DENVER — IN the hectic rush of the season, a carefully selected rented video or two can offer cozy, cuddle time for parent and child, a break from the big fuss of entertaining, shopping, and cooking.
Some videos for children are merely entertaining, but a few offer more in the way of an intellectual or imaginative challenge. The best "kidvids" should entertain children as well as offer parents ideas that are both challenging enough to keep them engaged and appropriate for family discussion afterward.
For very young children, the best bet is still animated films like "The Snowman," based on the book by Raymond Briggs, or the "Stories to Remember" series. The illustrations in the former are sophisticated and graceful, telling the story of a snowman who comes to life and leads a little child on a wonderful adventure. The gentle Christmas tale is done with few words and wonderful music. The "Stories to Remember" films offer familiar fairy tales and folk tales in low-tech animation - bright, simple drawin gs that move just a little.
Everyone knows about Disney's "Little Mermaid" and "Beauty and the Beast" by now, but try out the "Sing-Along Series" - terrific for little kids who like to sing. The "Sing Alongs" enable a child to see the words on screen and sing along as they change color. Many of the classic tunes that have showed up in various Disney 'toons, from old favorites like "Sailing, Sailing" to "Someone's Waiting for You," are given freshness and purpose.
And speaking of Disney, "The Rescuers" has been released on video - an animated adventure feature most children will love. For older children and young teens, C.S. Lewis's superb "The Chronicles of Narnia" including "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," "Prince Caspian and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader," and "The Silver Chair" have just been released by Home Vision. These wonderful stories encourage children to think deeply about things that matter. The BBC productions are faithful to the books, well -acted, and beautifully made.
The four children of the first story wander into a magical kingdom called Narnia through an old wardrobe. In a land where it is always winter and never Christmas, virtues like patience, courage, faithfulness, honesty, and goodness, have practical value. Witches, dragons, and invisible enemies must be defeated by creative solutions, unselfishness, and bravery.
As a general rule, films based on good children's literature are good bets for both parent and child. Home Vision has just released several "WonderWorks Family Movies" based on great books like "The Little Princess" and "Jacob Have I Loved."
Adventures like "White Fang" and "A Cry in the Wild" offer young teens modern Robinson Crusoe stories featuring young men confronting hostile environments. These are strictly for older kids; the latter includes some stiff language and a horrifying image or two, but some thought-provoking survival imagery as well.
For a truly different film experience, try Jean Cocteau's elegant version of "Beauty and the Beast." The film is in French with subtitles and will broaden the movie-viewing experience of older children with its complex visual metaphors and penetrating story.
Just as good for teens is Kenneth Branaugh's version of Shakespeare's "Henry V." It is the most painless introduction to Shakespeare a parent could ask for.