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Baby Einstein: My First Signs - See and Sign with Baby DVD Review

Buy Baby Einstein: My First Signs from Amazon.com My First Signs - See and Sign with Baby

Running Time: 27 Minutes
1.33:1 Fullscreen, Dolby Surround 2.0 (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish; Closed Captioned
DVD Release Date: March 13, 2007
Not Rated / Producer's Recommended Age: 6 months & up
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
White Keepcase

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It's been two full years since I last reviewed a Baby Einstein DVD. My duties for this site have kept me well aware of the new releases and their content. I've also written about a couple of the franchise's CDs and a DVD of the spin-off series "Little Einsteins." But it was a specific kind of video/DVD that launched Baby Einstein into the stratosphere and later helped the tiny project of a suburban Colorado couple grow into a multi-million dollar, Disney-owned empire.
Today, the same DVDs (Baby Einstein stopped producing videocassettes back in October 2005) remain an important foundation for the company leading the intellectually debated yet highly profitable market of toddler-oriented filmed entertainment.

Thus, the passage of time and the subject at hand both give me slightly greater than usual interest in Baby Einstein: My First Signs. I knew that Disney and Baby Einstein were still on the same March/July/October release schedule they were on in 2005. But was the content any different?

Don't let the big words and grandiose nature of the preceding paragraphs dissuade you. I still know, as you probably do, that I'm discussing something that's intended to be viewed by those who were born as recently as last September. That doesn't mean I'm writing for them.

Marlee Matlin looks quite happy to share the spotlight with this armless, mute, six-whiskered blue creature puppet. Milk: It does a body good.

Twenty-third of all Baby Einstein home video releases, My First Signs is only third in a subclass of language-oriented discs. Like the two that came before it, My First Signs enlists arguably the most famous deaf person alive today: Marlee Matlin, a Best Actress Oscar winner for 1986's Children of a Lesser God. Today, Matlin is most commonly seen on television, holding recurring roles on primetime fare like "The West Wing", "My Name is Earl", and "The L Word." Don't worry, there's nary a terrorist, stand-alone mustache, or lesbian hook-up found here. Instead, Matlin is called upon to illustrate sign language and to widely smile in interacting with her chief co-star, a whiskered blue creature that looks suspiciously like a hand puppet.

Viewers will quickly acclimate to the format: Matlin signs a word, which is also spoken and appears in text and photo form. Other words that are similar follow, and then the group is explored further via more of the blue puppet along with his family and friends, plenty of footage of babies and young kids, a bit of animation, and the occasional piece of artwork. All of the words of a group are then repeated, this time with children doing the sign. Rinse, repeat the procedure with a new group; family time, meal time, play time, and bed time make four groups altogether. Oh yes, and it's all set to baby-friendly takes on classical compositions by Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms, Handel, and Schumann. Though the music isn't as emphasized, nor are any of the works familiar enough, to stand out this time.

Green shirt boy doesn't look so pleased by his dog's proximity. Kids enjoy the simple pleasures of life, like the joy of playing with a blanket.

According to the case, there are twenty words/phrases covered in total. Naturally, these basic phrases represent things that are likely to enter a young person's mouth, such as "mommy", "daddy", "milk", "cereal", "friend", "I love you", "thank you" and so on. Under certain circumstances, your little one might be able to string together a nearly-coherent sentence, like "daddy cereal friend" or "mommy, milk?"

The end credits point out that the sign language on display here is an amalgam of American Sign Language (ASL) and Conceptually Accurate Signed English (CASE). Thus, it seems of modest use to the hearing impaired and those who might communicate with them. It also could conceivably delay verbal communication if used in lieu of speech. While recognizing the hybrid signs' role in encouraging any form of communication, I think the DVD overestimates its power. I question the value of all this sign language. Going further, I question the value of most of what is on this disc. Does a baby really need this DVD to figure out that making a drinking motion means "drink"?

While the pacing is mind-numbingly slow and the content exceedingly self-explanatory to anyone out of diapers, there is quite a bit of footage of cute kids being kids. It's enough to make a non-parent yearn for parenthood. Of course, Baby Einstein wouldn't mind. You'd be adding to its demographic. Not quite the circle of life Mufasa taught Simba about.

Today, the part of Marlee Matlin will be played by this bald black man. Who's your daddy? This Puppet Show proves the age-old adage: theatre is always better when there's cereal involved. The makers of this DVD truly outdid themselves when it came to designing this Main Menu.


There are no surprises as far as bonus features are concerned; the extras adhere to the long-established Baby Einstein norms. "Discovery Cards - Opposites" offers a minute of split-screens, as series of simple antonyms are spoken and depicted graphically, textually, and via sign language from Marlee Matlin.
"Sign With Me" is not much different, running 90 seconds and featuring merely the word in text, voice, and sign, the latter two provided by a bald black man.

Five dialogue-less Puppet Shows (3:23) find our favorite blue hand puppet in basic situations, involving kisses, cereal, tickling, a rope, and I doubt today's leading educators deliberate much on these elaborate productions. "Signing with Baby - Basic Signs" finds Ms. Matlin (1:13) doing -- what else? -- sign language to words on screen. This hardly differs from what the black man was doing before, so I'm not sure why it's divided up.

That's essentially where the value ends, but the bonus features go on...

"Toy Chest" reveals how a multi-hundred-million dollar empire can grow out of DVDs that sell for $15 or less: by making said DVDs replete with product placement. This gallery provides a picture, name, and manufacturer for about 30 colorful tot toys apparently planted in the program. "Languages", also available from the Main Menu, provides an opportunity to watch the program and bonus features in French or Spanish for the bilingual-bound baby. "About Little Einsteins" (1:40) would be more appropriately titled "Advertising Little Einsteins", as what begins as a standard preview of the Playhouse Disney series turns into a vocally demanding, rapid-fire pitch for all things "Little Einsteins."

Rounding out the disc are two usual offerings accessible only from the Main Menu. "Repeat Play" offers an endurance challenge; it promises to play the program again and again for as long as your DVD player works and you pay your electricity bill. It's the type of feature that makes some call the series a video babysitter. "About Baby Einsteins" (3:55) is a self-validating assertion of the franchise's value that uses parental testimonies as a springboard to promote the assorted DVD volumes and miscellany in the ever-growing collection.


The menus serve up mild animation and more xylophonic music, with a tiny handprint as the cursor. The standard white keepcase, one of the rare Disney DVDs to feature a side security sticker (do Baby Einstein DVDs really evoke thievery, and such easily-thwarted thievery at that?), holds a two-sided insert which lists musical selections for each scene, and some tips (i.e. when? how?) to using signs with your baby. Needless to say, there are also a slew of ads, a $1 coupon for the Baby Einstein mealtime line, a Disney Movie Rewards code, and notice of upcoming DVDs (Little Einsteins: Rocket's Firebird Rescue lands August 21st, while Disney/Baby Einstein's new toddler-tailored line Einstein Pals launches in the spring of 2008).

Keep in mind this is the ideal mother-daughter response to Baby Einstein sign language and that they're not watching TV! Everyone loves an autumn leaf fight! (a.k.a. It's fun to throw things!)


On my return to Baby Einstein, I find that I've probably changed more than the DVDs have. I suppose I'm more cynical today than I was two years ago, but not enough to be called a cynic. That said, I now find myself in a middle ground between complimenting and criticizing this line, though I'm starting to lean towards the latter. I firmly believe that the effects of Baby Einstein DVDs are neither as helpful or harmful as proponents and detractors suggest. An occasional viewing of a Baby Einstein DVD or two may prove to benefit babies' development as a supplement. Any more than that and you're probably planting seeds of vegativity in your little ones while also overexposing them to commercialism.

Since this DVD, its press materials, and anything else bearing the Baby Einstein seal of approval do plenty to tell you about their believed benefits, let me merely counter them with two opposing views. The American Academy of Pediatrics, an organization dedicated to children's health, does not recommend television for those younger than two years of age.
Even scarier, a recent report from Cornell University found a connection between television viewing in the under-3 demographic and autism rates, though not definitively.

Until an independent party verifies the educational merits of Baby Einstein, you're merely being sold on the concept by people who are developing their own children's financial security. On that subject, there's no doubt that My First Signs is overpriced, based on the fact that it runs 27 minutes, is rampant with ads/product placement, and is intended to be viewed for a period of about a year. It's the noble notion of wanting what's best for your baby that induces the judgment-clouding impulses. What else would convince you to spend $15 on less than a half-hour of television for an adorably innocent and illiterate baby? What other circumstances would get you to even think about spending $15 on 27 minutes that are meant to enrapture for a fleeing moment in time? In moderation, this lazy DVD may be fine and perhaps could help speed up one's verbal development. It seems a more likely outcome than your baby either developing into a culturally sophisticated genius or a socially stunted autist. Still, babies have been developing since long before the advent of TV and home video. Chances are that later in life you might regret using a DVD babysitter for your kid instead of teaching him or her communication skills on your own.

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Reviewed March 7, 2007.

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