Only some solid performances rescue ''Firehouse Dog'' from being consumed by coarse humor and intense scenes. Plus: A CD and two books
Is ”Firehouse Dog” too hot for tykes?
PG, 111 mins., 2007
It’s one thing to use fart-, burp-, and poop-jokes in a family movie — it’s another thing entirely to use a poor four-legged creature as the vehicle for those stilted laughs. But don’t feel too sorry for canine protagonist Rexxx : not only is he a pampered Hollywood stunt dog whose credits include Jurassic Bark and The Fast and the Furrious, but the Irish terrier also happens to have a lot of animatronic/CG help to do his tricks (like riding a skateboard, or sliding down a firepole). So much so, that anyone who’s ever had a dog, or even petted one, will sniff this one out as a fake.
That said, the humans in this film help make up for the pooch’s shortcomings. Bridge to Terabithia‘s Josh Hutcherson is believable as the boy who reluctantly takes care of stray Rexxx, as is his dad, Capt. Connor Fahey (John from Cincinatti‘ s Bruce Greenwood) — and the camaraderie of the firehouse, which is in danger of closing, rings true. The underlying messages, about the frivolity of fame and the great sacrifices firefighters make, are easily digestible.
But the film teeter-totters between very serious, harrowing mini Backdraft scenes, which may have younger viewers holding their breaths, and completely goofy, eye-rolling moments (the aforementioned poop winds up in a firehouse chili). Add to that a subplot about an arsonist and corrupt politics, and the lighter moments seem even more out of place. There are plenty of other dog movies that will make you sit up and pay attention. C —Eileen Clarke
Recommended ages: 6 and up
Peter and the Wolf
Magic Maestro Music
If your little ones are past the age of getting their classical music from Baby Einstein, here’s a perfect next step. From conductor Stephen Simon’s Stories in Music series, youngsters can listen to Prokofiev’s tale of the brave little Russian boy who encounters a hungry wolf, and be able to connect the characters with the instruments played (courtesy of the London Philharmonic): Every time a bird enters the story, the flute is played; the duck is an oboe; Peter, the strings; and the nasty wolf, the imposing French horns. This CD is great for quiet time and even for background play (there’s a track minus the narration, too), and is accompanied by a booklet with word games and interesting facts about the composer. A- —EC
Recommended ages: 4 and up
Encyclopedia Horrifica: The Terrifying Truth About Vampires, Ghosts, Monsters, and More
By Joshua Gee
I hadn’t paid much attention to this book when it arrived, but when my 12-year-old came to my office for a recent visit, she immediately pounced on it and sat, engrossed, for most of the morning, occasionally reading out loud to me. ”Mom! Look! This haunted house isn’t far from us!” Later, I picked up the book myself and immediately understood the appeal. It isn’t really an encyclopedia; it’s a picture book, a well-designed, slightly shlocky compilation of famous tales, newspaper clippings, urban legends, and more — all scary, but not too scary. Is that really a ghost in that photo? Did a dead ferret really communicate with a psychic investigator? What’s it like to spend a night in a haunted house with ghost hunters? You get the idea. Just like my daughter, I would’ve loved this when I was 12. B —Tina Jordan
Recommended ages: 8-14
By Natasha Friend
Evyn’s mom died when she was one, and since then, it’s just been the three of them: Evyn, her dad, Birdie, and her big brother, Mackey. But then her dad falls in love and decides to marry his girlfriend, Eleni — after only two months of dating — and uproots them from their cozy Maine house to Eleni’s Boston brownstone, which is already filled by her noisy brood of six (Evyn has to bunk with 15-year-old twin stepsisters). Though her new family is nice to her, Evyn is overcome almost daily by all the difficulties she faces both at home and in her new school. Things come to a head on the day two terrible things happen: Eleni and Birdie announce they’re expecting a baby, and Evyn’s beloved dog Clam dies. Which lead to a distraught Evyn to bolt from the house. It takes time for her to come to terms with what has happened, but she does. And in the process, Evyn comes to terms with, and even learns to like and respect her new mother. At one point, when her stepbrother Linus asks her if she wants the baby to be a girl, Evyn blurts, ”Are you kidding? I have enough sisters already.” Sisters. She now thinks of her wild, cacaphonous step-sibs as real sisters. Friend has neatly captured the mix of anger, hormones, and confusion that boil in a 13-year-old’s brain. Writing about the ways families blend — with messiness, anger, love, confusion — isn’t easy, but she’s done it, and given us one terrific coming-of-age novel. A- —TJ
Recommended ages: 10-14