- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 25, 2004

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.

Personal learning tool innovator, LeapFrog Enterprises, hops back into the DVD arena with another release of teaching cartoons to hone math and reading skills.

The kindergarten crowd not infatuated with any licensed characters from popular television shows most benefits from these 30-minute colorful programs as a mixture of song and humorous antics pours across the screen in a traditional animated style.

Much like any PBS children show or an extended version of a “Schoolhouse Rock” nugget, the episodes have children watch a series of educational happenings incorporated into some simple storytelling and get pounded over the head with concepts.

First, tykes watch popular LeapFrog amphibious characters Leap, Lily and Tad in Math Circus as they help the wacky weasel Professor Quigley mass produce the Smart Talking Numbers “1” through “10” to meet the demands of his employer, the foul duck publisher Mr. Wembsley. The gang eventually ends up at the circus as they work with the acrobatics team, the Flying Quidgits to count in intervals of 10, from 10 to 100.

A game using the remote controller completes the fun from the DVD as the child clicks on numbers to solve addition and subtraction problems.

Second, Talking Words Factory 2: Code Word Caper explores phonics as the child watches Mr. Wembsley accidentally get sucked into Professor Quigley’s Amazing Silent E Machine and he loses his voice.

The familiar friends Leap, Lily and Tad must now explore the Complex Word Complex to solve a puzzle while learning about vowels and consonants, and how they work together, to help the grumpy duck get his voice back.

The obligatory remote-control game on the DVD has the child spell words narrated to him that contain a silent “e.”

Although both DVDs deliver the educational content, the disappointing lack of bonus features leave the programs’ presentations very antiquated compared to most standard interactive digital video releases.

Math Circus and Talking Words Factory 2: Code Word Caper from Warner Home Video, $14.98 each, For DVD-enabled home entertainment centers and computers.

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, DC 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send e-mail (jszadkowski@ washingtontimes.com).

A trio of holiday treats

Here are three multimedia items for DVD-enabled home entertainment centers and computers to keep the season cheer smoldering:

• “Elf,” from New Line Home Entertainment. ($29.99.)

Comedian Will Ferrell performed with hilarious childlike abandon as an adopted helper of Santa looking for his real roots in last season’s wonderful film. An overwhelming DVD set brings the fun back to the home screens as families can enjoy the movie in either a widescreen or full-screen format before unwrapping a bevy of bonuses.

Film specific extras include a script to screen viewer (for PC users), a tour of the set by Mr. Ferrell and the Infinifilm option which allows viewers to click on links to production featurettes relevant to a scene they are watching, or just enjoy reading some trivia subtitled during the film.

On-screen interactivity includes Elf Karaoke, a storybook read-a-long and a multilevel challenge involving snowball fights and high-speed skiing using the remote-controller arrow keys.

PC specific activities also exist such as designing and printing a storybook which combines text, character and background elements, printing out gift “thank you” notes and the ability to transform anyone into an elf by importing their photo.

• “Santa versus the Snowman 3D,” from Universal Home Entertainment. ($14.99.)

The team behind “Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius” presented an awesome 33-minute, three-dimensional story of Christmas legends shown at Imax theaters this holiday season and the beautifully animated short arrives on DVD with four pair of 3-D glasses to sort of recreate the spectacle.

The 3-D kind of works but viewers can also enjoy a 2-D version on the disk that really highlights the computer-generated animation style. However, what really stands out for this tech guy is the extras that allows DVD owners to create a snow globe to play on a screen and a selection of eight recipes for some tasty, winter-themed treats.

• “Mickey’s Twice Upon a Christmas,” from Buena Vista Home Entertainment ($29.99).

Disney’s legendary mouse and his pals become part of the world of computer-generated animation in a DVD loaded with holiday cheer. A quintet of tales delivers stories of friendship, sharing and giving to children as they watch the three-dimensional antics of Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Pluto, Goofy, Daisy and Santa.

The fun does not stop at the 68-minute cartoon as a sack of bonus features accompanies the presentation. Viewers can sing along with Donald Duck, take a tour of Santa’s workshop and even design and print out a Christmas card (for next year) to make the DVD a perfect companion to the holiday season.

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