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ETHICS AND POWER : Mighty Morphins Are the Big Drawing Card, but There Are Other Choices at This Expo

March 10, 1994|CORINNE FLOCKEN | Corinne Flocken is a free-lance writer who regularly covers Kid Stuff for the Times Orange County Edition.

When youngsters at last year's Kids Stuff Expo tired of in-line skating, "moonbouncing" or the dozens of other 20th-Century pursuits there, they could probe the distant past at a faux paleontological dig.

This year, they'll be digging again, but they won't turn up a single dinosaur bone. Instead, visitors to the expo's Character and Ethics Pavilion will be asked to rummage through their own thoughts and values in a walk-through maze presented by the Character Counts Coalition, a national, non-sectarian agency that promotes character-building programs among youth.

The maze will feature stations at which toddlers through adults can select the appropriate action in six situations. Depending on their answers, visitors will be led either to a dead-end or further through the maze, ultimately emerging, organizers hope, with a better understanding of ethical decision-making.

The pavilion is one of many themed areas at the expo, which showcases 150 exhibitors of youth-oriented products and services as well as multiple hands-on activities for kids. Billed by promoters Joel Jacobs and Jody Schlonsky as Orange County's most comprehensive source of "edu-tainment," the event runs Saturday and Sunday at the Anaheim Convention Center. Featured elements include a large, hands-on computer pavilion sponsored by Microsoft, a play zone where kids can try out a variety of name-brand toys, roller hockey workshops led by the Anaheim Bullfrogs and ongoing POG tournaments.

Oh, yeah. The Power Rangers will be there, too.

On Saturday and Sunday, two of Saban Entertainment's Mighty Morphin Power Rangers will suit up in their best super-hero Spandex to press the flesh with fans and pose for photographs. According to a Saban spokeswoman, the Anaheim gig is one of the few public appearances by the Rangers prior to a national theatrical tour planned for this summer. Last month, a performance by all six Rangers at Universal Studios drew 35,000 kids and parents and created traffic snarls that even Power Ranger nemesis Rita Repulsawould be proud to call her own.

Ranger mania, in case you've managed to avoid it, stems from a half-hour live action show that airs locally on Fox television. The show centers on the exploits of six teen-agers, who, through their combined efforts, change or "morph" into super-heroes whenever truth, justice or the God-given right to wear bright, stretchy stuff is challenged.

Although some adults claim the show inspires violent behavior among children, Saban's Debra McCormick maintains that the Rangers are "pure fantasy, very over the top" and provide "positive role models for kids (in the areas of) teamwork, self-discipline and self-esteem." Fans range in age from 2 to around 11, said McCormick, adding that the boy-to-girl ratio in that group is about 60-40 because "two of the Rangers are girls, and they're just as powerful as the boys."

Although the Rangers won't be doing any special performances at the expo, organizers still expect an enormous turnout. To balance the crowds, each event ticket will have an additional stub specifying which of the Ranger sessions the ticket-holder may attend, and overflow parking areas will be available.

Jozelle Smith, a spokeswoman for the Character Counts Coalition, admits that she's unsure what kind of response her quiet little maze will garner at the expo, an event that, even without the Power Rangers, isn't exactly a center of calm.

"We know (our activity) doesn't have a glitzy appeal," Smith acknowledged. "But if we can get some of our information into the hands of parents and teachers, we'll be happy."

The coalition, an offshoot of the Josephson Institute of Ethics in Marina del Rey, lists among its board members actor Tom Selleck, former U.S. Education Secretary William G. Bennett and former Rep. Barbara Jordan (D-Tex.). Member organizations include the American Federation of Teachers, the United Way and the YMCA.

The group's programs include a new "gang response project" that will be put in place at three Central California alternative schools in September, and which Smith says she hopes will become a model for similar programs nationwide, as well as workshops to help teachers and youth leaders teach ethical decision-making to young people.

Elsewhere in the expo, visitors can choose from hands-on activities in a museum zone that includes the La Habra Children's Museum, the Launch Pad science center and Oak Canyon Nature Center; check into the CHOC Teddy Bear Clinic; bowl a fast game in a regulation-sized bowling lane or shoosh 152 feet across the convention center on board the North American Wilderness Zip Line. Sporty types can roll with the Bullfrogs, take part in gymnastics workshops or rub elbows with U.S. National Soccer team members (the latter on Sunday only, from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.).

What: Sixth Annual Kids Stuff Expo.

When: Saturday, March 12, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sunday, March 13, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Where: Anaheim Convention Center, 800 W. Katella Ave., Anaheim.

Whereabouts: From the Santa Ana (5) Freeway, exit at Harbor Boulevard, drive south to Katella Avenue and turn right.

Wherewithal: Admission is $5 to $7; children age 2 and under get in free. Tickets will be sold in advance at the convention center box office or by phone and at the door. Parking is $6.

Where to call: (714) 458-6959.

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