DVD Review: Sesame Street: 20 Years and Still Counting

Hi there!

When I was a kid growing up in the 1970s, Sesame Street was a good friend on the television. My parents knew it was safe to leave me in front of the TV for an hour. And when the Electric Company was on, it was a two hour event. Now as a parent, I know the content has changed but the quality remains high and I trust Sesame Street to educate and entertain this new generation just as well as educated me.

The Sesame Street: 20 Years and Still Counting documentary was produced in 1989, covering the first 20 years of its continuing run on PBS. The series has continued to have another 20 years of success since then, so I can hardly wait to see what the show looks like in another 20! The documentary, hosted by Bill Cosby, provides a look back at the beginnings of the series, from its humble beginnings in 1969 to the worldwide acclaim and adoption it’s seen since then.

Watching with my two daughters, the video looks out of date but offers a great historical perspective on the series’ amazing legacy. Not only do you get some wonderful musical performances from Ray Charles and Plácido Domingo, but you get to hear from some of the actors who have called Sesame Street their home forever. What was more interesting to me was that Jim Henson appears to introduce the show, only a year before his untimely death. Neither of my girls knew him on sight, but when I mentioned the name they knew immediately who he was.

Seeing a much younger Luis (Emilio Delgado), Maria (Sonia Manzano), and Bob (Bob McGrath) really took me back to my childhood. It was quite obvious that the trio believed in the series from the beginning – not only as an integrated cast, but the first educational show to focus on using a curriculum to teach kids the alphabet, their numbers, language skills, shapes, colors, science, and much much more. Though the series went through occasional cast changes, such as when Mr. Hooper (Will Lee) passed away in 1983, that core trio has remained in place for more than 40 years now.

Add to that the many characters who call Sesame Street home – Bert and Ernie, Grover and the Grouch, Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Kermit, and the whole gang – and you end up with a snapshot of that wonderful world. Cosby, with his usual humor and style, manages to interact with them all and give us a walking tour of the street most kids across America (and around the world) know and love.

It was very interesting to listen to the Sesame Street theme in different languages and see how different countries and cultures had adapted the show for their own children. Big Bird as a parrot instead of an eight foot yellow bird was fun to see, and listening to the theme song in Spanish, French, and Hebrew was intriguing. It’s amazing to think that kids in Germany, Israel, the West Bank, the Netherlands, and elsewhere are all benefiting from the pioneering work done by the show creators Jim Henson and Joan Cooney.

I have to admit that it’s a bit odd to me that Lionsgate chose now to release this special on DVD, but I think it proves the staying power of one of the tent poles of public television. Today, just like every day for the last 40+ years, children around the world have tuned in to learn and have fun at home.

Though I think this documentary will appeal more to parents than to kids, Sesame Street: 20 Years and Still Counting provides a historical record of the great work Sesame Street has done for four decades and will hopefully do for my grandkids over the next 20. Hopefully we will see more of these “messages in a bottle” from the past to inform the viewers of tomorrow about the enduring legacy of this series.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this and other great Sesame Street DVDs below!

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DVD Review: Jim Henson’s The Song of the Cloud Forest and Other Earth Stories

Hello all…

Just in time for Earth Day 2010, Lionsgate is releasing some environmentally-conscious blasts from the past in Jim Henson’s The Song of the Cloud Forest and Other Earth Stories. The DVD features four unique programs produced by the Jim Henson Company all centered on the interconnected nature of animals and the environment from the late 1980s and mid-1990s.

“The Song of the Cloud Forest” originally aired in 1989 as part of The Jim Henson Hour on NBC and focuses on Milton, a golden toad in the rain forest, who can’t find a date. Using a variety of very colorful Muppets and backgrounds, Milton discovers from two humans (called “uprights” by the animals) that he’s an endangered species and worries that he’ll never find his mate. When he and his friends discover that the uprights have a female golden toad in a cage they’re using to lure Milton out, he has to figure out what to do… Will he try to free her or will he run away to avoid capture himself?

The whole premise of this segment is that we (humans) don’t understand that everything is interconnected and the animals must somehow express this sentiment to save the rain forest. Though the uprights in this instance see the light in the end, I’m not convinced that the rest of the world understands this simple idea even after 20 years. We can only hope that the growing awareness of concerned people around the world will eventually find ways to get the message across that we must stop destroying our planet or we will be killing more than a few trees or frogs – we’ll be committing species suicide.

The only negative comment I have about “The Song of the Rain Forest” is that it looks like someone designed it while on an acid trip. The colors are far too bright in just about every scene, which distracts the viewer from the message and enjoying the story and songs. But if you wear sunglasses during those “too bright” bits, you’ll probably be just fine.

Next on the DVD are two episodes of Jim Henson’s Animal Show with Stinky and Jake – “Owl & Frog” and “Kangaroo & Frog”. “Owl & Frog” originally aired in 1996 on Animal Planet during season 3 of the series and “Kangaroo & Frog” aired on Fox Kids in 1994. The Animal Show is set up in a talk-show format with Stinky the skunk and Jake the polar bear interviewing different animals and sharing fun facts.

And lastly is an episode of Fraggle Rock – “River of Life”, from season five of the show that aired on HBO the mid-1980s. Something has gone terribly wrong with the Fraggle’s water supply and contaminated it, making the Fraggles who drank it very sick and killing the vegetable garden of the Gorgs. What they don’t know is that Doc, a human inventor living outside the Fraggle’s cave with his dog Sprocket, is making a deal to test a waste disposal technique in the caves. The waste is polluting the water and once Doc figures that out, he pulls the plug on the experiment and flushes the system with fresh spring water, which makes everything better.

All in all, this is a fun collection of Jim Henson classics that directly relate to the world we live in. Even now, these shows are relevant and provide a good message to the youth of today. So if you’re looking for some environmentally-related, but fun programs for your kids, be sure to check out Jim Henson’s The Song of the Cloud Forest and Other Earth Stories on DVD today!

For more information about this and other Jim Henson productions, check out their website at Henson.com.

This message originally appeared here at BlogCritics.org.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this and other great Jim Henson DVDs at Barnes & Noble below!

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DVD Review: Jim Henson’s Animal Show with Stinky and Jake: Lions, Tigers, and Bears

Hey all…

Evidently I was too focused on being an adult in the mid-1990s because I missed a number of fun kid’s shows. I’d never heard of Jim Henson’s Animal Show before, but evidently it aired Seasons 1 and 2 on Fox Kids from 1994-1996 and had a third season on Animal Planet in 1997. I suppose I shouldn’t be too shocked, considering that my eldest daughter wasn’t born until 2001, so I really didn’t have a reason to watch fuzzy Muppets talk about animals!

The Animal Show, hosted by Stinky the skunk and Jake the polar bear, focused on one or two animals per episode in a talk-show format. Stinky and Jake would interview their Muppet-ized guests and then show video clips of the actual animals in the wild. The hosts were assisted by co-hosts Armstrong the chicken hawk and Ollie the tapir (later replaced by Bunnie Bear, a distant cousin to Jake), who had their own segments of the show – “That’s Amazing,” “Animal Awards,” and “Habitat Time.” And then Tizzy the bee for the episode’s quiz and Yves St. La Roache the cockroach who hosted a cooking-show segment.

Lions, Tigers, and Bears includes five different episodes of the series – “Zebra & Lion,” “Tiger & Tiger Beetle,” “Raccoon & Polar Bear,” “Grizzly Bear & Hedgehog,” and “Chimpanzee & Hyena.” All but “Chimpanzee & Hyena” were from the first season of the show.

Watching with my family, we were entertained by every episode. Each episode was structured in roughly the same way, providing a consistent pattern for learning by the kids watching. And sometimes we even learned something! The silly songs, fun characters, and important lessons about animals, their habitats, and the environment is timeless.

As parents, my wife and I were most entertained by Armstrong and Yves St. La Roache. Armstrong’s dry wit and reluctance to try new things really resonated with me, as I tend to be the same way. And La Roache reminded us fondly of the Swedish Chef from The Muppet Show. It seems it’s tough to be a cockroach and get taken seriously as a chef. But somehow La Roache manages to pull it off with humor. We were both wondering if they ran out of budget for cute and cuddly animals for the “Chimpanzee & Hyena” episode because both Muppets were so ugly. But overall each episode achieved a good balance between humor and education without going overboard on either.

When it was airing, the TV series received two Emmy nominations for Outstanding Children’s Series/Children’s Programming and received a “Parent’s Choice National Television Award,” as well as receiving an endorsement from the National Education Association (NEA). Though the video clips are a bit outdated as far as quality goes, the show footage with the Muppets is crisp and clear. And the content is just as relevant now for kids as it was 15 years ago.

If you’re looking for a fun and educational way to spend a couple of hours with your kids, look for Jim Henson’s Animal Show with Stinky and Jake: Lions, Tigers, and Bears on DVD at your favorite retailer online or off. Hopefully they will be releasing all three seasons of Jim Henson’s Animal Show with Stinky and Jake on DVD soon!

For more information about this and other Jim Henson productions, check out their website at Henson.com.

This article originally appeared here at BlogCritics.org.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this and other great DVDs from Barnes & Noble below!

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