Arthur’s Perfect Christmas Is A Perfect Family Feature

Courtesy: PBS

Halloween has officially come and gone for another year.  So with one of the holiday season’s biggest days in the rearview mirror, many families are going to begin looking forward to the next two big holidays.  Most may not realize it, but when it comes to holiday films, there are more Christmas themed features and films than there are for any other time of the year.  So the question is what is a family to watch as it gets into the Christmas spirit?  One suggestion is a feature from one of literature’s most beloved characters.  Who might that be?  Arthur Read.

PBS released Arthur’s Perfect Christmas to DVD early last month.  This near hour long animated feature is a perfect fit for any family during the holiday season.  The feature’s run time is one of the key factors to its success.  Its messages of religious diversity and the importance of family are just part of what makes it a fun and family friendly story for this time of year.  Being that it clocks in at just under an hour, this feature’s run time is perfect for younger viewers.  Had it been any longer, it might have begun to lose said viewers’ attention.  Tied in to that run time is the general storyline and animation.  The storyline follows not just Arthur’s hopes for a perfect Christmas but the holiday celebrations of his friends.  As she counts down to Hanukkah, Francine has to deal with her best friend Muffy’s lack of sensitivity towards her faith.  Muffy’s lack of understanding leads to an exchanging of words over the phone between the two.  George and his family celebrate Kwanzaa, and Binky struggles to get his holiday recipes just right.  Arthur’s best friend, Buster, also has his own issues with the holidays as his parents are divorced. So he has to decide if he wants to tell his mom how he really feels about her going over the top every year.

The interweaving storylines in Arthur’s Perfect Christmas will keep the attention of its viewers.  It does a very good job of mixing each story into the bigger picture.  The feature’s animation adds in to the feature’s ability to keep its audiences’ attention.  The bright colors and original hand drawn animation do their own part in making Arthur’s Perfect Christmas great for the entire family.  At a time when so many “animated” features are created via computers, it’s especially nice to see that hand drawn animation is still alive and well.      

The animation and stories come together to make Arthur’s Perfect Christmas an enjoyable holiday feature for the entire family every year.  But there is so much more to this feature that audiences might miss after just one watch.  For instance, the very fact that it promotes a variety of religions shows acceptance of each one.  There are those that would argue that this is little more than a not so hidden political agenda to some.  And maybe it is meant to teach tolerance.  Is that such a bad thing?  It’s especially interesting that the writers added the discussion on the mixing of Christian and Babylonian traditions to make today’s modern Christmas, instead of simply going with just one view of Christmas.  This is subtle, but very important to the overall story.

There is one more subtle moment that offers the chance for a very deep discussion between parents and children.  That moment comes when Arthur and his mom come home from the mall and his mom has to explain to D.W. about the potential of her not getting the doll that she wanted.  D.W. asks is it because she’s been bad?  And it has to be explained that that’s not the reason at all.  Far too often today, children are still taught that Santa keeps lists of naughty and nice kids.  So kids are taught that if they don’t get the toys they want, it’s because of their behavior.  It could easily be argued that this is an argument against that method.  To that point, one could argue that this is an argument against not only that method, but against our country’s culture of consumerism.  Especially considering the number of families that are financially struggling today, it’s a message that’s just as important today as when this special first aired. 

As one can see here, Arthur’s Perfect Christmas is far deeper than some audiences might offer it.  That depth, and the ability of the feature to send important messages without being preachy makes it a feature that audiences of all ages will enjoy watching every holiday season.  It can be ordered online now at PBS’ online store, http://www.shoppbs.org

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PBS’ New Civil War Documentary Set Sure To Please Any History Buff

COurtesy: PBS

The Civil War is one of the most important events in the United States’ near two hundred and forty year history.  To this day, it is discussed inside and outside the classroom.  The mere flying of a rebel flag in some parts of the country raises tensions and political discussions.  Countless documentaries have been crafted on the subject from nearly every possible angle.  Now thanks to PBS, history buffs, teachers, and Civil War enthusiasts alike have a new addition to their libraries in the form of “America and the Civil War.”

“America and the Civil War” is a double disc DVD set from PBS that combines the best of the network’s Civil War programs and culls them together in an expansive five-part collection.  The five specials culled together come from the network’s “American Experience” and “NOVA.”  Being that the set includes five different specials, each viewer will have his or her own favorite moment(s).  This reviewer’s personal favorite moments are the special, “Lincoln’s Secret Weapon” and “The 54th Colored Infantry.”

“Lincoln’s Secret War” has previously been released on DVD.  It is part of the network’s “NOVA” programming.  This near hour long special follows a group of Navy divers as they try to raise the propeller and shaft of the famed U.S.S. Monitor from the floor of the Atlantic Ocean just off the North Carolina coast.  As viewers follow the sometimes tense moments of the work involved, they are also provided a history of why this project is being undertaken.  The program’s narrator gives a history of the Monitor and its creator John Ericsson.  Ericsson is described here as one of the greatest engineering minds of his time.  It was Ericsson who developed the first screw propeller, which would eventually be used in the Monitor.  Though, it was actually used in the Princeton first.  The program also goes into some depth, explaining how the success of the Monitor led to the creation of other Monitors, though the outcome was not good.  That’s because certain parties thought the ships could be used in open water battles.  That ultimately was what led to the sinking of the original Monitor off the coast of North Carolina.  It should be noted at this point, that Lincoln’s Secret Weapon is somewhat dated, as the turret from the Monitor has been pulled from the ocean floor.  That aside, it is still a good lesson explaining what would be one of the turning points in naval history.

“Lincoln’s Secret Weapon” is a good special for anyone interested in naval history (this reviewer included).  For those interested in other matters, there is the special, “The Massachusetts 54th Colored Infantry.”  This roughly hour long special closes out the double disc set.  It is narrated by veteran actor Morgan Freeman.  It documents the true story of the regiment whose achievements were made into the big screen feature, Glory (1989).  Through interviews with descendants of the 54th and historians, audiences learn interesting facts such as how the 54th Colored Infantry got its start in Boston.  Perhaps most interesting of all in this special is that it actually took the Emancipation Proclamation for the 54th to be formed.  Before this edict from President Lincoln, African Americans were not allowed to serve in the military, even in the North.  And even when they were finally allowed to service, it was with a catch.  They were not permitted to serve as commissioned officers or lead regiments in general.  So even after Lincoln’s new law was signed, discrimination still happened to African Americans who wanted to fight for their own freedom.  As Freeman notes at one point, documents showed that some Union soldiers went so far as to admit that they weren’t fighting against slavery at all.  They were fighting because the war was right, in their eyes.  So even in the North, free blacks faced almost as much unfair treatment as in the south.  Of course, what documentary on the 54th would be complete without mention that the regiment did have a very important victory just before the war’s end?  It was the 54th that helped to finally take Charleston, South Carolina only months before the war finally ended.  As with “Lincoln’s Secret Weapon”, this is another interesting addition to PBS’ new Civil War documentary set.  It is one more piece that makes the entire set worth the watch.  It has so much more information that teachers and history buffs alike will enjoy checking out.

Of course, the only way to check out these two specials and the others in “America and the Civil War” is to own it for oneself.  “America and the Civil War” will be available on August 28th.  It will be available for order at http://www.shoppbs.org.  

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PBS’ Queen & Country Shows Queen Elizabeth II As “The People’s Queen”

Courtesy: PBS

Earlier this year, her majesty, Queen Elizabeth II celebrated a major milestone.  She celebrated six decades on the throne.  Sixty years is a long time.  While presidents and members of Parliament have come and gone throughout those six decades, she has remained the key figure of Britain’s Royal Family.  Media outlets across the globe had their cameras there as she celebrated the anniversary.  Citizens from around the world were there, too.  For all the pomp and circumstance, one wonders how many people know the history of one of the world’s longest ruling individuals.  Thanks to PBS, audiences can now see the life and times of a figure who has become more than just a monarch.  She is one of the people. 

“Queen & Country” is a fully in-depth four part series that explains how Queen Elizabeth was thrust into the limelight after the death of her father, King George VI in February 1952.  Narrator Sir Trevor McDonald takes viewers on a journey through time in this new double disc presentation that shows how Queen Elizabeth II became one of the world’s most beloved public figures.  It all starts with the segment, “London, Royal City.”  This segment sets the groundwork for the special.  It explains the royal family’s reputation thanks to her father, King George VI.  George led Britain through WWII, and became one of the nation’s most beloved leaders of all time.  Understanding this, it’s easy to see how the queen would be similar, personality-wise, to her father.  Perhaps the most interesting fact of the queen that echoes throughout all four segments of this special is that as much as people see her in pictures and in the public, Elizabeth II is a very private person.  She rarely does media interviews.  And as McDonald explains, even those who talk to her on a personal level are sworn to secrecy concerning their conversations. 

Courtesy: PBS

It should be noted that there are those out there who would rant and rave that the queen is little more than a political figurehead and ask why she is so beloved.  McDonald does admit that the queen really doesn’t have power, as Britain is run by what is known as a Constitutional Monarchy.  She may not have ultimate power, but she does have input on what goes on in Parliament.  Ergo, she is still a very important figure in her nation’s political happenings.  As noted in one interview, she meets with the Prime Minister at least once a week.  And thanks to her many years of experience, she can offer her own insight into matters discussed by members of Parliament. 

The relationship between the queen and the United Kingdom is discussed through the segments, “The Royal Visit” and “The Traveller.”  Both show just how much the queen is in the public view.  And it is because of her reputation in the public as being a very kind, simple person that the people of the United Kingdom love her so much.  Even one of Australia’s former heads noted that while the nation would love to be independent, it wouldn’t push for that until Elizabeth is no longer ruling.  He notes that that’s the level of respect Australia has for her.

Queen Elizabeth II is one of the most influential and respected individuals in the history of not only her own country, but of other nations, too.  “Queen & Country” is evidence of that.  And while it does present the impact she has had on the world and vice versa, it offers so much more that any history buff or student of history would enjoy.  This double disc blu-ray and DVD is available now.  It can be ordered online at http://www.shoppbs.org

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Veggie Tales’ Latest Is More Fun For The Whole Family

Courtesy: Big Idea

Big Idea’s latest release in the Veggie Tales franchise is another family friendly story that not only re-tells a classic literary tale, but also maintains the Christian values that have made this franchise such a favorite ever since its very first ever release.

The Penniless Princess re-tells the classic story of A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  This story sees the shoes filled by Shirley Temple in 1939 replaced by the voice of Anna Grace Stewart.  The latest story stays closer to the original book than the Shirley Temple rendition.  And while it does maintain the Christian values for which the franchise has become known, it isn’t overly preachy.  This in itself is a bonus for parents.  The lesson that people can be friends regardless of their social class is both secular and Christian at the same time.  That, again, makes this a wonderful program for parents with young children.  Parents will also appreciate the sing-along songs.  As their children will sing every word to every song.  The bonus features included on this disc add to the enjoyment.  Both parents and children will enjoy the mini guided tour of London.  And parents will love hearing the voice cast and everyone else behind the toon talk about how it was brought to life.  Perhaps the only downside to the entire presentation is the random middle segment with the two friends texting each other on their phones.  It is completely out of place in the special.  And as randomly as it comes into play, it will leave both parents and kids questioning what it’s doing there.  Other than that, this is one more enjoyable feature for the whole family.

“The Penniless Princess” will be available in stores and online Tuesday, August 14th.  It can be ordered online at http://store.veggietales.com.  While families wait for the new DVD to come out, they can take their kids to http://veggietales.com and play lots of family friendly games. 

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Wordgirl wins Daytime Emmy

NEW YORK, NY–WordGirl has become famous for fighting robots and evil supervillains every day.  Now, everybody’s favorite little literary superheroine can add another title to her long list of accolades.  Wordgirl won a Daytime Emmy this past Tuesday, June 17th at the 39th Annual Creative Arts & Entertainment Daytime Emmy® Awards.

The Emmy win was for Outstanding Writing in Animation.  Scholastic Media President Deborah Forte shared her thoughts on the honor.  She said, “I am thrilled the Academy has once again chosen to honor the WordGirl writing team for excellence.”  She added, “This latest recognition of the program is a testament to the tremendous talent and dedication of our writers, who, like WordGirl herself, demonstrate the power of choosing the right words.”

WordGirl is now airing on PBSKids GO! and is in its fourth season.  Since its debut three seasons ago, WordGirl has won thirty awards and nominations, including seven Emmy nominations and a 2008 Emmy award win for “Best Writing in Animation” and many others. 

Parents and kids can get more information on WordGirl online at http://www.PBSKIDSGO.org and http://www.PBS.org/pressroom.   

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Mister Rogers & Me a wonderful tribute to a wonderful person

Courtesy: Wagner Brothers/PBS

The one thing that makes me mad is one person demeaning another.  That’s a near direct quote from the recently released documentary, “Mister Rogers & Me.”  That statement came from the lips of the legendary Mister Rogers himself before his death, as noted in this documentary.  As simple as that statement is, it speaks volumes about a man who lived a simple life both on camera and off.  It also explained what makes Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood one of the most highly revered children’s programs to ever be created.

“Mister Rogers & Me” isn’t so much about Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood so much as it is about the man after whom it was named, Fred Rogers.  In watching this new documentary, audiences get a glimpse at the impact that Mr. Rogers had (and still has to this day) on audiences young and old alike.  Mister Rogers was welcomed into countless households every day.  From authors to television personalities to regular every day families, Mister Rogers had a profound impact on people at every level.  The Wagner Brothers–David, Benjamin, and Christofer–interviewed personalities such as Arthur creator Marc Brown, NPR correspondent Susan Stamberg, and the late Tim Russert about the impact that Mr. Rogers had on their lives.  The sentiments shared by each one are enough to make audiences of any age tear up.  Their stories are that touching and powerful.  The stories shared by average every day audiences and their families are just as moving.

The stories shared by the Wagner Brothers’ intervewees make for an amazing story.  In an age when it’s next to impossible to know which adults can be trusted to be around our children, Mr. Rogers is still one of the rare individuals that parents have always been able to trust.  The Wagner Brothers explain what it was that that made Mister Rogers the beloved, trusted personality that he was, and even is today, even though he’s no longer with us.  Each segment of the documentary shares the values by which Mister Rogers lived, and in turn, shared with parents and children alike.  Each segment of the documentary is separated by a quote that explains Mister Rogers’ different values.  The separation helps to keep audiences’ attention from Benjamin Wagner’s first meeting with Mister Rogers to the final sentiments shared by the television icon with his audiences in his final broadcast.

Fred Rogers was everything that personalities on television today aren’t.  He was a simple person.  He lived a simple life.  He was genuine.  This documentary proves to audiences that the man they saw in front of the camera was the same one they saw behind the camera.  He wasn’t just some personality.  He didn’t try to push products.  He just wanted audiences of all ages to know that no matter who they were (and are) he liked them just the way they are.  And as the interviews shared in this documentary prove, one simple statement is all the world needs.  Call him a dreamer.  But if the entire world shared one kind word with one another each day, odds are, this world would be a much better place in whcih to live.  It would certainly be a fitting tribute to a man who lived this belief every day of his life.  Thankfully, with this new documentary, The Wagner Brothers and PBS have reminded everyone that all the world needs is a little kindness.  With any luck, this reminder will get more people to try to share that kindness and pay tribute in their own way, too.  And maybe one day, we’ll all be able to say to one another, “I like you just the way you are”, too.

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