Holiday Gift Guide: Family DVDs
From a look back at the Muppets to a series of short films from Pixar, we review the best family viewing of the year.
From Mickey Mouse to Alvin and the Chipmunks, rodents have proven natural entertainers. But few are as gifted as Remy, the blue rat with the supersensitive nose and a way with food. Guided by the ghost of Gusteau, a chef whose motto was "Anyone can cook," and aided by a hapless kitchen boy, Remy turns Paris haute cuisine on its head. This wonderful ode to creativity is hands-down the best kids' movie of the year – not surprising since it was directed by Brad Bird ("The Incredibles," "The Iron Giant"). Extras: Sadly, Pixar's lightened up on offerings in recent years, but the conversation with Bird and chef Thomas Keller of The French Laundry is well worth a look. Also, the DVD features two shorts: The hysterical "Lifted" and the manic "Your Friend the Rat." (Parents, be warned: The last is tongue-in-cheek, but feels more violent than the feature film.)
Christmas Television Favorites ($39.98)
A four-film pack of animated Yule fun, this set culls just what the title says – a handful of time-tested children-friendly classics: "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," "The Year Without a Santa Claus," "Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July," and "Rudolph's Shiny New Year." Extras include "Horton Hears a Who" and fun animation instruction shorts.
Treasury of 100 Storybook Classics from Scholastic ($99.95)
There is a lifetime of memories in these 16 DVDs – from the Maurice Sendak classic, "Where the Wild Things Are," to "Harold and the Purple Crayon," "The Adventures of Curious George," and well, 97 more. This is a generous helping of children's literary history brought to life with good taste topped off with celebrities such as James Earl Jones and Sarah Jessica Parker. Get it for your child or the child in you.
The Muppet Show Season 2 ($39.99)
For the perfect present, just think green. Kermit & Co. will delight any nostalgic Gen-Xer or public-spirited young tyke. And Year 2 was one of the best seasons of the zany variety show – loaded with guest stars such as John Cleese, Peter Sellers, Steve Martin, Julie Andrews, and Judy Collins. This four-DVD box set includes all 24 original episodes from the 1976-77 season, including segments that originally aired only in Britain. Plus, the cover features a fuzzy Miss Piggy with glitter eyes. What more do you need? Extras include the rarely seen (for good reason) 1974 "Muppet Valentine Special," guest-starring Mia Farrow; 13 minutes of tongue-in-cheek interviews; and the not-to-be-missed 2002 music video with Weezer, "Keep Fishin."
Pixar Short Film Collection I ($29.99)
To get a sense of the consistent brilliance of Pixar's storytelling machine, pop in a few of the 13 short films collected here. (One hint: The best are invariably wordless.) Three of the films, "Geri's Game," "Tin Toy," and "For the Birds," won Academy Awards, and five others were nominated. Serious animation students will enjoy the audio commentaries and the documentary history of the studio. One caveat: If you're a Pixar fan, odds are you have most of these already as special features on your other DVDs, and the extras aren't special enough to warrant the extra $30. The "Short Film Collection" is also available in Blu-ray.