- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 25, 2005

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 learn something from that overpriced multimedia system. Take a deep breath and enter the ROMper Room, where learning is a four-letter word cool.

Walt Disney’s magical multimedia kingdom has released its second wave of Learning Adventures using DVDs to entertain and educate.

Children 4 to 6 years old will benefit most from the titles, which combine older cartoons with set-top challenges to get youngsters to interact verbally with the presentations as well as use their DVD remote’s arrow and enter keys to continue the program and answer questions.

The best of the releases, Mickey’s Seeing the World offers preschool language and geography lessons intertwined with “Mickey’s Around the World in 80 Days,” a cartoon previously seen on the television show “Mickey Mouse Works.”

With a kindly male narrator explaining and guiding along the way, junior first must decide whether to let the DVD automatically play through (with no remote clicking required) or make his own selections under the guise of a magician’s apprentice.

Both paths offer the same content and begin with an inspirational rock song about discovery while a collage of famed Disney characters greet the player.

The child then takes a quick tour of England, France, Italy, Egypt, India, Japan, Mexico and the United States as he learns to say “hello” in various languages while picking up a few facts about each country, usually tied to famed landmarks.

Right from the beginning, it is a bit annoying that the child can not return to a country and review new knowledge as, with all the activities, he is pushed through the teaching parts of the on-screen action.

After the language/history lesson, the main animated feature, very loosely based on the Jules Verne classic, begins. In it, Mickey travels the world in 80 days to receive an inheritance from Scrooge McDuck and save a debt-ridden orphanage.

Near the middle of the 12-minute ‘toon, viewers return to education as the narrator starts a challenge in which apprentices must identify animals in their environments, choosing from among three possibilities. Facts about a gaggle of creatures are released with each question.

This pattern continues as junior works through a “match domicile to terrain” activity and watches the conclusion of “80 Days” and another short cartoon.

An ending segment has the child saying goodbye to the same countries he greeted earlier with more language exposure, alternate versions of salutations and more facts tossed into the mix.

The program then offers a 31-page, on-screen book of the “80 Days” animated story (in the “Apprentice Play” mode) or another chance to watch the cartoon (in the “Guided Play” mode).

Children get about an hour of edutainment as they methodically listen through most of the content.

A bonus Sorcerer’s World Challenge, also found on the disc, has players answering questions about days of the week, time, directions and calendars. The package even includes a 10-page activity booklet to work with away from the television or computer screen.

Despite lousy navigation, “Mickey’s Seeing the World” does deliver an efficient early-learning experience. What I don’t understand is why Disney bothered with the DVD format. It seems as if adding a few cartoons to a traditional CD-ROM-based software adventure would allow developers much more freedom to create better, reinforceable on-screen activities while still mesmerizing tykes with the famed character brand.

“Mickey’s Seeing the World ,” from Buena Vista Home Entertainment, $19.99, 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).

Pair of multimedia treats

• Madagascar, for PlayStation 2 and Xbox from Activision, $39.99. Children take control of the animal stars of DreamWorks’ current animated hit as they collect, collide, avoid and puzzle-solve their way from New York City to the wild.

This great-looking, engaging cross-genre game enhances action from the film within 11 chapters of exploration. A single player can roam 3-D environments as Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, Gloria the Hippo and Melman the Giraffe, upgrading powers, battling Foosa and saving friends.

The depth of the title makes it really shine as varied activities such as fishing with penguins, roaring away pesky pooches and stealthily taking over a cargo vessel lead not only to continuing the story, but also to collecting Monkey Money, which can be used to purchase costuming accessories and additional games, including miniature golf and shuffleboard.

Fighting for survival has never been so entertaining, and this child-friendly safari adventure will consume the entire family’s time.

• Tarzan II, from Buena Vista Home Entertainment, $29.99. Edgar Rice Burroughs’ legendary Lord of the Apes returns to his early years in a 72-minute animated adventure loaded with Disney charm and style. New songs from Phil Collins embellish the cute animated adventure, which finds a young Tarzan seeking his true identity and discovering the mystery of the Zugor and the Dark Mountain.

The admission price is a bit hefty, but production values are excellent and extras are bountiful.

After watching the cool cartoon, children can take part in desktop challenges that have them match fist movements (via the DVD controller) to those of fighting apes or see how filmmakers brought the legend back to life. Viewers can learn an amazing number of facts (presented through an optional pop-up format during the main feature), including that an elephant’s tail weighs about 22 pounds, the jungle comprises one-fifth of all land in Africa and gorillas eat more than 200 types of plants.

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