Black Indians: An American Story. Riche-Heape Films Inc. 60 minutes. Ages 12 to adult. $25. (888) 600-2922. http://www.richheape.com/
"Black Indians" are people as diverse as Revolutionary War hero Crispus Attucks, writer Langston Hughes and singer Tina Turner. They also are people who, according to this sobering, informative documentary, have struggled with their racial identity. Such dual cultural heritage--African American and American Indian--remains an emotional and life-affecting issue.
Narrated by James Earl Jones, the video brings a little-observed piece of American history to light as it explores the intertwining of two cultures that may barely rate a classroom footnote but affects thousands of lives. It includes vintage film clips, still photos, comment from historians and telling interviews with Narragansett, Cherokee, Pequot, Seminole and other tribal members who are also of African descent.
Ears Wide Open. Trio Phoenix Productions. 38 minutes. Ages 7 and up. $30. (415) 673-3059.
Internationally respected cellist Sarah Fiene presents an ungimmicky introduction to the pleasures of classical music in an informal setting, striving to present it as something kids can seek out and enjoy without needing "special knowledge." There's no musical history or technical information here, just some brief comment about how different instruments can convey different moods, and how a theme can be varied.
Fiene invites viewers to consider classical music an emotional experience--"if it touches you, then you are understanding it"--as pianist Daniel Lockert, guitarist Marc Teicholz, soprano Deborah Massell, and Feine play short pieces from works by Bach, Saint-Saens, Chopin, Leos Janacek, Beethoven, and Villa-Lobos.
Lion of Oz. Sony Wonder. 75 minutes. Ages 4 to 10. $15. (DVD release Sept. 26, 100 minutes, $20). http://www.sonywonder.com
The most notable thing about this musical prequel to "The Wizard of Oz," is its heavyweight voice cast: Tim Curry, Dom DeLuise, Bobcat Goldthwaite, Kathy Griffin, Jane Horrocks, Jason Priestly and Lynn Redgrave. Otherwise it's pretty lightweight stuff.
The animation is standard fare, mitigated by eye-pleasing background artwork of pastoral Oz locations. Written by Roger S. Baum, the great-grandson of L. Frank Baum, the innocuous story is about a circus lion (Priestly) who finds himself in Oz after a hot-air balloon disaster. He's soon on a quest to rescue his balloon pilot friend and to find the magical "Flower of Oz," so that the Wicked Witch of the East (Redgrave) won't turn Oz into a land of gloom and doom. The Lion's companions include Silly Ozbul (Goldthwaite), the irritating comic relief. In the happy ending, it turns out that the noble lion thinks he was only brave because he was wearing his "Badge of Courage" ribbon, now lost. So he takes off into the woods and happens upon a certain trio following a certain Yellow Brick Road. . . .
Lost in School. Storymaker Records. 45 minutes. Ages 5 to 10. CD: $15, Cassette: $12. (800) 923-2692. http://www.findlou.com
Bill Harley, move over. Here's a tuneful, wonderfully wacky school-time romp from Lou Del Bianco, who seems to have total recall when it comes to the woes and joys of kid-dom. Del Bianco also has a gift for witty lyrics, funny voices and inventive jazz- and rock-style tunes. He sings about being teased ("A Bad Day Today") about a "Big Bad Bully Boy," the "Homework Blues," a special someone ("She's a Girl"), wearing the wrong shoes, eating the best Italian meatballs in the world, and about simple pleasures: milk and cookies, bikes, dinosaurs, gum, and the last day of school ("That's What I Like").
Del Bianco does more, though. Throughout the album, he weaves a continuing, comical first-person saga about a new kid and the people he meets as he wanders the halls of his big, unfamiliar school trying to find Mrs. Johnson's third-grade class.
Mariposa, Latin American Lullabies and Songs of Tranquillity for the Whole Family. Ulloa Productions. 42 minutes. Infants and up. CD: $17. (800) 223-7672. http://www.juanitamusic.com/
Sung mostly in Spanish, this is the third and richest in Latina soprano Juanita Newland-Ulloa's "Canta Conmigo" family audio series, a collection of classic and original contemporary songs for quiet times. Newland-Ulloa's light soprano with its mariachi lilt occasionally wavers a bit into operatic territory that doesn't quite fit the material, but her delivery is sweet, expressive and gentle. Highlights include her lovely contemporary title song, her rendition of the traditional "La Golondrina," her heart-full piano instrumentals on "Para Cristina," and, with expressive violist Virginia Morgan, on her arrangement of the traditional Peruvian "Canto al Agua."