Summer Movie Marathon

Hosting a family film festival is a perfect way to beat the heat. Get started with Child's age-by-age guide to kid-friendly videos and DVDs.

1 year +

 Elmo's Magic Cookbook (Sony Wonder)
45 min., not rated
Ages 1 to 5

The Sesame Workshop kicked it up a notch with this made-for video special, an edible adventure that teaches kids about some of their favorite foods. When Elmo rubs the Magic Cookbook, a genie appears to grant him his wish-to be able to prepare some of the dishes in the cookbook. Superchef Emeril Lagasse -- bam! -- to show the Muppet and some human friends how to make a pizza. The tape emphasizes kitchen safety and highlights the basic ingredients that compose each dish, serving it all up with a deliciously upbeat, try-new-foods attitude. It's no surprise that Elmo and Emeril go together like PB&J -- the fuzzy red monster and the Big Easy chef shouldn't have waited this long to do an educational video together. "I can't say enough about Elmo; he's the coolest thing," Emeril says. "He was always in character, even between takes." For his part, Elmo is a fan of Emeril's as well, though he'd rather talk about pizza toppings: "Oh, Emeril was funny -- Elmo was on his show once, you know! Elmo loves food! Elmo could put pineapple on his pizza! Elmo didn't know he could do that!"

Go! Exercise With the Teletubbies (PBS Kids)
70 min., rated G
Ages 1 to 5
Dance and jump with Po, Laa-Laa, Dipsy, and Tinky Winky. This video gets kids off the couch and into fitness.

  Maisy ABC and Maisy Springtime (Universal)
36 and 30 min., not rated
Ages 1 to 4

In these two cute video releases from the Nick Jr. TV series, the young, curious Maisy -- based on the mouse in books by British author Lucy Cousins -- explores her world in a fun and educational manner, like when she asks tots to help her tackle the alphabet in ABC. Springtime tells simple tales of animals and farms.

Newton in a Bottle (Newton in a Bottle Productions)
27 min., not rated
Ages 1 to 3

This educational and engaging video introduces toddlers to the simple wonders of 3-D animation and illustrates basic cause-and-effect physics. A lithe yellow cat named Max morphs into a brightly colored ball, which then wends its way through a Rube Goldberg-esque machine, striking other objects that in turn cause other reactions. Set to music ranging from African drumming to Strauss, the video reveals the laws of gravity, light, and projectile motion through elegantly simple demonstrations using pulleys, levers, and wheels.

Next: 2 years +

2 years +

Dora the Explorer: Dora's Backpack Adventure (Nick Jr./Paramount)
50 min., not rated
Ages 2 to 6

Rivaling Blue's Clues in popularity among preschoolers, Nickelodeon's educational Dora series has a lot going for it, not least of which is its winning animated star, Dora. In this new two-episode video, the young Latina and her pet monkey, Boots, embark on adventures that feature cool sing-alongs and reveal the origins of Dora's magical backpack. Dora often asks viewers for their help in finding various places and objects or solving riddles in order to get past bridge-guarding trolls, along the way familiarizing children with Spanish words and phrases.

Dragon Tales: Keep on Trying and Let's Play Together (Columbia Tristar)
40 min., not rated
Ages 2 to 6
These two videos, based on the very good PBS series, feature 6-year-old Emily, her 4-year-old brother Max and bunch of fun fantastical dragons. The educational messages are sound: Keep On Trying helps kids develop confidence, and Let's Play Together focuses on social skills like taking turns and handling anger.

Elmo's Musical Adventure: The Story of Peter and the Wolf (Sony Wonder)
45 min., not rated
Ages 2 to 6

In this made-for-video special, a violin-playing Elmo, whose own band still needs a bit more practice, introduces the classic Prokofiev tale about brave little Peter (played by Elmo, of course), who saves his village from a big, mean wolf. Young viewers go backstage with Baby Bear and Papa Bear before the show to meet members of the orchestra, and then, with the accompaniment of the Boston Pops, the traditional composition gets a singularly Sesame Street take. Preschoolers learn how music, and not just words, can tell a story.

Sounds Like Fun, Starring Gerrald McBoing Boing (Columbia Tristar)
29 min., not rated
Ages 2 to 6

Emerging from the vaults, now in a video compilation, are these four 1950s animated shorts, the first of which, Gerald McBoing Boing, was created and written by Dr. Seuss and won a 1951 Oscar. Gerald is a small boy who, instead of talking in words, opens his mouth and speaks in sound effects, the most popular of which is a springy "boing-g-g-g!" Gerald's understandably alarmed parents take him to a speech therapist, and everyone learns how to live with his vocal curiosity.

The Emperor's New Groove (Disney)
78 min., rated G
Ages 2 to 11

After all the advertising hype, your child may be begging for this video. The good news: This is the funniest Disney animated movie since Aladdin. Though it had trouble competing in theaters against 102 Dalmatians and The Grinch, it deserves to be discovered-or rediscovered-on video or DVD. Among the DVD's bonus features are an interactive game with the voices of bad guys Kronk and Yzma, a music video of "Walk the Llama Llama," and a scene deleted from the movie.

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, 25th Anniversary Edition (Disney)
113 min., rated G
Ages 2 and up

In addition to the four original animated Pooh shorts (Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree; Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day; Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, Too; and Winnie the Pooh and a Day for Eeyore), this DVD includes tons of fun extras. There's a music video of the Pooh theme song performed by Carly Simon; a sneak peek at the feature film Piglet's Big Movie, scheduled for release in 2003; and a behind-the-scenes making-of documentary. Unlike the scads of remakes, these are the classic stories wherein Pooh and Tigger meet for the first time and Pooh gets himself stuck in Rabbit's doorway after eating too much honey (oh, bother!).

The Wiggles: Hoop-Dee-Doo! It's a Wiggly Party (HIT Entertainment)
55 min., not rated
Ages 2 to 6

This wonder group from Down Under is probably the most popular brand of children's entertainers around right now, and it's easy to see why. These four Aussies (Anthony is the blue Wiggle, Murray prefers red, Greg is partial to yellow, and Jeff likes purple) serve up a winning combination of singing and dancing, silly comedy skits, and simple educational activities with help from child guests. This first-ever DVD offering features favorite Wiggle friends like Dorothy the dinosaur and the goofy pirate Captain Feathersword singing along to globe-spanning songs such as the Irish "Marie's Wedding" and the Mexican "La Cucaracha." If your kids can't get enough, never fear: The Wiggles can now be seen on the Disney Channel in short one-song segments between shows.

Next: 3 years +

3 years +

Dumbo (Disney)
64 min., rated G
Ages 3 and up

Disney's beloved 60-year-old, floppy-eared baby elephant gets the DVD treatment. Not only do the movie's pink-elephant dream scenes shine like never before, but impressive extras include an introduction by Walt Disney himself, the "Origins and History of Dumbo" featurette, and two classic Disney animated shorts, "Elmer Elephant" and "The Flying Mouse." There's plenty of music, too, with Michael Crawford's "Baby Mine" music video and the "Look Out for Mr. Stork" sing-along. What's more, DVD viewers get a sneak peek of an inevitable made-for-video sequel, Dumbo II, which may or may not be something to crow about.

Miffy at School (Pioneer)
36 min., not rated
Ages 3 to 6

Who can forget Dick Bruna's classic Miffy picture books? A delightful new video captures their bright, cleanly drawn simplicity as it teaches your little ones about colors, shapes, and numbers. The video's five animated shorts find the little white bunny counting sailboats by the sea, celebrating her friend Poppy Pig's birthday, and going on a flying adventure with her Uncle Bo (she has to check with her mother first, of course). Also available is the slightly less interesting video, Tell Me a Story, Miffy!, which helps toddlers work on literacy skills.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame II (Disney)
66 min., rated G
Ages 3 to 9

Remember the dark, dramatic opening of Disney's original Hunchback? It doesn't bode well that this made-for-video sequel opens with a sweet, sunny musical number, complete with a singing Quasimodo handing out tulips in a Parisian square. But the movie settles down and gets better, with Quasi dealing with the tribulations of romance and confronting a new villain, the circus master Sarousch. There are five new not-bad songs, and the voice talent remains top-notch, with Tom Hulce, Demi Moore, Jason Alexander, and Kevin Kline reprising their roles. Haley Joel Osment and Jennifer Love Hewitt voice two new characters.

There Goes A Tractor (Warner)
30 min., not rated
Ages 3 to 8

The latest offering from Warner's popular Real Wheels series will make the typical machinery-obsessed young boy shift into high gear. Farmer Dave shows children why the tractor is the most popular vehicle on the farm (you can attach anything to it), and there's plenty of crowd-pleasing big-wheel footage. Tykes also get to look in on barnyard activities like milking cows. (Equally good is the companion video, There Goes a Farm Truck.)

Toy Story: The Ultimate Toy Box (Disney/Pixar)
rated G
Ages 3 and up

Reason alone to finally get yourself a DVD player, this three-disc set not only offers the usual DVD dividends (cool behind-the-scenes extras and revealing audio commentary), it also includes Pixar's early Oscar-winning short Tin Toy (the inspiration for the first Toy Story), as well as a "hidden jokes" section, a 3-D fly-around virtual tour of 11 different sets from both movies, and a bloopers reel. Of course, the movies themselves are included, and both, especially the sequel, deserve genuine classic status.

Zoboo's Scary Tails (PBS Kids)
47 min., not rated
Ages 3 to 7

The indefatigable Kratt Brothers don't disappoint in this Halloween video based on their delightful PBS wildlife series for preschoolers, Zoboomafoo. As a thunderstorm rages outside, Zoboo and friends search for "mystery monsters" (various insects and reptiles hiding in the clubhouse). This educational show lets kids get up close and personal with alligators, tarantulas, wolves, and bats without freaking them out. The mix of live action, animation, claymation, and puppetry is at once fun and soothing.

Next: 4 years +

4 years +

Atlantis: The Lost Empire (Disney)
95 min., rated PG
Ages 4 and up

The first Disney animated film shot in 70mm since 1985's The Black Cauldron, Atlantis follows young Milo (voice of Michael J. Fox) as he teams up with other explorers to find the legendary underwater land. Combine the movie's futuristic, Jules Vernesque look with its tremendous buzz, and you've got summer's must-see movie for the preschool and young grade-school set.

Dinosaur (Disney)
82 min., rated PG
Ages 4 to 9

This video/DVD is a visual marvel: Its cutting-edge technology places incomparably authentic-looking computer-generated beasts in real-world settings. The movie will keep 5-year-old mouths agape, but once viewers become accustomed to its stunning look, they'll realize the video is little more than a mix of Tarzan (our hero, Aladar, is being raised by a loving family of lemurs) and A Land Before Time (Jurassic critters embark on a survival quest for a new patch of green). But as a kinder, gentler dino epic for the preschool set, Dinosaur works just fine.

Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius (Nickelodeon/Paramount)
82 min., rated G
Ages 4 and up

A rollicking animated adventure comedy, Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius came out of nowhere last Christmas and made a big box-office splash. The engaging plot has smarts to spare, demonstrating to kids that using one's brain is the ultimate in cool. It follows Jimmy and his pals as they attempt to save Earth from a band of scheming aliens led by King Goobot, who's voiced by none other than Captain Jean-Luc Picard (that's Patric Stewart to you). With its multilayered humor and nifty Jetsons-esque retro look, this video will appeal to parents and kids alike.

Return to Neverland (Disney)
72 min., rated G
Ages 4 and up

Clap if you believe in theatrically and video-released sequels to Disney's cherished classics. Neverland, a follow-up to 1953's beloved Peter Pan, just may be a winner. The smart story has Wendy, now grown up and living in London during the Blitz, trying to calm her daughter (who's later kidnapped by Captain Hook) by telling her the story of Peter Pan. A judicious use of digital techniques ensure the film's stylistic compatibility with the original.

Rugrats in Paris: The Movie (Nick Jr./Paramount)
78 min., rated G
Ages 4 and up

The famous toddlers go Parisian in the feature-length movie, and we might need Jerry Lewis to patch things up after Angelica, Chuckie, and the babies wreak their singular havoc in the City of Lights. The multilayered humor will keep kids in stitches and have parents chuckling over references to The Godfather.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (Disney)
84 min., rated G
Ages 4 to 9

The fairest DVD of all is this lovingly restored collector's edition of Snow White, featuring an unprecedented amount of top-notch bonus material. The superb image and sound quality could set a standard for transferring older movies to DVD. The Magic Mirror helps viewers navigate hours of one-of-a-kind extras, including an all-new animated game, "Dopey's Wild Mine Ride," and a music video of Barbara Streisand singing "Some Day My Prince Will Come." When it comes to good Halloween fare, it's still hard to find a scarier character than the evil queen disguised as the cackling, apple-bearing old woman who's out to poison Snow White.

The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (Columbia/TriStar)
88 min., rated G
Ages 4 and up

Finally making its DVD debut, this neglected gem of a fantasy adventure is Dr. Seuss's only feature film. First shown in 1953, it follows 10-year-old Bart, who's suffering through another piano lesson with eccentric teacher Dr. Terwilliker. Bart dozes off and finds himself, Oz-like, in a parallel fantasy world in which Dr. T has imprisoned his mother. Along with 499 other reluctant young boys, Bart must play an elaborate new piano concert of Dr. T's devising in order to save his mom and himself. A surreal masterpiece, the movie also features Dr. Seuss's sly songs and tongue-twister rhymes, and the DVD serves up bonus trailers as well as the Seuss cartoon short Gerald McBoing Boing's Symphony.

Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (Warner Bros.)
98 min., rated G
Ages 4 and up

Nostalgic parents who grew up with this fantastical film (based on Roald Dahl's 1971 classic book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) will enjoy the 30th anniversary re-release as much as their kids will. In addition to the film itself (just can't get enough of those elfish Oompa-Loompas, can you?), the video and DVD include a new documentary about the making of the movie, featuring interviews with Gene Wilder, the filmmakers, and the now-grown-up Wonka kids.

Next: 5 years +

5 years +

Cirque du Soleil: The Journey of Man (Columbia TriStar)
39 min., rated G
Ages 5 and up

Much more than an acrobatic triumph, this DVD starring the singular Canadian circus troupe is distinguished by a sublime and sensual vision. Originally produced as an IMAX short film and narrated by Sir Ian McKellen, the story features a wonderful succession of "acts" that represent the birth, growth, and maturity of humankind, all guided by the power of dreams, faith, and love. Among the you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it highlights-which resonate through a spectacular mix of costumes, color, light, and stunning natural landscapes-are a synchronized underwater ballet and two human statues that move in rigorous harmony.

Recess: School's Out (Disney)
84 min., rated G
Ages 5 and up

Available on video and DVD, this movie offers kids one last summer hurrah before heading back to school. It's a pretty funny tale of fourth-grader T.J., a troublemaker with a heart who's been left out of his friends' vacation plans. He uncovers a plot being hatched at his school that could lead to the end of summer vacation as we know it. Much of the edgy humor -- involving a dastardly villain (voice of James Woods), who was a hippie buddy of the school's Principal Prickly (Dabney Coleman) -- will also appeal to parents. 

Samuri Jack: The Premiere Movie (Cartoon Network/Warner)
75 min., not rated
Ages 5 and up

Samurai Jack's eye-catching angular style has made it one of the hottest animated shows for older kids. You can now find the action-heavy series on video, with the original hourlong pilot plus a 10-minute making-of documentary called "Behind the Sword." The DVD also features show archives, screen savers, and a game.

 Shrek (DreamWorks)
89 min., rated PG
Ages 5 and up

The big green guy stars in several minutes of additional footage, including the hip, irreverent "Swamp Karaoke Dance Party." The ogre-size two-disc set contains hours of bonus material: There are wacky outtakes; interviews with Shrek, Donkey, Fiona, and Lord Farquaad; and more than six hours of games, music, and activities like the fun "Shrek's ReVoice Studio," which lets users dub their own voices over 11 scenes in the movie (a DVD-ready PC is required).

 The Little Vampire (New Line)
94 min., rated PG
Ages 5 and up

You don't have to wait until next Halloween to pop in this fun fright-fest. Actually, any movie in which the bloodsuckers are the misunderstood good guys can't be that scary, and this movie -- which briefly played in theaters -- boasts a clever premise: A vampire-obsessed American boy (Stuart Little's Jonathan Lipnicki) moves with his family to the verdant Scottish highlands, where he befriends a sympathetic family of vamps who really want Lipnicki to help them become human.

 The Story of Little Mook (First Run Features)
96 min., not rated
Ages 5 and up

This sumptuous Arabian Nights-style film, made in East Germany in 1953, is now available on video and DVD. It tells the story of an old hunchbacked man who gets mercilessly teased by the local kids -- until he recounts for them the fantastic story of his life. The awkward dubbing can't mar this wondrous tale of magic, which teaches lessons about empathy and respect for elders.

Next: 6 years +

6 years +

Dinotopia (Hallmark/ABC)
285 min., not rated
Ages 6 and up

What 6-year-old hasn't imagined how humans and dinosaurs might have gotten along if they had lived together? This three-hour saga spectacularly addresses that age-old kid fantasy. Based on James Gurney's best-selling picture-book series, the show follows the adventures of two half-brothers who crash-land in the Caribbean, ending up on the lost continent of Dinotopia. In this ancient land, people and dinosaurs coexist in an almost utopian fashion. After all the Jurassic Park thrillers, it's a charming change of pace to watch humans hanging out with tame dinos rather than running screaming from them.

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial 20th Anniversary Edition (Universal Studios)
125 min., rated PG
Ages 6 and up

Steven Spielberg's 1982 hit about a stranded alien and his relationship with a boy (Henry Thomas) struck a chord with audiences in 1982 and again when it was re-released in theaters in 2002. The added footage and improved animation made a classic even better.

Faeries (Paramount)
75 min., not rated
Ages 6 to 10

This animated feature tells the story of a sister and brother who visit a farm for the summer and quickly realize the nearby forest is enchanted. Evil shape shifters, eccentric hobgoblins, and, naturally, faerie princes and princesses abound in this charming and delightful tale, with the voices of Jeremy Irons and Kate Winslet. The winning mix of traditional two-dimensional cel animation and 3-D computer-generated animated backgrounds results in visual magic.

Next: 7 years +

7 years +

Cats & Dogs (Warner Bros.)
87 min., rated PG
Ages 7 and up

This antic comedy about the eternal war between man's two favorite domesticated species is a great creature feature. The edgy humor trumps most others' routine high jinks.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Warner Home Video)
152 min., rated PG
Ages 7 and up

This fantastic adventure film is dark and intense at times, especially in those scenes involving the Forbidden Forest, the three-headed dog Fluffy, and the climactic struggle between Voldemort and Harry. Regardless, it is sure to thrill any Hogwarts fan. Fun DVD features include deleted scenes, stunning 360-degree virtual views of many favorite movie locations, a ghostly who's-who of the Hogwarts spirits-in-residence, and a montage of Quidditch scenes.

Osmosis Jones (Warner Bros.)
96 min., rated PG
Ages 7 and up

If you thought Shrek was challenged in the personal-hygiene department, get a load of the uproariously crude and unscrubbed Bill Murray as the lead character Frank in this raucous family flick. It follows a take-charge white blood cell (voice of Chris Rock) as he embarks on a fantastic voyage inside Frank's body to hunt down and destroy a lethal new virus (voice of Laurence Fishburne). Combining live action on the outside with animation on the inside, Osmosis Jones's silly yet educational gross-out humor could send 8-year-old boys in particular back for repeated viewings.

 Prancer Returns (USA Home Entertainment)
90 min., not rated
Ages 7 and up

This is a warmhearted sequel to 1989's charming Prancer, which was about an 8-year-old girl who nurses a wounded reindeer that may belong to Santa. The same sort of story is told here, though this time it's an 8-year-old boy, Charlie, who finds an injured reindeer in the woods. Through his simple but firm faith and with a little help from a crusty but kindly neighbor (Jack Palance), Charlie helps the deer -- and his own fractured family -- heal in time for Christmas.

Spy Kids (Dimension)
88 min., rated PG
Ages 7 and up

In this whizbang family comedy, Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino (Spin City) play a suburban couple who also happen to be debonair international spies. Their kids don't think they're very cool, of course, but when Mom and Dad are kidnapped, young Carmen (Alexa Vega) and Juni (Daryl Sabara) must become spies themselves to save their parents.

The Man from Snowy River (Fox)
102 min., rated PG
Ages 7 and up

This neglected old-fashioned Western, based on an epic coming-of-age poem, features Kirk Douglas in scene-stealing dual roles as feuding twin brothers. When a teenage ranch hand falls in love with one brother's daughter, he must capture a wild stallion in order to win her hand. Though often hokey, breathtaking footage of wild horses and stunning backdrops of mountain wilderness make this film a gem to be rediscovered.

Watership Down (Warner)
93 min., rated PG
Ages 7 and up

Any child who ever had a pet rabbit will be drawn to this animated movie based on the best-selling 1975 epic novel by Richard Adams. Now available on DVD, the rich, well-told tale illuminates the inner lives of a group of wild cottontails as they leave their doomed warren in the English countryside to search for a new haven. The gang's all here -- Hazel, Fiver, Bigwig, and Blackberry -- and voiced by an all-British cast that includes John Hurt. But a cute bunny tale this isn't: At times grim and violent, the movie may be too scary for younger kids. The DVD's bonus material includes a helpful bunny-talk glossary.

Copyright © 2002

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