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Art for Art’s Sake in "Music Makes Me Move" & Scholastic "Young Artists Collection"

by on August 30, 2011

I think it’s a shame that the first victims of tightening school budget belts are often the music and arts classes. In addition to opposable thumbs, music and the arts are two of the things that make us distinctively human. But then again, a lot of school music and art classes were pretty useless anyway. It’s a good thing that there’s a few new DVDs out to fill the gap nicely (assuming the down economy allows household budgets to acquire these, that is).

Hey, everyone! The Super Music Friends Show is on!, even if Hawk totally chickens out and opts to show off his skateboard skills instead because he’s “not a very good dancer.” “Differences” is supposed to be about Muno dealing with people making fun of him because of his new glasses, but one can be forgiven for not noticing because of the Super Music Friends Show with I’m From Barcelona, the “All of My Friends Are Different” musical number, the fun “Glasses” animated music video, and the adorable “Argyle the Octopus” Story Time segment. Finally, “Train” gets the gang to take a train ride, but the only really memorable bit is when Laila Ali (daughter of Muhammad Ali) pops up for Dancey Dance Time.

Like all prior Yo Gabba Gabba! DVDs, there are no bonus features and no chapter stops within episodes. Everything’s full-frame and in Dolby Digital stereo, and Nick seems to have standardized the one short trailer for other Nick Jr. DVDs that runs before the feature starts.

The Scholastic Storybook Treasures “Young Artists Collection” assembles 15 stories across 3 DVDs, and it’s becoming highly redundant to say that there’s a number of absolute gems across these discs. In addition to generally excellent taste in selecting books to adapt into animated form, several of the shorts on these discs have some truly wonderful animation done across a variety of formats.

Max making the neighbors unhappyThe first disc focuses on music, which makes all the adaptations on it predisposed to success because all of the shorts can use musical accompaniment to great effect. Unfortunately, the title short “Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin” is not one of my favorites (nor was it when it appeared as a bonus on the last Scholastic set I reviewed); it feels mostly like a dry catalog rather than something lively. Luckily there’s spirit to spare in “Musical Max,” about a musical prodigy hippo whose constant practicing drives everyone in the neighborhood crazy except for his music-loving mother. It is a genuinely adorable short that is also graced with some wonderfully fluid and beautiful hand-drawn animation. “The Star-Spangled Banner” is notable for the inimitable Aretha Franklin’s vocals and the fact that she sings two more verses of Francis Scott Key’s poem that aren’t often heard, but the real value comes in the little history lesson afterwards that chronicles the song’s history. “Keeping House” is another pleasure, centering on songwriter/performer Lizzie Firkin’s colossally messy house and the funny business that ensues after she finally decides to hire out a housecleaner to tidy up the place. I have absolutely no idea how Quentin Blake’s “Patrick” works as a book, but the animated short film works some genuine magic, thanks to delightful animation that eschews all dialogue and mimics Blake’s style perfectly, while setting the action entirely to the title character’s violin. It’s not much of a surprise to see Gene Deitch as the director. The last short, “Apt. 3,” will ring true for anybody who’s gotten to know their neighbors in an urban apartment building, but the whole thing seems to meander with too little focus before ending abruptly.

Can you tell them apart?Disc 2 is about art, which makes for some real fun in its first three shorts. Two of them adapt books by Peter H. Reynolds and manage to send the message that the act of making the art is as important as the final result, while also raising the viewers’ consciousness of things like abstract or impressionistic art. “The Dot” goes for the abstract, as young Vashti’s reluctance to participate in Art class because she “can’t draw” is creatively defused by her teacher (perhaps Tony Hawk should have watched this before his appearance on Yo Gabba Gabba!). “Ish” is ostensibly about young Ramon’s reaction when his older brother makes fun of his drawings, but it ends up being a celebration of impressionistic, non-representational art. Sandwiched between these two shorts is “Art,” adapting a book by Mutts comic strip creator Patrick McDonnell, which has some fun with a boy named Art who likes making art. The infectious exuberance in the animation is outdone by lively narration by musician Bobby McFerrin. The last two stories on this disc don’t quite measure up, although they have a pretty high-water mark to live up to. “Norman the Doorman” is pan-imation about a mouse who secretly enters a sculpture competition at the museum he “works” at; it’s cute but overstays its welcome. “Wallace’s Lists” seems like a bit of an oddball addition to this disc, since the title character isn’t the art lover and doesn’t even really come to any great appreciation of it by the end. That’s reserved for his new neighbor, the boisterous Albert, who is honestly seems like a more interesting character to build the story around. This disc features a short interview with Patrick McDonnell as a bonus feature.

Billy Dee! Billy Dee! Billy Dee!The third disc in the set focuses on performance. Cari Best’s “Shrinking Violet” seems to want to do a few too many things at once, addressing one character’s “allergy to attention” as she puts it and how she gets over it through a role in the school play. Surprisingly, the story does have a few surprises, but the astronomy lessons embedded in the middle don’t seem to fit too well. The Flash paper-cut animation isn’t terribly appealing, either. More successful is Best’s “Three Cheers for Catherine the Great!”, a warm and sweet story of how a girl bridges the generation gap with her feisty Russian grandmother. “Giraffes Can’t Dance” is another stage-fright story, as Gerald the giraffe learns how to get down with his own bad self at the Jungle Dance (with an immeasurable boost from the suave narration of Billy Dee Williams). Finally, I wished I liked “Amazing Grace” more than I did, since I am highly sympathetic to the message it’s sending when its title character proves the naysayers wrong when they tell her she can’t be Peter Pan in the school play because she’s black and a girl. Unfortunately, the story plays out almost exactly as you’d expect it to. The short is also just pan-imation over the book’s original artwork, and while I appreciated Alfre Woodard’s narration performance, I was also severely thrown by the short’s theme music, which I now associate with the Scholastic DVD trailers and DVD menus.

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