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Look and Listen

Carefully Crafted for the Youngest Ones

May 30, 2002|LYNNE HEFFLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DVD

Baby Shakespeare. Baby Einstein Company/Walt Disney Home Entertainment. 101 minutes. Infants and toddlers. DVD: $20. (800) 793-1454. www.baby einstein.com

The name of this company may suggest that the creation of infant geniuses is but a click of the remote away. These carefully crafted videos and DVDs, however, are best viewed as an exploration of sights, sounds and communication through shared play and learning between babies and adult caregivers. Here, an imaginative "Theater" section is divided into 30 short segments featuring puppets, toys, real children, gentle animation, poems by Wadsworth, Shakespeare, Langston Hughes, Tennessee Williams, Robert Frost and others, with excerpts of works by Beethoven.

The "Concert Hall" portion of the DVD is for listening without visuals, with snippets of Beethoven divided into "A Concert for Little Ears," "Bedtime" and "Playtime." The poems are recited again with accompanying photos in an "Exhibition Center."

*

Video

Just the Facts: The Human Body--Musculoskeletal System. Goldhil Video. 50 minutes. $20. Ages 8 to adult. (800) 250-8760.

This lab-coat tour of bones and muscles is informative but dry, like school films of decades past. There is some live action, a few animated illustrations and doctors with pens for pointers talking on camera while holding or manipulating real skeletons and artificial anatomical visual aids: "We have similar movements in the extremities--" "If we look in the region of the nasal area--"

A comparison between the skeletons of babies and adults is a bit haunting, but interesting, and it's amazing to see the many bones that make up the skull taken apart like a puzzle. Still, a needed spark of wonder is missing from this worthy reference tool. There's a hint of it only when one expert's sudden rush of enthusiasm takes her beyond pedantry into poetry: with the air of sharing a delightful secret, she takes apart a skull to reveal how one facial bone looks like "a big butterfly."

Angelina Ballerina: Rose Fairy Princess. HIT Entertainment. 48 minutes. Ages 3 to 8. VHS: $15. DVD: $17. (866) 587-1778. www.angelinaballerina.com

The little mouse with a grand passion for ballet, star of the hugely popular books by author Katharine Holabird and illustrator Helen Craig, is now the star of a new video series, as well as a new weekly PBS series.

Animated by Grand Slamm Children's Films and produced by HIT Entertainment, Angelina's transition to the small screen does her creators proud, with a rainbow palette of soft colors, and finely drawn background art filled with charming detail, from fabric patterns, vases of flowers and painted china to the grand decor of a theater.

Best of all, the simple stories that teach impulsive Angelina various life lessons--conquering her fears, being sensitive to others, not giving up--feature a spot-on British voice cast, headed by Oscar-winner Dame Judi Dench as ballet teacher Miss Lilly and Dench's real-life daughter, Finty Williams, in the title role.

In this four-episode video series, Angelina lands a coveted "Rose Fairy Princess" ballet role, loses track of her young cousin at the fair, almost misses out on a performance by her ballet idols, and has an unfortunate encounter with a prize-winning cauliflower.

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