- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 7, 2003

In a world of violent 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.

The Beatles of children’s music enter the realm of computer education with the release of The Wiggles: Wiggle Bay. As members of the Playhouse Disney crew, the four Australian fellows of International fame — Anthony Field, Murray Cook, Jeff Fatt and Greg Page — have captured the imagination of tykes through a daily show offering their wacky brand of learning and song.

The CD-ROM continues the series’ shenanigans at the band’s favorite beach community. The band, appearing in cartoon form for most of the on-screen, problem-solving fun, offers eight mediocre challenges to keep players occupied long enough for the merchandising juggernaut to come out with another album or concert tour.

With narrator Dorothy the Dinosaur encouraging the proceedings, the child enters an uninspiring menu area to click upon Wiggleonian icons and access the games of skill and logic.

Those who have never heard of a Wiggle will be most impressed with Dorothy’s flower-growing exercise, which has players seeding and furiously watering pots, or the chance to create and record up to four free-form musical pieces on a keyboard with the help of Henry the Octopus.

Wiggle-maniacs will appreciate Jeff’s 10 drag-and-place jigsaw puzzles featuring photos from the band’s universe or Greg’s Spot the Differences challenge using more photos of familiar characters.

Unfortunately, games such as Anthony’s Tic-Tac-Toe or Wags the Dog’s treasure hunt are pretty lame and not worthy when compared to the sophisticated educational titles for preschoolers put out today.

Not to be a complainer, but the music videos, found under Captain Feathersword’s dominion, offer just three selections, and one of them is not that catchy ditty “Hot Potato,” which drove me nuts for months. I truly was disappointed to be unable to relive the sleepless nights I spent humming that tune.

Seriously, the Wiggles phenomenon cannot be ignored by parents, and overall, the title does a decent job of bringing the show to life. As an addition to the graphically rich Playhouse Disney line of software, however, which includes Stanley: Wild for Sharks, Book of Pooh: A Story Without a Tail and Rolie Polie Olie, Wiggle Bay hits a sour note.

The Wiggles: Wiggle Bay, Disney Interactive, $19.99, hybrid for PC and Macintosh systems.

• • •

High school students considering a career at NASA can get a bit of perspective with the latest DVD release celebrating the 20th anniversary of the motion picture “The Right Stuff.” The four-time Academy Award-winner, starring Ed Harris, Sam Shepard and Dennis Quaid, does a fantastic job portraying the trials and tribulations of America’s finest pilots as they became the Mercury 7 astronauts.

The 193-minute movie alone gives a great feel for how incredibly complicated and dangerous it was for these men to reach the stars, but Warner Home Video throws in a second disc of bonus features to cement more educational opportunities.

First, anyone following the amazing career of former senator and astronaut John Glenn will appreciate the almost-90-minute PBS documentary covering his life from his early years as a fighter pilot and culminating with his becoming the oldest man to orbit the Earth.

Next, three features celebrate the anniversary of the film by bringing back some of the cast and crew to talk about the experience. The best feature has some of the real heroes involved in Mercury 7 reminiscing, including Cmdr. Scott Carpenter and Col. L. Gordon Cooper.

Finally, a 12-point timeline mixing images, text and historical footage covers high points and low points of the U.S. space program, from Alan B. Shepard becoming the first American in space atop a Mercury Redstone rocket in 1961 to the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster this year.

“The Right Stuff,” from Warner Home Video, $26.99, rated PG, requires DVD-enabled computer or home entertainment system.

ROMper Room is a column devoted to finding the best of multimedia edutainment. Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send e-mail (jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com).

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