Chris Willman says skip all the way through ''Brother Bear 2,'' but Eileen Clarke and Tina Jordan offer up a half-dozen other gold-star worthy DVD, book, and CD picks for your cubs

By Chris Willman
Updated August 31, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT

Brother Bear needs a time out!


Brother Bear 2
(G, 73 mins., 2006)
It’s spring, all his friends are talking about ”the birds and the bees,” and Kenai just had his childhood sweetheart pop back into his life. But — and here’s a problem many of us may be able to relate to — he’s put on several hundred pounds since he last saw her. Plus, he’s not just heavy, he’s Brother Bear, who started the first movie as a callow Native American teenaged boy with a thing for hunting, before he underwent a sort of cosmic species reassignment surgery. Can their long-ago puppy love make the leap to mature girl/grizzly romance? If so, will the beast switch back to be with his biped beauty, or…

These are the sorts of interspecies conundrums that get treated comically in the Shrek movies (to great effect), but with the utmost earnestness (to much less great effect) in Brother Bear 2. The well-meant dreariness of this direct-to-DVD sequel is apparent from the opening, which has Melissa Etheridge trying to be Phil Collins in the worst way, singing praises to ”the Great Spirit.” On the packaging, the movie has a subtitle — The Moose Are on the Loose! — but don’t expect any richer moments of Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas doing their McKenzie Brothers-as-moose shtick than there was in the first film, just still more exclamations of ”Beauty, eh?”

The original 2003 feature, although hardly a Disney classic, did manage to make something moving out of the existential dilemma of Kenai (then voiced by Joaquin Phoenix; now, Patrick Dempsey) and the sacrifice he made to mentor the cub he’d helped orphan. To be human, or not to be human? This time, the question is merely whether he’ll hook up with Nita (Mandy Moore). And maybe you’ll feel the smallest bit of suspense in wondering how they’ll bridge that intra-mammal gap. But most likely you’ll feel the pull of a very strong instinct, one even stronger than the birds and bees: hibernation. C+Chris Willman
Recommended ages: 4 and up

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers…And More Inspiring Tales
(2006, 72 mins.)
”He looked not at the towers but at the space between them and thought, ‘What a wonderful space to stretch a rope.”’ So thought Philippe Petit shortly before Aug. 7, 1974, when he posed as a construction worker to gain access to the south tower of the World Trade Center. An adult watching this animated tale, based on the Caldecott Award-winning book by Mordecai Gerstein and narrated by Jake Gyllenhaal, will certainly feel a sense of melancholy, even a bit of unease, remembering a time that was so innocent and relatively carefree, compared with the tragedy that those Towers recall today, five years after 9/11. But kids will revel in the story about the Frenchman who ”walked, danced, ran, and knelt in a salute upon the wire,” a quarter of a mile up in the sky, and it is nice to think of those Towers, if just for a moment, when they were a source of wonder and delight, not incredible devastation and sadness. ”Now the Towers aren’t there,” Gyllenhaal ends it simply….The other tales include ”Snowflake Bentley,” an interesting bio of a man who was an expert on snowflakes (narrated by Sean Astin), and ”Miss Rumphius,” a quirky tale narrated by Claire Danes, about a woman who tries to make the world a more beautiful place (hint: the secret is in the flower seeds). All in all, little ears might not be the only ones inspired. B+Eileen Clarke
Recommended ages: 5 to 10

Arthur’s Missing Pal
(G, 2006, 68 mins.)
It’s hard to believe that boyish aardvark Arthur (you did realize he was an aardvark, didn’t you?) has been around for 30 years, but it’s true. And while it takes a bit of getting used to seeing Marc Brown’s pre-eminent character in CGI mode in this feature-length film, one thing remains reassuringly the same: Arthur and D.W. are the best showcase there is for the saga of sibling rivalry — and there’s nothing kids like better than seeing their own life situations on screen. Sure, losing a pal (in this case, a dog) is traumatic, but what about the day-to-day trauma of dealing with a sister who is by turns smart, bossy, and nosy? Arthur, we feel for you. B+EC
Recommended ages: 3 to 7


Written and illustrated by Peter Brown
I think I said in this space last week I’d found one of my favorite picture books ever (the fabulous beach tale Flotsam, which I raved about). Well — in the space of ten short days — I’ve found another, equally wonderful book: Chowder, about the Wubbington family’s most unusual dog. As much as he’d like to fit in, the big, blubbery bulldog just isn’t a regular pet. For one thing, he uses the toilet. For another, he’d rather look through the telescope, or work on the computer, than play with his toys, which earns him scorn from the neighborhood dogs. It takes an extraordinary visit to the grocery store for him to finally make some friends. Brown’s terrific illos and quirky, funny text combine to make this a real stand-out. Don’t miss it (or Flotsam, for that matter). A+Tina Jordan
Recommended ages: 3 to 6

Welcome to the Bed and Biscuit
by Joan Carris; illustrated by Noah Z. Jones
It’s an animal-themed week! At Grampa Bender’s little pet inn (okay, a kennel), Gabby the mynah bird sometimes answers the phone, Ernst the miniature pig airs out the bedding, and Milly the cat does whatever she can. But the animals are miffed when Grampa comes home clutching a small blanketed bundle — a bundle that seems to occupy all his time. Readers who have progressed beyond beginning chapter books will probably be ready to tackle this. Ernst the pig is particularly fetching. B+TJ
Recommended ages: 7 to 10

Charlotte in New York
by Joan McPhail Knight; illustrations by Melissa Sweet
This is the third book (Charlotte in Giverny and Charlotte in Paris) following the adventures of a young girl whose father is an esteemed Boston painter. Written as Charlotte’s 1894 diary and illustrated with a spectacular assortment of paintings, vintage postcards, and even prints of classic Impressionist paintings, the story follows Charlotte and her family (and, of course, her dog, Toby) as they return to New York after a two-year stint in France. Charlotte’s story is intertwined with the stories of leading painters of the day — Gauguin, Cassatt — making it an almost effortless art-history lesson. ATJ
Recommended ages: 8 and up


Marvelous Day, SteveSongs
There’s nothing better than putting on a CD when you have three cranky children in a car and watching them suddenly unfurrow their brows and plaster grins on their faces. (Okay, what would be slightly better is to be in the car by yourself and play your own bloomin’ music, but if that’s not going to happen?) There’s a little something for everybody in SteveSongs’ (Steve Roslonek’s) fifth effort: A bouncy, but not overly so song about how it’s going to be a good day, ”Marvelous Day”; a silly-but-fun number with dialogue thrown in between, ”Fast Monkey”; a fabulous, Squeeze-like ”Black Coffee in Bed”-ish ditty, ”Spyrtle the Turtle”; and lots of songs that encourage piping in from the back seat. Just what the traffic jam ordered. Thanks, Steve. B+EC
Recommended ages: 2 to 9