- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 5, 2007

In a world of ultraviolent video games, where dexterity of the thumb and index finger is infinitely more important than the flexing of the cerebrum, there must be a place for children and their parents to interact and actually learn something from that overpriced multimedia computer/gaming system. Take a deep breath and enter the ROMper Room, where learning is a four-letter word - cool.

Home entertainment publishers MGM and Twentieth Century Fox help usher in the new school year with releases that combine classic movies on DVD with the potential for learning.

First, the Follow Along Series ($14.99 and up) offers some fairly current family-friendly films geared toward youngsters to help stimulate their desire to read.

Built upon the research conducted by the National Captioning Institute (www.ncicap.org), each of the full-length releases offers captions — karaokelike overlays of the dialogue colorfully highlighted on-screen — for tykes to follow.

Available titles include “Garfield: The Movie,” “Anastasia,” “Robots,” “Stellaluna,” “Miss Spider’s Sunny Patch Kids” and “Ferngully: The Last Rainforest.”

I do not doubt that allowing children to clearly see the words being spoken is a good idea. My beef is paying for this slightly repackaged product, which offers zero extras and no further reinforcement.

Take the case of the “Ice Age: Follow Along” edition ($17.99). For about the same price, I suggest just buying the two-disc special edition of the film ($14.99) and picking up some of the “Ice Age” franchise books ($4.99 and up) for an equally enlightening experience.

What the developers should have done was create a permutated disc and incorporated some of the features found in Disney’s DVD Read-Along series. Those discs offer abridged, illustrated versions of the company’s classic films as sort of an on-screen, narrated storybook with a few set-top skill-building challenges thrown in.

Viewers could have gotten the captioned version of the movie with an abridged, virtual and printable presentation of the story to take away from the television screens and read later. The addition of a couple of vocabulary-based games would round out the release.

The bottom line is watching any of these films a couple of times will not turn a child into a reader. If he watches all of his television shows every day with captions on, research says it could help.

The Follow Along series might help non-English-speaking students or disabled persons get a handle on some word and sentence structure, but to have a child read a book with his parents always will accomplish much more.

Next, Fox and MGM offer a pretty great idea that falls well short of possibilities when compared with the continual evolution of the Internet and DVD interactivity.

The premise is pretty slick. The CliffsNotes Ultimate Study Guide series ($14.98) offers a full-length movie on DVD adapted from a great piece of literature. Included in the package is a copy of the yellow-and-black student shortcut associated with the literary work.

An obvious note before continuing: I understand that no experience can replace reading the book, and so do the DVD publishers. A warning label is plastered on all of the releases.

Movie choices include Kenneth Branagh’s Academy Award-winning version of Shakespeare’s “Henry V,” Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Captain Ahab in Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick,” Spencer Tracy and Fredric March in “Inherit the Wind” and the 1935 and 1952 versions of Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables.”

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