''Chestnut'' the dog and ''Barnyard'' on DVD, and a very funny thespian ''Sock Monkey'' who's afraid of K-I-S-S-I-N-G

January 04, 2007 at 05:00 AM EST

”Sock Monkey Rides Again” will keep ’em in stitches


Chestnut: Hero of Central Park
(G, 87 mins., 2006)
The luck of two orphaned sisters, Sal (Makenzie Vega) and Rae (Abigail Breslin), starts to turn when they find a puppy. Not only are they able to hide Chestnut from the nuns at their home (he hangs out in an antique dresser), but when they are adopted by a childless New York City couple who live in a swanky door-manned high rise, they conceal the Great Dane for months there too (the Spanish-speaking sitter helps).

After Chestnut is discovered when he ruins a wedding in the building, the whole family is threatened with eviction by Mr. Trundle (Barry Bostwick, doing a dead-on Trump impersonation), until, of course, Chestnut takes a knife in the flank, sparing Mr. Trundle harm from some bungling burglars. Does Chestnut make it? Not telling ya — either way, get ready for some furrowed brows, and maybe even some tears to flow. B+ Eileen Clarke
Recommended ages: 3-10

Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker
(PG, 93 mins., 2006)
Another orphan tale here, but this one has a decidedly James Bondish twist to it. When 14-year-old Alex’s (Alex Pettyfer) uncle dies, he’s suddenly drafted into the family business — kicking butt for the British secret service. Ah, so that’s why he was schooled in French, Japanese, scuba diving, and martial arts, among other subjects. Based on Anthony Horowitz’ series of novels, Alex Rider can get a bit harrowing at times (guns, explosions, er, Mickey Rourke’s face), so it’s better for those tweens who don’t get shaken (or stirred) easily. BEC
Recommended ages: 10 and up

(PG, 89 mins., 2006)
Otis is the Matthew McConaughey of cows — a party animal in the truest sense. Voiced by Kevin James (The King of Queens), Otis can be the carefree one since his dad Ben (Sam Elliott) rules the farm that he and all the other animals live on, and often gives Otis some slack, taking over his watch for predators while his son can strut his stuff at a hoedown. But Otis needs to grow up quickly when coyotes kill his dad, and the cross of responsibility weighs heavily upon him.

Kids may not notice the plot is Lion Kingian, but there are a couple of disturbing quirks in Steve Oedekerk’s animated okay corral. Why have the cows walking around on their hind legs (when humans aren’t watching), and why in heaven’s name are the males of the herd sporting udders (my 6-year-old was wondering why a boy cow would have ”those things for milk”)? (And a note to Wanda Sykes: We know your voice is unforgettable, but be careful not to be remembered for only playing animals with attitude.)

That aside, Barnyard is a fun enough romp, with spirited music and dance scenes, but it won’t be one of your favorite animal flicks this year. B-EC
Recommended ages: 5 and up

Air Buddies
(PG, 80 mins., 2006)
Air Bud, you’ll remember, was a basketball-playing wunderkind of a golden retriever who helped out a boy during a rough time in his life. Now Buddy’s got pups — five of them to be exact — thanks to the lass across the street, and the backyard is just not big enough for all of them. Enter a rich spoiled boy who wants Buddy for himself, and you get a dog-napping plot with nincompoop nappers who bungle and slapstick their way through the job, amidst puppies who can talk and try to save their parents but pretty much just look adorable. C-EC
Recommended ages: 4 and up


Sock Monkey Rides Again
by Cece Bell
I’m not sure why, but I have a certain fondness for sock monkeys — and I was completely charmed by this affable tale, which sports a spiffy pink cover and vivid, color-block illustrations. Sock Monkey, who wants to be a movie star, lands the role of a lifetime. There’s just one catch: He’s going to have to kiss the leading lady, something he most definitely does not want to do. Will he overcome his revulsion? Kids will giggle, and moms and dads won’t mind reading this tale again and again. And again. ATina Jordan
Recommended ages: 3-6

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