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DVDs of the Year 2007
The best of the best DVDs
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In Chinese culture, 2007 was the Year of the Pig. For kids' DVD lovers, it was the year of the pig, spider, muppet, rat...we could go on. Here, the best of the best DVDs, chosen by Parenting's judges, along with a team of moms and kids across the country.
Bruce Kluger, Parenting's DVD reviewer and a contributing editor, also writes for USA Today and National Public Radio.
This year's panel, headed by Bruce Kluger: Greg Fagan, managing editor, Barnesandnoble.com video; Donald Liebenson, children's DVD reviewer, Barnesandnoble.com, and freelance entertainment writer, Chicago Tribune; Shannon Maughan, children's audio/video editor, Publishers Weekly, and kids' librarian.
Babies are drawn to bold graphics, bright colors, and music that has a simple, steady beat. Screen time for children under 2 should be limited to 15 minutes or so -- enough time for you to answer a few phone calls and savor a cup of coffee.
In this sparkling computer-animated collage, brightly colored shapes and patterns mix and morph to lilting classical music. Ideal for stop-and-start play and guaranteed to keep your baby rapt. ($15, Artsee Fartsee; artsee-fartsee.com)
Baby Einstein: Lullaby Time
The granddaddy of baby-friendly entertainment has another winner: Set to sleep-friendly tunes by Mozart, Brahms, and Bach, this pageant of placid, soothing images -- fluffy clouds, floating bubbles, lapping ocean waves -- is perfect for helping little eyelids grow heavy. Just make sure you don't fall asleep first. ($20, Baby Einstein)
Baby IQ: The World Around Us
A baby's eye-view of everyday images, with oodles of color-drenched eye candy: animated paint droplets, puppets, and even a toddler twosome eating ice cream. ($18, The Brainy Baby Company)
Toddlers like to see other kids doing familiar things: singing, clapping, dancing, and playing with puppets or pets. Watch with them -- and talk about what you see -- and you'll reinforce on-screen lessons.
Charlie and Lola, Vol. 3: My Little Town
In six episodes of this witty Brit import, the charming brother¿sister pair settle in for more sibling revelry -- and rivalry. Kids'll giggle at the pair's silly squabbling and maneuvering; parents will find their antics all too familiar. ($15, BBC/Warner)
Go Potty Go!
A sweet, animated toilet-training tutorial, in which a pair of pandas give the inside poop on potty etiquette, from knowing when it's time to go to tips on the wipe-and-washup. Rhyming verse and darling ditties drive the lesson plan, which at one point features a cute parading posse of panty-clad animals. ($15, Mazzarella Media; bigkidsvideo.com)
Little Einsteins: Legend of the Golden Pyramid Playhouse
Disney's quick-thinking brainiac quintet journeys to the sands of an Egyptian desert to solve a musical mystery. Also on the itinerary: kite-flying along the Great Wall of China and a daring rescue in the skies above San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. ($20, Disney)
A Treasure in My Garden
Otherworldly animation and dreamy melodies grace this collection of toddler music vids. Best of the bunch: "For You, I've a Lake," a seaside love fable, and "Apple Song," a sweet lullaby featuring floating fruit and a baby with popcorn hair. Simply marvelous. ($15, Ryko; Thesecretmountain.com)
Preschoolers can follow simple storylines and grasp basic skills, such as sharing and counting. They also enjoy watching their favorite discs over and over again, so man your stop button accordingly.
Bop Along With the Bop-a-Lots
Are they bear cubs? Chipmunks? Doesn't matter -- they're a hoot. In their first DVD outing, this cuddly trio of "Imagining Playmates" shimmy and shake to clever arrangements (from Dixieland to mariachi) of popular children's songs, inspiring small viewers to get up on their feet. As cute as cute gets. ($20, with bonus CD, Wonderfun; bopalots.com)
Gustafer Yellowgold's Wide Wild World
This solar alien just may be the coolest little space invader since E.T. Musician¿illustrator Morgan Taylor's compilation of eight wonderfully whimsical story-songs (think "Yellow Submarine") about purple moons, green bees, and friendship are a hip and trippy sunsation. Parental warning: You, too, will become hooked on the tunes! ($17 DVD/CD, Apple-Eye Productions)
Little Playdates, Vol. 3: Critter Friends
In its third installment, the award-winning series tracks a pack of real-life toddlers as they ogle, pet, and cuddle a menagerie of cute creatures, including puppies and kittens, starfish and parrots. The underlying message is a nice one: Caring for animals isn't so different from caring for friends. ($17, Little Playdates/Starlight; littleplaydates.com)
Open Wide, Tooth School Inside...and 4 More Fantastic Children's Stories
Leaping from the pages of Laurie Keller's delightfully daft storybook, 32 animated "students" (eight incisors, four canines, etc.) congregate in a classroom, where they learn about dental hygiene and anatomy -- plus the perils of being the tooth fairy. Four other toothsome tales are also included. ($15, Scholastic)
By now, children are learning -- and keenly prone -- to sort right from wrong, so stories that include a lesson or moral are especially compelling. Fun learning programs, such as sing- and dance-alongs, are also favorites.
Exquisitely crafted and impressively faithful to the beloved book, this retelling of E.B. White's timeless spider-and-pig tale reminds small viewers that, even in a barnyard, love and friendship rule the roost. Julia Roberts voices the title role with pitch-perfect passion, all but guaranteeing viewer sniffles during those sad final moments. ($20, Paramount)
Flower Child: Beautiful Poetry for Beautiful Children
Give the Hannah Montana episodes a rest and try this breezy batch of classic poems (think Whitman and Dickinson), read aloud and set to clips of real-life kids at play. It celebrates the beauty of language and nature, and features a rich backdrop of folk and world music. A perfect intro to the world of verse. ($20, flowerchilddvd.com/Big Kids Productions)
The Muppet Show: Season Two
Still hailed as family TV's finest hour, Jim Henson's landmark variety show pulled out the stops in its sophomore season (1977-78), with hilarious send-ups like "Pigs in Space" and "Swedish Chef," and a faux-serious sit-down with the felt superstars themselves. Guest hosts include Steve Martin, Julie Andrews, John Cleese, and Elton John. ($40, four discs/24 episodes, Disney)
Since tweens adore stories that reflect daily life, movies about school and even some documentaries are prime fare. They can also untangle knotty plots, so tales of adventure and intrigue are often a big hit.
A Night at the Museum
Aimless divorced dad Ben Stiller battles with Attila the Hun, a giant dinosaur skeleton, and a mischievous monkey when he mans the mystical graveyard shift in Manhattan's Museum of Natural History. Stiller's besieged buffoonery is laugh-out-loud funny -- and the special effects are outrageous. ($30, Fox)
The Original Nancy Drew Movie Mystery Collection
They're black-and-white and nearly 70 years old, but this vintage set of four hour-long whodunits -- starring Bonita Granville as the savvy, sleuthing teen -- is wonderfully acted, snappily paced, and blessed with ample doses of slapstick relief. Even better, the films may inspire viewers to pick up the original books. You go, girl! ($25, two discs, Warner)
Ingeniously crafted and endlessly engaging, this delicious parable about a Parisian rat-turned-superchef manages to cram everything onto its menu: terrific performances, wily dialogue, a valuable moral, and, for those watching carefully, even a few recipes. Claws down, the year's best kids' flick. ($30, Pixar/Disney)