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The Muppets, Disney, and Some Older Films May Make Good Presents

By M. S. MasonSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / December 17, 1990



Here's a selection of films available in larger video stores: Baby's Storytime (Hi Tops Video, $9.95), from the ``Stories to Remember'' series, features many of the basic fairy tales. The Gingerbread Man, The Tortoise and the Hare, Billy Goats Gruff, and many others are told in simple style. The animated pictures look like book illustrations and are beautifully rendered. Arlo Guthrie narrates them simply and expressively. Other recommended tapes in the series include ``Beauty and the Beast'' and ``Baby's Bedtime.''

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The Little Drummer Boy (Broadway Video, $14.95) is an animated dramatization of the Christmas carol by the same name about a poor shepherd boy who learns about love on the first Christmas and finds his life restored. There is more than one version, so look for the Jose Ferrer-Greer Garson one. The Vienna Boys Choir will draw tears from brick.

The Muppets take Manhattan (CBS Fox, $19.95) will engage little ones for a while, at least, simply because the muppets are so charming. But older children and adults will appreciate the plot complications and the gentle parody in Jim Henson's comic vision.

Walt Disney made all those terrific cartoons featuring characters like ``Peter Pan,'' ``Dumbo,'' ``Bambi,'' ``Cinderella,'' and ``Alice in Wonderland'' (priced from $19.95 to $26.95). These films seem a bit dated in outlook, if still lively in drama. My personal pick among the Disney pictures is ``The Little Mermaid'' (Disney distributes its own pictures) with its splendid musical sound track, its contemporary themes, and its non-sexist storytelling. Very young children, however, do not respond well to the wicked witches in any of the Disney pictures.

The Faerie Tale Theatre Series (Playhouse Video, $14.95) twists the standard fairy tales just a bit with satirical wit. It might be well to read the real stories to the kiddies first so they can appreciate all the convolutions. Best among the lot are ``Little Red Riding Hood,'' ``The Princess and the Pea,'' and ``The Frog Prince'' - but all are worth seeing.

E.T., the Extraterrestrial (MCA, $14.95) addresses some of the saddest aspects of modern life - the absent father and the child's need for his affection. But it has one hair-raising medical sequence when the extraterrestrial becomes ill. Younger children may be too sensitive for this film about a child who finds a friend from another world.

The Princess Bride (Nelson Entertainment, $19.95) takes the fairy tale and marries it to the swashbuckler. Most of the family will enjoy this witty revision of the marvelous old-fashioned film genre when the beautiful Buttercup and her dashing Leslie (a farmboy-turned-pirate) escape from the clutches of, and then defeat, the wicked Prince Humperdink. Lots of charming, funny characters and excellent performances.

The Anne of Green Gables series and the sequel series ``Anne of Avonlea'' (Disney, $29.95 per set) are delightful recreations of the classic stories by Lucy Maud Montgomery. The series stars Megan Follows as the imaginative young orphan who blusters her way into the lives of a strait-laced farm woman and her brother. Colleen Dewhurst waxes sharp-tongued and soft-hearted as the orphan's old-maid adoptive mother. For older children and young teens, the ``Anne'' series is an excellent choice. A gift of the books in the series would increase the pleasures.

Note: Prices for videotapes vary widely from store to store. All prices quoted on this page are from Blockbuster Video, a national chain.