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Little Einsteins on DVD:Our Big Huge Adventure • Team Up for Adventure • Mission Celebration! • The Legend of the Golden Pyramid
Rocket's Firebird Rescue • Race for Space • Flight of the Instrument Fairies • The Christmas Wish
Fire Truck Rocket's Blastoff • Animal Expedition

Little Einsteins: Fire Truck Rocket's Blastoff DVD Review

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Show & DVD Details

Executive Producer: Eric Weiner / Writers: Jeff Borkin, Anne Lund, Brian L. Perkins

Producer: Kris Greengrove / Supervising Director: Andy Thom

Voice Cast: Erica Huang (June), Aiden Pompey (Quincy), Jesse Schwartz (Leo), Natalia Wojcik (Annie) / Singing Cast: Harrison Chad, Jesse Goldberg, Emma Straus, Philip Trencher

Running Time: 95 Minutes (4 episodes) / Rating: TV-Y
1.33:1 Full Screen (Original Broadcast Ratio), Dolby Digital Surround 2.0 (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned
DVD Release Date: September 8, 2009
Three Episodes aired between February 26, 2007 - January 28, 2008; One Unaired
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9); White Keepcase
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99

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By Aaron Wallace

When last I encountered the Little Einsteins, they were making their (barely) feature-length debut in Our Big Huge Adventure. That 2005 direct-to-DVD release gave birth to a regular series on Disney Channel's Playhouse Disney programming block.
Four years later, the knowledge-thirsty tykes are still at it, spitting out new episodes, a line of books, and a steady stream of DVDs. Among the lattermost, the most recent is Fire Truck Rocket's Blastoff, a release that gives me my first look at the series in its regular TV format. As it turns out, not much has changed.

Quincy, Leo, Annie, and June are the Einsteins, a group of young friends whose unusual appreciation for the fine arts calls to mind Amy Poehler's impersonation of Dakota Fanning on "Saturday Night Live". Together, they galavant around the world inside their mighty morphin' spaceship, Rocket, who functions kind of like a pet. Each episode presents the gang with a new challenge, the solution to which lies inside their cultural wherewithal. Their various adventures always center on one piece of famous artwork and one piece of classical music. Usually, that means they'll travel into a painting and play a song over and over until their problems are solved.

Leo and the Little Einsteins gang find Melody, a "music pet" that looks like some sort of crazy penguin monster. Hey kids, can you think of a more effective way of transporting ice cream cross-country?

"Little Einsteins" was designed to be a hybrid between its benefactor, Baby Einstein, and the Saturday morning cartoon. In that effort, the series is remarkably successful. There's a clear (albeit simple) narrative in the show, but also a deliberate focus on the arts. The educational angle isn't preachy or heady, but it's clearly the selling point here. You'll find only small doses of the highbrow in other preschool programming and not at all in the mainstream animation made for older children. "Little Einsteins" is therefore something of a rarity. Naturally, that makes the show less entertaining than its competitors, but not by much.

For small children, the music and action on display should sufficiently amuse. Like others in its ilk, the show often pauses to invite verbal participation from its preschool audience. For parents watching with their kids, there's enough going on in the show to at least keep the adult mind alive for twenty-two minutes. That will come as a welcome relief to moms and dads graduating from a couple years' worth of Baby Einstein DVDs.

Whatever else I might say in support of "Little Einsteins", though, I must warn of you this: the show is repetitive... Groundhog Day repetitive, only without the acknowledgment. Fire Truck Rocket's Blastoff contains four episodes and each will relentlessly demand that you pat your shoulders to the beat without concern for the potential bruising. For adults, the monotony is taxing. Whether your kids find that comforting, annoying, or even notice at all is hard to say and will probably depend on your child.

Oh no, Quincy is hitchhiking for music! "Little Einsteins" always begins with this introduction on the stage, presenting both the music and the art to be interwoven in that episode.

For children of the right age, though, there's no question that "Little Einsteins" is worth at least a viewing experiment.
The four episodes on this disc will make a good test for whether your kid will be up for more. Those episodes are:

"Fire Truck Rocket" (Not yet aired)

In a scene that's funny in a "that's so wrong" kind of way, a monkey's tail is stuck in a tree and there's a giant volcano about to erupt behind him. The Einsteins keep their cool, though (some might say they keep it too cool), and rely on the power of music to turn Rocket into the kind of fast-moving, well-equipped fire truck that can save this poor monkey from impending magma.
Featured Art: Japanese shadow puppets; Featured Music: Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture

"Melody the Music Pet" (Originally aired February 26, 2007)

Melody is less of a music pet and more of a music-eating penguin-type thing. She needs a ticket to get on this cool-looking train for pets. How do you find her ticket? Through music and art, of course.
Featured Art: "Water Lilies" by Claude Monet; Featured Music: Humoresque No. 7 in G flat major by Antonνn Dvorαk

"Carmine's Big Race" (Originally aired May 12, 2007)

A car named Carmine enters a Grand Prix. Carmine's a musical car, so you can bet that the Einsteins gang is on her side. With your help, they'll do everything they can (well, not everything) to make sure Carmine takes the lead.
Featured Art: "The Vines" by Paul Ranson; Featured Music: Mouret's "Rondeau"

"Mr. Penguin's Ice-Cream Adventure" (Originally aired January 28, 2008)

Penguins and trains are the order of the day once again! Mr. Penguin's ice cream train has gone kaput and he needs the Einsteins' help to get it across the Andes mountains in time for a party.
Featured Art: "VAROOM!" by Roy Lichtenstein; Featured Music: Franz Schubert's Symphony No. 8 in B minor "Unfinished"

VIDEO and AUDIO

The episodes are presented in 1.33:1 fullscreen and with their 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo broadcast sound mix. Neither video nor audio present any problems at all. This colorful show blends traditional animation, CGI, and occasional live-action footage and all of it looks appropriately bright and lively here. French and Spanish language tracks are also provided.

Using the Magic Mission Mode, you can answer the Little Einsteins' pointed questions with your remote instead of your words! The 16x9 main menu finds the Little Einsteins braving a bout of turbulence. Fire Truck Rocket's Blastoff orders four episodes and you have your pick of the litter with the Episode Selection menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

In lieu of typical bonus features, this DVD offers an alternative mode of interactive playback at two different levels. "Magic Mission Mode" pauses the program every time it comes to one of those built-in gaps where the child viewer is supposed to shout something out.
An interactive game screen pops up and, using the remote control, the viewer answers the question. Level 1's questions are designed for ages 2-3; Level 2 is for ages 4-6. I'll trust that the difficulty levels are age-sensitive and based on some sort of research in that regard... personally, I couldn't tell much difference based on a sampling of questions in each mode.

While most DVD games are cheap marketing ploys and poorly designed, this kind of episode-turned-game concept actually lends itself nicely to the preschool TV show. Since we're pausing for interactivity anyways, why not make use of the technology at our disposal? Just be aware that -- especially for younger players -- the remote controlling might require a little more guidance from whoever is babysitting. Parents might get annoyed by the frequent breaks in the flow, but I suspect that kids will get more mileage out of the DVD thanks to this.

The 16x9 main menu is animated, with the gang of four tilting from left to right inside Rocket. The show's catchy theme plays in instrumental form while you make your choice. Of course, the first choice you'll have to make is whether to see the menu screen at all, as this disc employs Disney's FastPlay.

Sneak peeks on the disc include: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: Diamond Edition, Winnie the Pooh: Seasons of Giving: 10th Anniversary Edition, Mickey's Magical Christmas: Snowed in at the House of Mouse, "Little Einsteins": Animal Expedition, the Disney Movie Rewards program, Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure, The Princess and the Frog, "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse": Mickey's Adventures in Wonderland, The Tigger Movie: 10th Anniversary Special Edition, and "Handy Manny" on Playhouse Disney.

The disc is housed inside a standard white keepcase. Inside is a Disney Movie Rewards Magic Code.

Much like Mary Poppins before them, the Little Einsteins hop into paintings and dance around. I hope this monkey can show the Little Einsteins as much patience as they show their audience while they try to save him with casual songs and games.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

"Little Einsteins"' effort to build toddlertainment atop classic pieces of music and art is commendable and in large part successful. The four episodes and alternative viewing modes offered on Fire Truck Rocket's Blastoff should entertain your kids without driving you insane, but the $5/episode list price suggests that Fire Truck Rocket's Rip-off should have been the title instead. Consider purchasing only if a few hours of stimulating diversion for your kids are worth it to you.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com

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Related Reviews:
Little Einsteins: The Christmas Wish • Little Einsteins: Flight of the Instrument Fairies • Little Einsteins: Our Big Huge Adventure
Little Einsteins: Race for Space • Little Einsteins: Mission Celebration! • Little Einsteins: The Legend of the Golden Pyramid
Little Einsteins: Team Up for Adventure • Little Einsteins: Rocket's Firebird Rescue • Little Einsteins: Musical Missions (CD)
New: A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa • Winnie the Pooh: Seasons of Giving (10th Anniversary Edition) • Mickey's Christmas Carol
Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Mickey's Adventures in Wonderland • Thomas & Friends: Hero of the Rails • Chipmunks Go to the Movies: Star Wreck
Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Mickey's Treat • Cars • Higglytown Heroes: To the Rescue • Schoolhouse Rock! Earth

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Reviewed October 5, 2009.