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Baby Einstein: Discovering Shapes - Circles, Squares and More! DVD Review

Buy Baby Einstein: Discovering Shapes from Amazon.com Discovering Shapes - Circles, Squares and More!

Running Time: 31 Minutes
1.33:1 Fullscreen, Dolby Surround 2.0 (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish; Closed Captioned
DVD Release Date: July 24, 2007
Not Rated / Producer's Recommended Age: 9 months & up
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
White Keepcase

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By Ed South

When my review copy of Baby Einstein: Discovering Shapes - Circles, Squares and More! arrived in my mailbox, I have to admit I was a little excited about this latest addition to the now 10-year-old series of preschool videos. There must be some fascinating new discoveries in the world of shapes for Baby Einstein to release a second DVD on the subject, I thought. I was very familiar with the company's 2002 release Baby Newton: World of Shapes, which, thanks to my son, I've seen roughly 3 million times. Baby Newton tackles the circle and square along with the rectangle, triangle, and oval. But this new Baby Einstein DVD promises "Circles, Squares and More!" It was the "...and more" that had me intrigued. What new shapes were out there that I didn't know about? And how would Baby Einstein's famous armless puppets interact with these shapes they were about to unveil to the world?

Well, sadly there are no new shapes in the universe to report of. Along with circles and squares the new video gives us the obligatory triangles, rectangles, and ovals. So why would Baby Einstein produce another program covering the same material they covered just five years ago?
The target audience for these shows outgrows them in a couple of years, almost making the release of any additional titles pointless.

I suspect Baby Einstein decided to redo their shapes video for two reasons. First of all, there just isn't all that much subject matter you can teach a 6 to 9-month-old through a television. With Discovering Shapes being their 24th release for the potty-untrained set, I'm sure the multi-million dollar franchise is running out of ideas for fresh material to cover. However, I think a more important factor in the creation of a second shapes video may be that Baby Newton doesn't quite fit in with what has become the traditional format of a Baby Einstein title. The 2002 program relied heavily on stiff computer animation of a clown whose body is made up of different shapes. The familiar puppet troupe took a back seat to this cheaply-rendered clown and an original pop song about shapes. Years ago when I first saw Baby Newton I wondered why it was so different from the other titles in the series.

"Anyone for waffles?" or "Hey kid, don't eat the square!" Rhino uses a triangle to illustrate the shape of a triangle. Well-played, Rhino. Well-played.

Now, with ten years of video production behind them and the obvious talents one has access to when associated with the Walt Disney Company, Discovering Shapes is a much more polished and focused production than its predecessor. Using a very simple formula and time-tested techniques, this title provides 30 breezy minutes of introduction and/or reinforcement of five simple shapes we all encounter in our daily lives. The entire production consists mostly of three basic ingredients which play a role in all of the Baby Einstein DVDs: puppets, real life imagery and simple computer graphics.

The puppets are simple representations of animals, none of which have any limbs. The animals are friendly, mute little creatures and each video always has one as a sort of host or at least central character. This time out, we have a friendly rhinoceros who encounters each shape in a different way. These scenes are usually comical and can grab a giggle out of even the youngest bewildered viewer.

The real life imagery used consists of photographs and video of shapes in the actual world we live in. A sailboat's sail is used to illustrate triangles, tires demonstrate circles, and plenty of shots of cute little chickies and eggs showcase ovals. Other imagery used is studio-produced video of babies and small children the same age as the intended audience with their caregivers interacting with various shapes. There are also plenty of shots of unusual toys which somehow relate to a particular shape.

Raccoon and Rhino get down to a fierce game of beanbags. Simple graphics and text help introduce the various shapes.

All of this is presented in montages set to classical music performed in a nursery/toy band kind of way. This music has been the backbone of all the Baby Einstein DVDs, no matter what their subject matter.
This latest offering brings to your children the music of Mozart, Schubert, Strauss, Joseph Haydn, and Bedrich Smetana. Children will become better acquainted with some of these works through "Little Einsteins" a spin-off program for slightly older kids.

Discovering Shapes starts off with a brief musical introduction and then moves into separate segments for each of the five shapes covered. Each sections starts with a graphic of the shape, closely followed by the name of the shape printed on the screen and then finally a voiceover announcing the shape. This gives kids a chance to identify the shape aloud before they are told what the shape is. (This is also the first Baby Einstein DVD that I've encountered where company founder Julie Aigner-Clark does not serve as the voiceover talent, although it seems there was an attempt to match her voice.) At the end of the program, a quick summary of all the shapes and images we've seen is presented before the closing credits appear.

Whenever I review a title of this nature I make sure I have my own personal review panel with me to view the new DVD. I'm speaking of my two boys: Elias (almost 4 years old) and Tanner (20 months old) who both enjoy the Baby Einstein videos very much. They both liked this new addition to the library and appeared to get something out of it on an educational level.

"Pay attention, son! I'm trying to show you an oval!" One of the neater segments of the Discovering Shapes DVD, this dotted line quickly transforms into a variety of shapes.

At the top of the program before the individual shapes are introduced, there is a series of real life images that each subtlly illustrate a different shape. I was kind of surprised (and pleased) that Elias immediately picked up on the fact that shapes were trying to be conveyed through real life objects. He pointed out the square windows of a house, the circle tires on a truck, and the triangle shaped flags that were presented.

In another scene, a small tent is shown to illustrate a triangle. The rhino puppet comes out of the tent followed by a few more animal puppets. Elias went bonkers when "giraffe" came out of the tent. The giraffe puppet was the featured animal in one of the earliest Baby Einstein videos, Baby Beethoven, which also happened to be Elias' favorite. He was delighted to see giraffe again and it was the highlight of the video for him.

There were parts of the show that also got little Tanner excited. He mimicked the on-screen voice trying to say the names of each of the shapes, but he really lit up when he recognized things from his own life on the TV screen. He wanted to let you all know that his favorites were the bouncy balls, the trains and the waffles!

Another highlight of Discovering Shapes is an upbeat, funky little piece of computer animation that features a quick-zipping line that darts around the screen and creates the different shapes one after another. It's a frantic segment that got the kids really excited and shouting out the names of all the different shapes they were seeing. It was something different for the BE folks that really seemed to work well.

Even though babies and toddlers don't seem to need fancy production values and a polished on-screen product, Baby Einstein: Discovering Shapes is an improvement over the series' previous Shapes DVD. It's simple, but it's also sweet and effective and the kids seem to eat it up!

The Discovery Cards bonus feature allows children to explore shapes at their own pace. Large Bird tries to help Rhino with his house of cards in a bonus Puppet Show. Rhino and his friend Raccoon enjoy a picnic of shapes on the Main Menu of this latest Baby Einstein DVD.

BONUS FEATURES

When it comes to Bonus Features, Baby Einstein is on auto-pilot at this point. As with the feature presentation itself there is a certain ingredient to each of the bonus features that consumers have become quite accustomed to. "Discovery Cards" shows shapes and pictures, then prints the name of the shape on screen followed by a voiceover announcing the shape. It's pretty much the same thing as the main program without any movement or animation.

"Story Time with See & Spy Shapes" (3:26) provides a reading of an old board book
(that you can probably find on clearance somewhere) which is made up of little rhymes asking children to spot shapes in various pictures. Unlike the book version, the DVD will highlight the shape for you after a brief moment to find it yourself.

It wouldn't be a Baby Einstein DVD without some additional "Puppet Shows" as bonus features. Here we get three, each running less than a minute, of Mr. Rhino doing silly things with shapes. One show is titled "House of Cards" and is supposed to illustrate triangles, although how many kids today know what a house of cards is? There is a Play All feature or you can access each gem separately.

"Locate the Shape" is another ninety-seven seconds of pictures with a shape hiding somewhere in it. Kids are asked to find the shape and before long, its location is revealed to them.

"Toy Chest" is an almost shameless plug for all the toys that appeared in the main program. A good number of the toys are actually part of the Baby Einstein line of toys. However each of the toys (all 24 of them) is given a separate gallery page with the name and website of the toy company that produced each toy.

The Languages can also be accessed from the bonus features menu as well as the main menu. The program can be viewed in English, Spanish or French.

Finally, there is a promo for the Baby Einstein graduate franchise called "About Little Einsteins" (1:40) which plugs away for the popular Playhouse Disney show, DVDs, books, video games, etc... etc...

MENUS and MISCELLANEOUS

Of course nothing new here either...the menus are made up of simple animations featuring the Baby Einstein animals and nursery style classical music. There is a "Repeat Play" feature, common on these discs that allows the show to just keep repeating itself over and over and over again while a parent goes out and does the grocery shopping, has the tires rotated, and volunteers at the local Red Cross. (I'm kidding! Don't leave you kids home alone!)

Inserts in the DVD case include a scene selections card along with a promo for some of the newer Baby Einstein titles. There is also a Disney Movie Rewards card with your magic code for some more points. A tri-fold flyer also inserted announces Little Einsteins: Rocket's Firebird Rescue, an all-new "movie" with a Magic Mission Viewing Mode. (What will the boys in promotions think up next!?); Handy Manny: Tooling Around, My Friends Tigger & Pooh: Pooh's Super Sleuth Christmas Movie and...you knew it was coming...Baby Einstein: Lullaby Time - Soothing Sounds for Baby, available well in time for Christmas!

You may not know it, but that grilled cheese sandwich half you're eating is actually a triangle. Look at all the circles! Anyone feel like playing some Connect Four?

CLOSING THOUGHTS

When it comes to the Baby Einstein DVDs you know what you're getting into. If you are comfortable with your newborn child watching television, you can't do wrong with Baby Einstein. It's harmless, it's innocent, and it seems to actually make an impact on children. Discovering Shapes is tightly packed, well conceived, and makes an excellent learning tool or babysitter. If you already own some of the line's other DVDs you may want to skip this installment. But if you're just building your Baby Einstein library, and don't have 2002's Baby Newton, this is as good a way as any to introduce your kids to the wonderful world of shapes!

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Reviewed August 3, 2007.