, 69 minutes)

Little Einsteins takes the classical-music-is-good-for-you notion from infant-targeted Baby Einstein and smartens it up for preschoolers. And I do mean smartens it up: Combining animation with live-action footage, famous artwork (by the likes of John Singer Sargent), and classical music (Dvoràk), Einsteins creators certainly set the bar high for their audience.

For those not familiar with Little Einsteins, a series that debuted last October on Disney Channel’s Playhouse Disney, a primer: Bespectacled Leo, his younger sister, Annie, and their friends June and Quincy take their musical ship, Rocket, off to various adventures. Rocket is filled with instruments, and gets its energy to blast off when the crew members pat their knees in time to the music. During a segment that features ”The Flight of the Bumblebee,” Rocket gets stuck above a waterfall that he was blocking in order to let some animals cross a river. So the Einsteins enlist a bumblebee to ask other animals to help nudge Rocket to freedom. Just as the bee is about to ask some hippos, they go under water, so Quincy decides to play his trumpet to get their attention. How should he play? Fortissimmo, which means loudly? Or the opposite, pianissimo? At the segment’s end, a kid voiceover explains that the music is by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.

Other moments ponder the merits of playing diminuendo (smoothly decreasing the volume) or accelerando — when Rocket needs to go faster. If your preschooler can say those words, more power to him. It’s likely that he’ll need a few re-tries. Though one bright 3-year-old Einsteins fan I know has said to her mother when she hears a rise in music, ”That’s the crescendo.” Brava!

Do we want our kids to be Einsteins? Of course we do. If it does seem lately that everything your child comes into contact with has to serve as a vital ”learning tool,” perhaps that’s the flipside of wallowing in the vast wasteland of television that we grew up with. And while I suspect that some kids are getting wise to this ”Watch it, it’s good for you” broccoli TV, I suppose it’s better than taking them to see something like Ice Age: The Meltdown, where they might pick up the lovely habit of burping the alphabet (thanks, Ice Age!).

For all its high-brow fare, Einsteins does offer some basics, like encouraging children to pat their knees to the beat, and asking them to distinguish between a high note and a low one. Just be sure to stick around for the 25-cent words, so you can quiz your kids on them later. Now if only Jeopardy! would lower its minimum age, we could actually make some money from this… A-Eileen Clarke
Recommended ages: 3-6