Love ''Pirates''? Tim Purtell grades a batch of DVDs, just in time for Johnny Depp's latest. Plus: Eileen Clarke on an educational disc, and Tina Jordan on new books

By EW Staff
Updated June 29, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT
The Fortunes of Captain Blood: Everett Collection

Aye, matey! Pre-”Pirates” adventures on DVD


Crystalstone (1988, PG, 94 mins.)
Fortunes of Captain Blood (1950, unrated, 91 mins.)
Captain Pirate (1952, unrated, 85 mins.)
The Boy and the Pirates (1960, unrated, 84 mins.)

Audiences attuned to the campy high jinks of Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean flicks may be initially underwhelmed by the lack of 21st-century pizzazz in this quartet of old-school sea banditry. But patience will be rewarded with sturdy storytelling, colorful characters (even if some of them are in black and white), and small pleasures beyond CGI wizardry. Crystalstone, an obscure charmer about an orphaned brother and sister who encounter a murderous pirate and a kindly drunk during their search for a fabled jewel, is inventively directed by Antonio Paláez and acted with panache by a cast of mostly unknown Brit actors. In Fortunes of Captain Blood and its sequel, Captain Pirate, Louis Hayward stars as Peter Blood, onetime physician turned sea wolf (but a noble one) rescuing his enslaved crew while wooing Patricia Medina’s feisty Isabelita in the first, and returning to his swashbuckling ways to rectify a false accusation in the second. Both are cleverly if densely plotted, and the sword fights are swell. The only clinker of the bunch is The Boy and the Pirates, a synthetic fantasy with Charles Herbert as an irritating kid who’s magically whizzed back in time to a pirate ship thanks to a genie. It should be made to walk the plank. Crystalstone: A- Fortunes: B Captain Pirate: B Boy: DTim Purtell
Recommended ages: 6 and up

Chicka Chicka 1 2 3?and more stories about counting
DVD, 42 mins.
The first in this collection of three stories is based on the memorable children’s book. ”Chicka Chicka” is amusing enough, but its stream of numbers going up and down a tree at the same time may be confusing for youngsters who don’t yet know their digits. What’s more useful are the stories about the value of money (particulary coins, which my 6-year-old is always interested in) and the concept of writing a check (remember when you were a kid and thought grownups could write whatever amount they wanted on it?). They’re selling it separately and with the original DVD Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, which is the better of the two. B-Eileen Clarke
Recommended ages: 2-7


John, Paul, George, and Ben
By Lane Smith
”Once there were four lads: John, Paul, George, and Ben. Make that five lads. There was also an Independent Tom always off doing his own thing.” Wait a minute: Who’s this book about, anyway? Why, John Hancock, Paul Revere, George Washington, Ben Franklin, and, of course, Thomas Jefferson. In his wacky, whimsical way, Smith — author of the fabulous kid fave The Stinky Cheese Man — explains who these early Americans were with, well, just a wee bit of embroidery, without compromising their real stories. When young Tom Jefferson’s teacher asks the boy’s class ”to make birdhouses by gluing macaroni to ye olde balsa wood,” Tom instead ”happily ignored him and used traditional building materials in a neoclassical design.” I’m always looking for good children’s books that can make history fun, even laugh-out-loud, and this is definitely one of them. ATina Jordan
Recommended ages: 5 and up

Olivia Forms a Band
By Ian Falconer
Does the world need another Olivia book? That’s what I asked myself when I first saw this one. (I think I’ve been a little overwhelmed by some of the recent marketing projects: plush toys, puppet stages, and so on.) But I remembered how much my youngest daughter loved the early books, and I have to admit: From the first page of this new one, I was utterly entranced. There’s something so completely endearing and appealing about the little pig; this adventure may be her sweetest ever. And the artwork is simply stunning. ATJ
Recommended ages: 3-7