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Baby Einstein: Meet the Orchestra - First Instruments DVD Review

Buy Baby Einstein: Meet the Orchestra from Amazon.com Meet the Orchestra - First Instruments

1.33:1 Fullscreen, Dolby Surround 2.0 (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish; Closed Captioned
DVD Release Date: March 7, 2006
Not Rated / Producer's Recommended Age: 1+ Years
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
White Keepcase

By Aaron Wallace

It's often said that exposure to the high arts at an early age facilitates the healthy development of infants.
In recent years, that notion has bred something of a phenomenon, thanks in large part to Baby Einstein. A line of DVDs that tailors classical music and classic literature to those who are still learning to talk, the Einstein series is all the rage in toddlertainment.

Couldn't consumers save their money for other needs in the pricey business of child care by simply reading a book or playing a bargain bin CD? Quite frankly, yes, but the Einstein series does offer something more. Each installment attaches lessons in vocabulary, counting, or other elementary skills in ways that are complimentary to the cultural showcase that is its primary draw. Throw in plenty of visual stimulation that includes puppetry, bright colors, and the appearance of other small children, and a young audience is likely to find these presentations a more accessible alternative.

The next Elvis Surprise!

It's curious that with so many of the preceding Baby Einstein releases centering around music, Meet the Orchestra is only now making its way to the world of retail. As is suggested by its title, it introduces children to all the major musical instruments and maybe even one or two that don't immediately come to mind. To accomplish that, each instrument is shown, labeled, pronounced, and then featured in a montage of children of all ages playing said instrument. The pieces are organized by orchestral section (brass, percussion, etc.).

After everyone has been properly introduced ("Baby, meet Saxophone; Saxophone, Baby"), it's time to get all dolled up and head to the coliseum! The elephants, rabbits, children, and elderly symphony players who have instructed and entertained throughout all band together for a concert. The program ends when the music does and in all, about forty minutes have passed. During that time, compositions from Beethoven, Mozart, Strauss, and others have been sampled.

Like all the Baby Einstein productions, this is a pretty simple affair, but one that is easy to commend. If children are to appreciate music, it's probably a good idea for them to be familiar with what makes it first, and assuming that they take to this -- as a great many have -- then it's a pretty good way to accomplish that. The packaging assures skeptics that by the age of one, children can identify different sounds and their sources. Parents, however, should be advised that they won't find this to be nearly as entertaining as their children will.

"Maestro's Recital" can be found in the bonus features. This part kind of scared me.

BONUS FEATURES

"Discovery Cards" are a lot like flash cards. A musical instrument or note (including even specific kinds of drums) will appear on screen, followed by a caption, a sound, and a pronunciation.
There aren't that many cards included, so don't expect this to consume much time.

"Maestro's Recital" (1:35) is an animated skit in which a conductor, a duet, a trio, and a quartet -- each made up of different arrangements of instruments -- are introduced and their roles described.

There are five "Puppet Shows", which can be viewed independently or all at once thanks to a handy "Play All" feature. They each feature one or more of the Baby Einstein puppets (which, it should be noted, are a little less than sophisticated) making music with an instrument, some of them conventional, some of them not so much. They each run less than a minute in length.

In "Guess the Musical Instrument" (4:43), an animated animal is shown playing an instrument and viewers are asked to figure out its name. After a few moments, it turns to video of a real-life kid playing the same instrument much better than the cartoon did and the instrument's name is finally revealed. I have my suspicions that neither the animals nor the humans are really playing.

"Toy Chest" usually shows up on Baby Einstein releases. It works just like the "Discovery Cards," only its purposes are commercial rather than educational. Item by item, parents (and their children) can find out where to go buy each of the products that were so carefully slipped into the feature. While some will decry such product placement as exploitative, some parents will likely find it useful nonetheless.

"About Little Einsteins" (5:16) is a commercial of sorts that advertises the Disney Channel pre-school series, "Little Einsteins," a Baby Einstein spin-off for older kids. Clips from the show and interviews with the people behind it are woven together. This isn't the first time this has shown up on an Einstein DVD, but it does take the place of any other "sneak peeks." It can be found alongside the other supplements in the "Bonus Features" menu.

All the bonus features are made available in English, French, and Spanish, including audio, subtitles, and all. The menu options and instructions for the flashcards, however, remain in English. "About Little Einsteins" is offered only in English and French.

The animated main menu The bonus features menu

MENUS & MISCELLANEOUS

The colorfully animated main menu features a hippo and a mallard duck conducting and playing a harp, respectively, while musical notes fly all around them. From here, one can choose to play the feature just once, or again and again without having to do anything by selecting "Repeat Play." The English, French, and Spanish language options for the primary feature can be chosen from here as well. There's also a commercial called "About Baby Einstein" (3:53), which is comprised of parental testimony to the wonders of the series, selectable from the main menu.

Inside the white keepcase that houses the DVD, coupons and advertisements for Baby Einstein releases and other baby-related products abound. There are two catalogues -- one slightly thicker than the other -- and chapter selection insert that doubles as an advertisement too.

The world's most talented hippo You're not even close to being a baby!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Baby Einstein line provides an interesting retail option for parents looking to entertain and stimulate their children at the same time. Meet the Orchestra makes more sense than most, as its introduction to some of the fundamentals of music-making goes hand in hand with the other music-centered releases from the series. It's also ever so slightly less boring for adults than some of others that focus on elementary vocabulary and the like. Still, parents who invest in this release won't be doing so on their own behalf. With a low retail price, the 40 minute runtime plus a menu of mostly-useful bonus features seems just right for an audience with an not-yet-developed attention span.

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Reviewed March 18, 2006.

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