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Simply stuffed full of stuff

You can lead a child to the extras menu, but you can't make one want to be a lizard

November 13, 2005|Mary McNamara | Times Staff Writer

AS any critic will tell you, the job sounds so much more glamorous than it actually is. The editors, the deadlines, the dreck, the necessity of sitting down for more than 10 minutes put together.

Ask six children under the age of 8 to review the games and extras on the about-to-be-released DVDs of "The Polar Express" and "Madagascar" and one finds the biggest obstacle is not coaxing them to higher analysis -- "boring" and "cool" may not evoke Pauline Kael but it will do. No, it's persuading them to actually sit down long enough.

The first and perhaps most heartening lesson of the exercise is that kids would still rather play in the backyard than sit in front of the TV. Who knew?

The second lesson is that kids are way less interested in the games than they are in the movies. "Madagascar" was the first choice and unanimously it was requested that we view the movie Right Away because it is So Great, the penguins, you know, and the crazy lion. Hardheartedly, I shook my head and we began surfing through the many extras. "Mad Mishaps" was a collection of computer graphic "bloopers" -- in "Lazy Eye," for instance, the characters' eyes went rogue, bobbing through the scenes; in "Bad Hair Day," the lion's mane showed up in various stages of incompletion. Funny, perhaps, for computer-geek adults but not as kid-friendly as the "acting" bloopers tacked on to "Toy Story" and "Monsters, Inc."

"This is boring," said my son, Danny Stayton, 7. "Yeah," agreed his friends Aidan Miclat and Brendan Mariles, both 7. "Let's do the penguins," said Brendan.

So we tried "Penguin Chat," which was, in concept, the perfect "bonus material" -- have the tough-talking penguins comment on their scenes in the same way actors and directors often do. But, clearly, the penguins were working without a script and their ability to ad lib was spotty. "I like them in the movie better," Brendan said, and we all had to agree.

"Enchanted Island," a quasi-documentary about the actual Madagascar, fared even worse. A few minutes in, after listening to Jeffrey Katzenberg wax eloquent on the role the real island played in his childhood fantasies, my daughter, Fiona Stayton, turned to me. "Mama," she said, with that tone of disgust only a 5-year-old girl can muster, "I do not want to listen to this man." "Me neither," said one boy after another, thereby ending several promising careers in Hollywood.


THE trivia game marked "DreamWorks Kids" seemed promising except that each player had to pick a character and a level. Now, I am almost positive no mother was involved in designing this game because she would know that, given the choice among four characters, children will inevitably all want the same one. In this case, everyone wanted to be "the cute little guy" and no one wanted to be the chameleon.

After some major negotiations, I got everyone sorted out. But my diplomacy was undone when it came time for the chameleon's turn and one of the penguin voices intoned, "Who would want to be the lizard, anyway?" Whereupon Fiona, who had reluctantly agreed to be "the lizard" because green is Mommy's favorite color, burst into tears. So, thanks for that.

The game itself was pretty interesting -- assorted questions about various animals with three levels of difficulty. I could see a parent playing it with one or two children. But four kids of the age ripe for watching "Madagascar"? Probably not.

There are six games on "Madagascar," with various levels of practicality -- I suppose some child could learn to draw a giraffe from a video game but not mine. FossaWhack, in which players whack creatures on the head with coconuts, didn't go over as well as I had expected with my whack-loving crowd. To be fair, this may have been the fault of our remote, which is old and a bit stiff so it was difficult to move the coconuts fast enough. But the repetitive nature of the game got it quickly labeled "boring."

In one game, you move the cursor to repeat a musical sequence, which was fun for about two minutes. Again, this might be something a child and parent could do together. For five minutes. On a rainy day. In the end, the best extra turned out to be the music video of "I Like to Move It," which even an adult would just have to dance to.

DreamWorks has since added to the DVD package the very funny "The Madagascar Penguins in a Christmas Caper," a short film that originally appeared with the theatrical release of "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit," which should make kids very happy.

After a break to eat pizza and play in the backyard fort, the children returned to check out the extras on "The Polar Express" with the weariness of reporters at the 10 p.m. screenings at Cannes.

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