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<td width="450" valign="center"><b>Baby Einstein: Baby Wordsworth -
First Words - Around the House</b>
Release Date: July 19, 2005
Dolby Surround 2.0 (English, French, Spanish)
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)</td></tr></table></center>
Review by Aaron Wallace
"Baby Einstein"'s reputation precedes it. Indeed, in approaching this review - my first encounter with the series - I had a set of expectations that would normally be considered a bit lofty for toddler's entertainment. That's really its claim to fame, though; a unique brand of visual education that is of a higher brow than has previously been attempted in the industry.
Like others of its ilk, the series makes use of humorous characters (in the form of speechless puppets) and bright colors to connect with its youthful audience. Unlike its contemporaries; however, its focus is education via stimulation rather than song, dance, and stories. Works of art are set to classical music from the likes of Bach and Debussy while live-action children more than deliver in the "adorable" department. Graceful editing accents the music and ties the paintings, compositions, and children into themed segments that maximize the effectiveness of the lesson.
As is evident from the title, <b>"Baby Wordsworth"</b> concentrates on words and phrases that may be among a toddler's first as they explore their home. Each word is illustrated in several ways and the vocabulary sets are grouped by the room in which they'd typically be found.
<center><img src="http://www.ultimatedisney.com/images/a-c/babywordsworth1.jpg" alt="A precious little girl helps demonstrate the word 'chair.'"> <img src="http://www.ultimatedisney.com/images/a-c/babywordsworth2.jpg" alt="Best Actress Oscar-winner Marlee Matlin makes a guest appearance as the disc's host and resident sign language instructor."></center>
In keeping with its refusal to pander to typical expectations from its audience, "Wordsworth" also adds the surprising but commendable use of sign language. Oscar-winning actress Marlee Marlin appears alongside each new vocabulary term to slowly sign it so that the viewers can familiarize themselves with yet another form of communication.
While the productions are unusually sophisticated for their target audience, don't be misled by such descriptions. It's still a very simple product that is clearly geared towards the very young. There's very little spoken word and, aside from its uniquity, not much to be wowed by. To be sure, "Baby Wordsworth" takes "short and sweet" quite literally. That might not make it the most engaging experience for parents, but it seems promising for the growing toddlers it was made for.
At first glance, the Bonus Material menu seems to be chock-full of extra features, which actually isn't the case. The disc's efforts at teaching sign language to youngsters continue with two segments under the "Discover Cards" section, "Words Around the House" (4:43) and "Alphabet" (0:59). The former merely replays the signed vocabulary portions of the feature itself as one fluid segment while the latter runs through the English alphabet in sign language. One item down, "Signing With Baby" (2:21) brings back Matlin to sign a few common phrases.
"What Will We Find?" (3:23) is a brief stroll throughout a standard home, where common objects in each room are sorted and named, a practice fairly similar to what can be found in the feature.
The "Puppet Shows" heading reveals three very brief vignettes in which <i>Baby Wordsworth</i> puppets encounter various objects in the house. You can watch each one individually or make use of the "Play All" feature. All together, they only run a little over two minutes.
<center><img src="http://www.ultimatedisney.com/images/a-c/babywordsworth3.jpg" alt="One of three brief puppet shows found among the bonus features."> <img src="http://www.ultimatedisney.com/images/a-c/babywordsworth4.jpg" alt="Matlin tells a story in sign language in 'Storytime with Violet's House.'"></center>
"Storytime with Violet's House" (3:31) is a blend of live action and illustration in which Matlin signs a very simple story about a girl named Violet, her home, and her family. As illustrated scenes scroll behind her, a narrator reads the story in English to coincide with the sign language.
The most surprising inclusion for those unfamiliar with the <i>Baby Einstein</i> line is "Toy Chest," which is an actual catalog featuring products that are placed throughout the <i>Wordsworth</i> feature. These were products that I hadn't even recognized as being promoted during playback, but were there nonetheless. Highly commercial it may be, but parents who find themselves admiring the objects and sceneries of <i>Baby Wordsworth</i> may find this index helpful.
While the feature already begins with a two minute glimpse at "Little Einsteins," the upcoming spin-off TV and DVD series in which the concept of <i>Baby Einstein</i> is combined with adventuresome plots, the "About 'Little Einsteins'" featurette (5:22) adds interviews with the people behind the show and additional scenes to make for a more exciting and comprehensive preview.
The disc's final bonus feature is actually found not in the Bonus Material section, but on the main menu. "About <i>Baby Einstein</i>" (3:57) is a self-promotional segment that highlights the goals and achievements of the DVD line and its many branches. Interviews with parents and their children serve as a testimony to the series' success.
<center><img src="http://www.ultimatedisney.com/images/a-c/babywordsworth5.jpg" alt="The rather uneventful main menu screen."> <img src="http://www.ultimatedisney.com/images/a-c/babywordsworth6.jpg" alt="An example of the kind of artwork that appears throughout 'Baby Wordsworth.'"></center>
<b>MENUS & MISCELLANEOUS</b>
The Main Menu features some movement but is, by and large, stagnant. Viewers are presented with the option of playing the feature through once, or allowing it to continually repeat. A short preview for "Little Einsteins" is tagged onto the beginning and is helpfully chapter skippable. The option to play the feature presentation and bonus features in French and Spanish in addition to English is also available.
Three inserts can be found inside the case. The first is an advertisement for other "Einstein" products and a coupon for $3 off any other installment in the line. Next is a weighty 13-page catalog of related products. Finally, there is a two page chapter selection insert that also includes a summary of what "Baby Einstein" is all about.
Attached to the back of the case (at least in the first printing) is a sampler DVD that runs about 25 minutes in length and features several previews for "Little Einsteins" (some new, some carried over from the main DVD) as well as music videos from the "Disney Princess" and "Disney Learning Adventures" DVD lines and <i>Pooh's Heffalump Movie</i>.
<center><img src="http://www.ultimatedisney.com/images/a-c/babywordsworth7.jpg" alt="The puppets that occasionally make an appearance are, much like the feature itself, rather simplistic."> <img src="http://www.ultimatedisney.com/images/a-c/babywordsworth8.jpg" alt="In addition to the amusing stunts of little children, heartwarming moments between mother and child are also featured throughout."></center>
I came away from "Baby Wordsworth" impressed, and that certainly seems to have been the case with many a viewer, given the line's success. Anytime a product aimed at children in the infant-to-preschool range serves up entertainment that doesn't underestimate the young mind, it's commendable. Despite its simplicity, "Baby Einstein" is a hit with toddlers and their parents as well, and with "Baby Wordsworth," it isn't hard to see why. Stimulation and education of the creative variety are something that many kids will love and that most parents can appreciate, which makes this disc (along with others in the line) worth checking out.
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