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Baby Einstein: Baby's Favorite Places - First Words - Around Town DVD Review

Buy Baby Einstein: Baby's Favorite Places from Amazon.com Baby's Favorite Places - First Words - Around Town

Running Time: 34 Minutes
1.33:1 Fullscreen, Dolby Surround 2.0 (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish; Closed Captioned
DVD Release Date: July 25, 2006
Not Rated / Producer's Recommended Age: 1+ Years
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
White Keepcase with Side Snaps

By Albert Gutierrez

A successful company devoted to entertaining and educating children at an early age, Baby Einstein is perhaps only surpassed in recognition by our good folks on Sesame Street. Among their many products is a special DVD line,
which offers short programs teaching the audience about such things as music, words, and in this latest edition, places around one's town. Baby’s Favorite Places - First Words - Around Town offers a glimpse into a Baby Einstein town, filled with cute puppets, and colorful places.

As we start our 34-minute journey into a Baby Einstein town, we come across a dog, a cat, and several other furries, who are portrayed via simple but still cute hand puppets. Dog is a pretty rowdy character; he enjoys doing a variety of tasks around the town, beginning with...throwing the paper? Oddly, instead of fetching the paper form the paper boy, Dog is the paperboy, as he delivers papers to various animals in the town. This is followed by a montage of real people and places, showcasing/previewing those favorite places around town, before we meet with special guest star Marlee Martin (Academy Award winner, Children of a Lesser God). She signs to us, “My Neighborhood”, and points us in the direction of said neighborhood, which is an animated aerial view of a small town. From here we are shown the three main components of this small town: “My Street”, “The Park”, and “Main Street.” Small town, indeed.

You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension - a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into...The BabyEinstein Zone Nothing says good family fun like parents keeping little Jamal from flying away.

Each area is covered the same way (in the same order they were introduced). We go to each area of the town, and within the area are several places that are vital to be known. For example, every street will have a mailbox, so a mailbox is one of the words we’ll see. Every area-within-the-area is isolated on a portion of the screen, while the word appears below, and Marlee Martin signs it back to you on the opposite portion of the screen. After we’re introduced to these places in the animated world, a live-action montage follows, with the narrator repeating each place to corresponding images. Included in the live-action shots are staged bits with a small child mimicking what he sees onscreen. For example, little Joey could be watching this program, and he sees a little boy on a white stage with some “play” garden tools, pretending to work on a garden.

Once all the live-action references are finished, we return to a puppet world where some of our favorite puppets (mainly Dog) have fun in places. Using the mailbox example again, Dog is mailing a letter, only to have the box spit out at him again. He continually tries putting the letter in the mailbox, before we see that Cat is lying in there trying to sleep. And proving that repetition helps one’s memory, we visit the same places again, only this time, a little girl signs their names back to us. Pretty much every area of the town is covered in this manner (animation/signing to live-action to stage to cute puppets), and the format could get tiresome for a parent watching. Once all three areas are covered, we are treated to another live-action montage depicting all the places we have just visited.

I have to say, though, that the words themselves are questionable. I can understand how a one-year-old may know what a “picnic” is, but at that age, I doubt he would be able to associate an outdoor meal in the park as always being a picnic. Some words are just likely to fly over a child’s head and he’ll probably prefer to simply enjoy the distracting visuals than try to remember a word like “salon” or “ice cream shop” (okay, maybe little Joey will remember ice cream shop...). All in all, the program is very engaging, despite its choice of words having a wide range. The words are both appealing to one-year-olds who are learning to talk, and two-year-olds who wish to expand their vocabulary.

Unnecessary Tip #32: Signal to a police officer by pressing a handmade C onto your left shoulder. Attack of the Giant Frog or scientific proof that frogs, not a slide, belong in the pond? Pull out a hat stand and I’ll be impressed

BONUS FEATURES

"Discovery Cards" (2:01) are flash cards that give an image of a person and the word for what they are (Mail Carrier, Neighbor, etc.), followed by Marlee Martin signing said word back. It’s the same format that we have just seen in the program, except these Discovery Cards show people in the neighborhood, not places. Twelve cards are shown in the short two minutes, and the static images offer a nice array of who are the people in your town.
“Oh who are the people in your neighborhood, in your neighborhood, in your neigh-bor-hood...” Sorry, "Sesame Street" on the brain.

"Which Belongs?" (1:06) offers a standard game in which several objects are shown against a background, and the narrator asks, "Which belongs in the...(garden, pond, coffin - just kidding)". The game goes by pretty quickly and helps younglings realize that bread, not spaghetti, will always belong in the bakery.

Five “Puppet Shows” (4:55) are short vignettes of the Dog and Cat around the town, which can be played individually or altogether. “Mailing A Letter” involves Dog and Cat...mailing letters. “Picnic Surprise”, the longest, features Dog pulling out many things (from food to a balloon to an umbrella), before he successfully finds his bone. “A Helping Hand” is a brief, but touching short in which Dog helps Cat carry a stack of Baby Einstein books. “Endless Spaghetti” isn’t quite endless, as Dog quickly finishes a plate of one really long spaghetti noodle, leaving none for Cat. Finally, “Picket Fences” shows Dog painting a fence white, only to meet halfway with Cat, who’s painting it red.

“Twinkle, Twinkle” (0:40) is a sing-along available only in English (audio-wise, and sign language-wise), and is brought to life through Marlee Martin’s hands and a group of children softly singing in the background. Oddly, no lyrics are given to sing along to.

“Toy Chest” is a series of static images from the Baby Einstein catalog, with products and merchandise tied to the themed DVD of Baby’s Favorite Places. I’ve got to say, if I were in their target audience, I wouldn’t mind having a Fold’n’Store Slide. It’s a slide...that you fold...and store!

"About Little Einsteins" (1:42) is a commercial for the Disney Channel series, “Little Einsteins.” Rather short, it offers a quick overview at the show which mixes simplistic animation with live-action environments. “Little Einsteins” seems reminiscent of the PBS series “Postcards from Buster”, save for the fact that these little Einsteins travel on their own, in a rocket ship, with no adult supervision (!). Right before the commercial ends, there is an even quicker overview of more products from the Little Einsteins series. Another preview (1:05), for the recently-released DVD Little Einsteins: Mission Celebration!, plays automatically at the start of the program. While it plays by default, there is no option to access this promo from the menus.

Bonus Features are offered in English, French, and Spanish, but there are no subtitle options.

Follow Mickey, the bouncing ball! What’s that? Oh, sorry. Follow Marlee, the bouncy sign language interpreter! What every toddler needs...a mailbox? Perfect for Baby Vogue, I’m sure. The main menu, with the family minivan driving back and forth along the only street in BabyEinsteinville

MENUS & MISCELLANEOUS

An animated menu shows a four-way intersection, with several shops and houses along the streets. A squirrel waves his tail slowly but continuously, as the same car drives back and forth across the screen (maybe he’s lost?). Several options are given, marked by an ice cream cone. It begins with “Play”, which if my calculations are correct, will play the program. For those who wish to view the program multiple times (repetition is good for the memory, repetition is good for the memory),
a “Repeat Play” option is given as well. “Languages” takes you to a static page where you simply choose to hear the program in English, French, or Spanish.

Along with the already-covered “Bonus Material”, there is a promo entitled “About Baby Einstein” (3:58), which provides both descriptions of the various products (mainly the DVDs) in Baby Einstein and testimonials from parents who use the Baby Einstein series. The parents sound pretty enthused about how their children progress with the Baby Einstein series, while the female narrator gives delightful-sounding descriptions of the DVDs geared toward the baby as he or she ages.

The white keepcase has sidesnaps (perhaps to keep little Joey from turning his favorite DVD into a teething ring) and contains several inserts. Naturally there is a two-sided insert which offers a Scene Selection and breakdown of bonus features, while also promoting various Baby Einstein DVDs. A small catalog showcases most of the products in the entire Baby Einstein series, including everything from the DVDs, to clothes, toys, and yes, even a Baby Einstein diaper bag. The last insert is several coupons for Baby Einstein poducts, and a promo for Disney Learning Adventures, Cheerios, and Little Einstein. A special promotion (Exp. 12/31/06) in this insert is a “Buy 3, Get 1 Free” for the Baby Einstein DVD series.

Marlee Martin signing the word ‘trail’ or showing how to properly do a record scratch at a night club? Arf Arf Woof Bark Arf! Translation: ‘You got the new issue of Baby Vogue in there?’

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Though I’m nowhere near the target audience for Baby Einstein, I can easily see that it’s a very stimulating and synergistic program for both the child and even the parent. While the $20 list price seems a bit hefty for a half-hour show, it’s well worth the price tag, and repeated viewings may further the advancement of a toddler’s speech and memory as he associates images onscreen with similar images he’ll find in real life. The words may be a bit too advanced for such a young child, but if I’m wrong and someone proves to me that a one-year-old can repeat and understand that “bread belongs in a bakery”, I’ll eat a straw hat. Baby's Favorite Places comes highly recommended for the growing family.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com

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Reviewed August 22, 2006.

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