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Little Einsteins: Team Up for Adventure DVD Review

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Show & DVD Details

Executive Producer: Eric Weiner / Writers: Jeff Borkin, Eric Weiner

Creative Director: Olexa Hewryk / Producer: Kris Greengrove

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: 69 Minutes (3 episodes) / Rating: Not Rated (TV-Y equivalent)
1.33:1 Full Screen (Original Broadcast Ratio), Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French)
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned
DVD Release Date: April 25, 2006
Two Episodes Originally Aired October 8, 2005 and January 8, 2006; One Unaired
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9); Red Keepcase
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99

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Little Einsteins made its debut on DVD, one of the most prominent mediums of the Baby Einstein empire from which the line sprung. Released last August, the feature-length, direct-to-video outing Our Big Huge Adventure did not initially attract too much attention, despite extensive efforts to promote the new line on the summer's Baby Einstein volume. That changed within two months, when Playhouse Disney, Disney Channel's preschooler-oriented programming block, unveiled "Little Einsteins", the TV series. Huge Adventure suddenly began getting a large number of orders and just about camped out in Amazon.com's Top 100 Sellers chart well into 2006.
Now, it's back to DVD for the franchise, and this time a built-in audience has more than just the Baby Einstein name to go on. It has six months of seven-mornings-a-week airings, during which the top-rated series has accrued twenty-six original half-hour episodes, each providing a variety of lessons for youngsters who have outgrown the toddler-tailored Baby Einstein.

"Little Einsteins" centers on four young kids who go on globe-trotting adventures with the help of their red ship Rocket. They are: Leo the leader, his sister Annie, and their ethnically different friends June and Quincy. The assumption might be that these four animated protagonists are "ordinary", but viewing even just a bit of the show reveals that to be untrue. Sure, they might be learning a bit along with their audience, but they're also shown to already know far more than the typical tot, even one who has been weaned on the simple yet tremendously profitable Baby Einstein fare. Of course, that's the idea. "Little Einsteins" has the air of something that has been carefully constructed to enlighten and enrich children who are either just starting school or approaching that age. The series' design is transparently tailored towards education, so much that entertainment seems secondary. Still, it fares okay.

With an audience only slightly older but far more developed than the Baby Einstein demographic, "Little Einsteins" naturally has to provide more than just bright colors, gentle attention-grabbing music, words, and puppets. It does that, by taking the fearless foursome to all sorts of places for "missions", all the while introducing viewers to concepts and pieces of classical music and renowned artwork, with a bit of geography and earth science on the side.

That's the way they became the Little Einsteins bunch. Clockwise from top left: June, Annie, Quincy, and Leo. The four protagonists are airborne for another mission, inside their ship Rocket.

Each installment specifically puts the spotlight on one painter and one composer; the work of each is woven into the adventure. For instance, one of the missions on this disc matches to the familiar Morning Mood suite from Edvard Grieg's Peer Gynt the song "We lost our baton, yes, we lost our baton / have you seen the bald eagle who took our baton?" Lyrics like these clearly didn't take long to think up. The musical numbers are nonetheless repeatedly employed in this way or by assigning the melody to an item or action. Likewise, the selected painting(s) will become the setting for some of the gang's journey. The logic must be that if these great pieces of culture can be recognized elsewhere, the viewer has taken an important step into a rounded education. Or at least he or she will earn kudos for being able to identify by name a composition in a commercial or a relative's hum. (Each episode ends with a curtain call where artists are again given their due, as is the viewer for his or her "help.")

Little Einsteins: Team Up for Adventure is billed as "a triple-length adventure", which is to say that it presents two episodes that have aired on the Disney Channel along with one that has not yet but probably will soon. Here's a closer look at each:

"How We Became the Little Einsteins: The True Story" (Originally aired January 8, 2006)

It would appear that the Little Einsteins are engaging in a little bit of retconning here, as this episode plays like a pilot (as the title suggests), yet did not air until thirteen others had. Nevertheless, it seems like the perfect place to be introduced to the series, which I was with this viewing. Things begin in Leo's room as he recalls Rocket, an ornament on his ceiling mobile. Retrieving the childhood item, the gang notices that Rocket is gone. When the ship answers their calls, they are surprised that it has grown so much. (They overlook the fact that he communicates through what sounds like a dialogue-less Baby Einstein soundtrack.) The rest of the episode proceeds to lead the Little Einsteins to their purpose in life, as they find Rocket's fully-equipped interior conducive to international "missions."
Featured art: John Singer Sargent's watercolor paintings of Venice; Featured music: Antonin Dvorak's Symphony No. 9 "From the New World"

"I Love to Conduct" (Originally aired October 9, 2005)

The gang wakes up very early and, as their reward, they get to observe the sun and animals rising. A (mostly computer-animated) bald eagle takes Leo's prized baton, leading Rocket and the four on yet another vast expedition in the air to retrieve it.
Featured art: Edward Hicks' "Peaceable Kingdom"; Featured music: Edvard Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite No. 1 "Morning Mood" (what else?)

"Rocket Safari" (Not yet aired)

"Is there anything Rocket can't do?", asks Quincy. Naturally, it's only a matter of moments before an answer in the affirmative arrives. The red ship gets stuck in some rocks, so the Little Einsteins enlist a CGI bumblebee, who in turn gets various animals from the wild - among them, an elephant, a giraffe, and a lion - to help out.
Featured art: Albrecht Durer's woodcuts; Featured music (as if there was any question): Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee

Learned children wake up early and greet the sun with Edvard Grieg music. Why can't you be more like them? Leo braves a CGI bald eagle (they're not really bald, you see) in "I Love to Conduct."

Having been introduced to "Little Einsteins" with this DVD, I have mixed but mostly positive feelings about the series. First of all, I appreciate its intentions. Cultural awareness is something that seems to be lacking these days and this show definitely finds some success in bucking the trend and making the music and art of long departed individuals accessible and attractive. At the same time, the franchise is clearly patterned after Baby Einstein, the sheer volume, pricing, and profits of which somehow detract from the positive
traits. At least the effectiveness of "Little Einsteins" seems both easier to measure and more difficult to dispute. This series is also more open-ended than the Baby Einstein programs which in nine years of existence has already been outgrown by several million infants. "Little Einsteins" may squarely aim at young audiences, but there's knowledge to be culled at just about any age.

Though "Little Einsteins" may seem set to obtain its lofty goals, its execution leaves a little to be desired. As mentioned earlier, the show emphasizes education over entertainment. In weaker stretches, this quality leaves the proceedings feeling like a child's school presentation. And these fabricated children do come across as more than a little pretentious at times, as they spout out Italian-derived musical terms (crescendo, fortissimo, diminuendo, and so on) every few minutes and casually drop surface information about the sights (Venetian canals, Mount Everest, you name it) they nonchalantly pass. Even their pauses for interaction (in the vein of "Blue's Clues", "JoJo's Circus" and probably plenty of other preschooler fare I'm not familiar with) seem like charity or a mock attempt to let the audience feel smart. Still, these observations are coming from an adult's eyes. Adults, while not as shut out here as other children's shows would have it, are of course not the primary audience. Nevertheless, I think there's some room for tone tinkering, but based on the sales receipts of this and everything Baby Einstein, plenty will disagree with my claim, which even I will grant is a minor concern.

Before moving onto the standard review sections, it's worth commenting on the visual stylings of the show. The two-dimensional animation is fairly simple and when combined with real life photography, it's not the most believable blend. In this DVD at least, there was occasional computer animation and this was fairly crude as expected (think "Higglytown Heroes", not The Incredibles). Still, it's all rather compelling and it's interesting to ponder how much medium variety there is among television programming for preschoolers when compared to the visibly decreasing diversity found in cinemas.

I know what you're thinking. Why is there a screencap from Timon & Pumbaa's Virtual Safari? It's not. Oh, is that a Durer woodcut I'm standing in front of? I hadn't noticed!

When played by default, the episodes contain just one set of opening and closing credits, at the very beginning and very end. When selected individually from the episode menu, they each are equipped with their original openings and closings, giving them each a runtime of 24 minutes and 6 seconds. This inconsistency is what accounts for the fact that played together, they only round up to 69 minutes, whereas viewed individually they exceed 72.

VIDEO and AUDIO

As is utterly to be expected from television episodes produced within the last twelve months and with major funding, the 1.33:1 fullscreen transfer leaves nothing to be desired. Colors are vibrant, the element is clean, and even nitpickers won't be able to spot any shortcomings.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is also commendable and surprisingly engulfing for a Playhouse Disney program. The track makes good use of directional effects and gives the regular flow of music room to breathe. There are also plenty of atmospheric noises that also make the simple, flat animation feel more alive than it otherwise might.

A still from "I Spy", I mean "Spot It." Leo and his sister run quickly to avoid the friends on the second level of the Main Menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and DESIGN

The gang is treated to a lighter serving of bonus features than their last time on DVD. All one gets is the set-top game "Spot It." This activity will not seem especially original to you - it's exactly what is known in the real world as "I Spy." Hosted by Leo, you pick out items based on descriptions from three different environments. Once all three are obtained, you find out which of the Little Einsteins gang they belong to and the character is briefly profiled. The game changes on return visits, which is pretty much necessary, since it can easily be completed in under two minutes by a sharp-witted youth.

If the disc can't score points for supplements, it does get credit for creative menus. Each 4x3 screen is set in the group's headquarters and most are elaborately animated. They all feature either portions of the theme or other classical compositions excerpted by the series, plus neat transitions take you to different parts of the grounds for the various submenus.

These days, no self-respecting preschool Disney DVD would not be equipped with "FastPlay." Suffice it to say that Team Up respects itself. It also respects the power of promotion. Before the program begins to play, the viewer is treated to previews for The Little Mermaid: Platinum Edition, Disney Princess Fairy Tales: Volume 1, and Little Einsteins: Mission Celebration! Additional spots, automatically triggered post-FastPlay viewing of the feature, are accessible from the dedicated menu. These offer looks at the upcoming Disney Learning Adventures with Winnie the Pooh, Dumbo: "Special" Edition, Pooh's Grand Adventure, Little Einsteins: Our Big Huge Adventure and Playhouse Disney's new series "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse."

To distinguish it from other family-friendly DVDs (which have chosen white as the keepcase color of choice), Team Up for Adventure is packaged in a red keepcase, as the gang's previous DVD was. Inside the case, one finds a reservation form for Disney's forthcoming new periodical Wonder time and a coupon booklet which promotes some preschool fare and offers savings on Our Big Huge Adventure and the recently-released Pooh's Grand Adventure. Finally, there is a double-sided insert which lists the disc's contents and promotes the two long-delayed Winnie the Pooh-based Disney Learning Adventures and Mission Celebration!, due on August 1st and August 22nd, respectively. Unfortunately, there are no colorforms to be found; for that you'll have to turn to the recently-issued CD Little Einsteins: Musical Missions, which is, of course, promoted here.

"Anybody up for some whale-hopping?" Each episode finds the Little Einsteins gang taking curtain calls and giving props to the public domain, I mean, timeless art and music appropriated, er, sampled!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

I found "Little Einsteins" to be an okay show. Its educational worth is both more noticeable and laudable than its entertainment value, but preschoolers will probably be satisfied with both and parents would be crazy to object. Team Up for Adventure, the series' second DVD release, presents merely three episodes and a brief game. As video, audio, and design are all capable, the value of this disc will depend on your stance on the content.

Three episodes of a show will never be as fulfilling or as reasonably-priced as a collection of discs filled to the brim. Still, 70 minutes is probably more than enough for a preschooler sitting. And compared to Baby Einstein, there is about twice as much content plus longer holding power and at the same price per volume. Nevertheless in the tradition of its predecessor, the price still feels a bit high when you can make your own tape of far more episodes with little effort. Sure, the picture and sound is much better here and the game can not be duplicated by any means, but preschoolers tend to not be so picky about these things.

As you can see, I'm a little conflicted by how pleasing a package this compilation is. If you care enough to read this far, you've probably already made up your mind on the matter. Little else needs to be said then, beyond this: if you can justify the list price and are certain that there are repeat viewings to be had here, then go for it. Otherwise, start (or continue) to tune in to Disney Channel every morning at 8:00 Eastern and make up your mind that way.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Related Reviews:
Little Einsteins: Our Big Huge Adventure Little Einsteins: Musical Missions (CD)
Baby Einstein: Meet the Orchestra Baby Einstein: On the Go - Riding, Sailing and Soaring
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Stanley's Dinosaur Round-Up Under the Umbrella Tree: Volume 2
Bear in the Big Blue House: Early to Bed, Early to Rise Goof Troop: Volume 1
Growing Up with Winnie the Pooh: Friends Forever Power Rangers S.P.D.: Volumes 3-5
Pooh's Heffalump Halloween Movie Disney Learning Adventures: Mickey's Around the World in 80 Days

UltimateDisney.com | DVD and Blu-ray Reviews | Complete DVD & Blu-ray Schedule | Upcoming Disney DVDs | Recent DVDs | Search This Site

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

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Reviewed April 25, 2006.