Welcome to the Read That Again! guide to children's film, cartoons and videos for younger viewers. Looking for good movies that won't warp their little brains too badly? Here are a few of our faves...

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By the way, we're always looking for new stuff to watch... If you have recommendations, please feel free to write and tell us about your favorites.

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"The Secret Of Kells"
(Flatiron Films, 2010)

This is a gorgeous, innovative and delightfully meaningful film, a fictionalized account of the making of the legendary Book Of Kells, one of the great surviving illuminated manuscripts of medieval Ireland. The visual imagery is amazing, packed with stunning composition and color, and imaginative direction. The pace of the film is a bit odd - deliberate in places, jumpy in others - and that, along with the deep, mystical fascination with nature and spirituality, reminded me of the work of Japanese anime master Hayao Miyazaki, just with a clearer historical perspective. Those who revere creative storytelling and animation will find a lot to love here, as will those who value historical awareness, knowledge and scholarship. A wonderful, magical movie. (A+)

"Sesame Street: Play With Me Sesame - Imagine With Me"
(Genius Entertainment, 2007)

The Play With Me Sesame series includes two discs in each set, one that is basically like your standard-issue Sesame Street video -- a string of clips both old and new -- and a second CD-ROM disc of interactive games, which largely recycles material from the Sesame Street website... This approach has its plusses and minuses. Kids who haven't already plugged into the online Street 'site may enjoy the various games, although kids who have already been online will have probably already explored most of this material. The CD-ROM versions have the advantages of better sound and sharper graphics, and not being dependent on Internet connectivity to function. One odd detail is that many of the game that loop on the website end abruptly here (especially if you don't engage the program) Although kids may want them to go on longer, parents may find themselves thankful that they don't... especially the ones that feature Elmo's sweet little voice... This collection is based on imagination -- the video portion includes a lot of material that previously was gathered on an earlier "Let's Pretend" video... which makes the added games a nice bonus feature. (B+)

"Sesame Street: Play With Me Sesame - Play With Me"
(Genius Entertainment, 2007)

Similar to the Imagine Like Me collection, but with a more activity-oriented focus. Ya gotta love playtime with Grover! (B+)

"Sesame Street: Elmo And Friends --Tales Of Adventure"
(Genius Entertainment, 2008)

Big Bird shrinks to insect size and sees the world from an ant's eye view; Telly puts on an old felt hat and plays Indiana Jones, and Elmo has to meet with his agent after his voice finally breaks and he dips down into a baritone. Well, okay, I made this last one up, but I can dream, can't I? Here are three more Sesame-tastic shorts that'll keep you little ones occupied for an hour or so... The Big Bird size-changing episode is probably the most exciting and imaginative of the three... Worth checking out! (B-)

"Sesame Street: Elmo's World -- Summer Vacation"
(Disney, 2008)

Personally, I can't think of anyone else I'd less want to spend my summer vacation with than red, fuzzy, whiny Elmo, but I think there are a lot of 3 and 4 year-olds who would strongly disagree with me. In keeping with the "Elmo's World" series, this hour-long program gives kids tips about new experiences, in this case, how to have a fun summer vacation. Ernie and Bert tell kids how to protect their skin (and eyes) from UV rays; Elmo talks about going to the beach, learning how to spread a towel, and even how to use a camera and preserve happy memories of the long summer months. Many parents will be grateful for the pro-sunscreen messages, as they try to lather their kids up under the broiling sun this summer. Thanks, Elmo! (B-)

"Sesame Street: Furry, Fun And Healthy Too"
(Genius Entertainment, 2008)

If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I never would have believed it... We popped this exercise-oriented Sesame Street collection in, and my little girl (who still likes to say "hi" back when video characters say hello to her) jumped out of her chair when Bert and Grover asked her to do some calisthenics... "Look at me jump!" she chirped. The next day, after a swim class, she showed me how to do the breast stroke: "Ernie showed me how to do this on the Sesame Street video!" I kid you not. So, this educational DVD was a success, at least in this neck of the woods. I still have a hard time with the new voice for Ernie... but there was only one Jim Henson, so what are you gonna do? If you're looking for a fun video that promotes good health, diet and exercise choices, this is a fine option. Very little Elmo, too, if that helps. (B+)

"Shaun The Sheep On The Loose"
(Hit Entertainment, 2009)

A hilarious set of short claymation cartoons featuring a mischievous Shaun The Sheep (previously seen in the "Wallace And Grommit" series...) These clever, slapstick-y stories are told largely without dialogue, as an adorable, troublemaking flock of sheep quietly drives their dimwitted shepherd a bit loopy. The comic timing and comedic brilliance of the Aardman Studios crew is undiminished, and while some other other post-Grommit projects ("Creature Comforts," et. al.) may have been a bit too mature for younger viewers, this collection is appropriate for all ages. Recommended! (A)

"Shaun The Sheep: Back In The Ba-a-ath!"
(Hit Entertainment, 2009)

More glourious claymation cartoons featuring Shaun The Sheep, a character previously seen in the "Wallace And Grommit" series, and now the star of his own series of shorts that air on British TV. These clever, slapstick-y stories are told largely without dialogue, as an adorable, troublemaking flock of sheep quietly drives their dimwitted shepherd a bit loopy. The comic timing and comedic brilliance of the Aardman Studios crew is undiminished, and while some other other post-Grommit projects ("Creature Comforts, et. al.) may have been a bit too mature for younger viewers, this collection is appropriate for all ages. Recommended... as is the first Shaun collection, Shaun The Sheep: Off The Baa! (A)

"Shaun The Sheep: Little Sheep Of Horrors"
(Hit Entertainment, 2009)

More great stuff, including an episode with a Halloween theme... You gotta love Shaun! (A)

"Shaun The Sheep: The Big Chase"
(Hit Entertainment, 2010)

A wonderful series for all ages to enjoy... Tangentially a spinoff from the Aardman studios Wallace And Gromit series, this claymation extravaganza has become a runaway hit on British TV, and is equally delightful for viewers worldwide, as there is no dialogue in any of the episodes, just a sharp, sublime sense of humor, matched by equally delightful animation. Shaun is the most down-to-earth (though occasionally mischievous) member of a wily flock of sheep living on a rundown rural farm. The clueless, myopic farmer entrusts most of the herding duties to his dog, Bitzer, who wields a coach's whistle and not much else in his hapless attempts to keep the sheep in line. Each episode is short but sweet, packed with brilliant bits of comedic timing and hilarious visual asides. In this volume Shaun and his pals are plagued by an arrogant magpie, and go off on a crazy, Keystone Cops-style car chase across the English countryside... and Bitzer might have to go to obedience school! If you're already a fan, this disc delivers... And if you haven't tried the Shaun series yet, you're in for a treat. Pick a disc, any disc, and dig in. (A)

"Shaun The Sheep: A Woolly Good Time"
(Hit Entertainment, 2010)


"Shaun The Sheep: One Giant Leap For Lambkind"
(Hit Entertainment, 2010)

Shaun and space aliens? Dude, we are so there!! (A)

"Sinbad: The Seventh Voyage Of Sinbad"
(Columbia, 1958)


"Sinbad: The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad"
(Columbia, 1973)

The second of the Harryhausen Sinbad films is very much of its times, with a bare-chested Selleck-ish hero... wearing a big gold chain around his neck, no less! Patrick Wayne is a bit geefy, but the whole film is kind of goofy, so I guess he's kind of a good match. The monsters are fun, but you have to slog through a lot of boring stuff to get to them. The female lead, (played by Jayne Seymour) has sort of a Playboy bunny vibe -- she waits for Sinbad in his ship's cabin, and wears lots of skimpy bellydancer outfits. Not necessarily a film I'd recommend, but if you're on a Harryhausen kick, I guess it's worth checking out... And, of course, the deadly, sword-wielding idol of Kali is one of the most utterly awesome of the Harryhausen effects: that scene you have to see! (B)

"Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger"
(Columbia, 1977)

The last of the Harryhausen Sinbad flicks... (B)

"Sleeping Beauty"
(Walt Disney, 1959)


"Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs"
(Walt Disney, 1937)


"Spirit: Stallion Of The Cimarron"
(Dreamworks, 2002)


"Spy Kids"
(Walt Disney, 2001)

I've only seen the first film, and it's okay, with a slightly subversive take on the contemporary media scene. Two kids discover that their parents are actually super-duper super-secret secret agents, and when Mom and Dad get in trouble, the kids have to take a crash course in spy-ology and save the old folks. The bad guy has, among other things, mutated a bunch of innocent victims, so that they have become hideously disfigured and kind of unintelligent. The mutated face special effects are pretty grotesque (and possibly upsetting for younger viewers) but the plot as a whole is fairly innocent and nondescript. Includes some low-level "hip" talk from the kids, but nothing too sassy, this being a Disney film and all. This isn't a favorite, but it's also not on my no-way list. (B-)

"Spy Kids 2: The Island Of Lost Dreams"
(Walt Disney, 2002)

A surprisingly fun sequel -- better than the first adventure, I'd say. The plot is more straightforward and less belabored, with the spy sibs traveling to a hidden island packed with weird mutant monsters and a Lost-ish secret device that threatens to destroy the whole world. There are also rival spy kids -- another brother-sister team who are real stinkers. The special effects are pretty cool, especially the plethora of Ray Harryhausen-style animated monsters on the mysterious island (there's even a gaggle of sword-wielding skeletons straight out of Jason And The Argonauts!) The only sour note in this very kid-friendly film is one egregious swear word: "You're so full of s---!" lamely covered up as "shitake mushrooms," a move that only adds insult to injury. The rest of the film was great for younger viewers, so the no-no word was a bit of a surprise. Too bad. Otherwise, good film. (B)

"Spy Kids 3D: Game Over"
(Walt Disney, 2002)


"Schoolhouse Rock: Thirtieth Anniversary Edition"
(Nick Jr./Nicolodeon, 2005)

Yeah, baby! You gotta love Schoolhouse Rock. One of the most entertaining (and effective) educational TV shows developed for kids, the series was originally broadcast on the ABC network, starting in 1972, and was shown as a series of ad-like fillers on various children's shows up through the early '80s. This box set gathers all the original Schoolhouse Rock material, organized by theme -- grammar, mathematics, science, American history and politics, as well the later entries such as the financial literacy cartoons of the "Money Rock" segments... There are classics such as "Three Is a Magic Number," "Conjunction Junction," "Unpack Your Adjectives," and "Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here," as well as a few unwieldy tunes and outright clunkers. But the best of these cartoons are real marvels, entertaining and enlightening, and any kid who gets hooked on tunes such as "A Noun Is A Person, Place Or Thing" will definitely have a leg up on those pesky standardized tests. The series actually featured jazz and pop more than outright rock, and is particularly noteworthy for introducing several generations of listeners to singular talents such as Bob Dorough and Blossom Dearie, jazz vocalists whose own solo work will be a welcome revelation to fans who came to them through this TV show. Most of the content holds up remarkably well -- folks who watched these skits in their original forms may recognize whiffs of the hippie/disco/Me Generation '70s, but the universality of the series still works its magic today. Younger kids, the original target audience back then, may not realize how fashions have changed and will still absorb the educational message. There are a few mishaps and offensive moments that modern parents may wish to steer away from, such as the dark-skinned, Sub-Saharan polygamist sheik in "I Got Six" or the anti-feminist, femme flirt in "Interjections," but mostly these old cartoons are a delight. Too bad about the ads at the beginning, but once you get into the actual Schoolhouse, you're in for a fun ride. (A)

"Sesame Street - Old School, v.1: 1969-1974"
(CTV/Disney, 2006)


"Sesame Street - Old School, v.2: 1974-1979"
(CTV/Shout Factory, 2007)


"Sesame Street - Sing Yourself Silly"
(Sony-Wonder, 2005)

This is one of the best "Sesame Street" videos, only a half hour long, but packed with fun material. Partly it's great because whiny little Elmo doesn't dominate, but mostly because the material is so darn good. As advertised, this is a set of some of the silliest songs "Sesame Street" has to offer. Anything with the Honkers in it is fine by me! Includes "Honker-Duckie-Dinger Jamboree," "Ladybug Picnic" and "Put Down The Duckie," as well as several other absurd oddities. Recommended! (A+)

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