- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Cyber Life of Zack and Cody

The Disney Channel, a staple of cable television, offers fun, original shows and movies such as “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody,” “Hannah Montana,” “That’s So Raven” and “High School Musical” that harken back to the more family-friendly years of prime-time television.

The cyber-extension to its programming (www.disneychannel.com) delivers a commercial-free site (except for the Disney Channel plugs) and a wide range of free activities and challenges to keep tweens and younger children mired in multimedia.

One entry point on the colorful site that immediately will get the entire family involved is the voluminous Games section. An easily accessed and navigated list leads the way to single and multiplayer fun as the visitor can either jump right to a game hosted at each of the 14 programs’ minisites or roll a mouse pointer over a title to get a quick synopsis of the action.

Challenges derived from themes and stories found in the channel’s shows give players the chance to flex their fingers, and occasionally their brains, as they choose from a selection of nearly 90 games.

Take the case of a quintet based on “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody” that integrates actual photos of the stars’ noggins into the bobble-headed designs of the game avatars.

Pizza Party Pickup is the newest challenge and has the player control Zack, Cody, London or Maddie through a Pac-Man-like gantlet as they grab pizza, ingredients and snacks (while avoiding Carey and the manager, Mr. Moseby) to work up 10 floors for a party on top of the Tipton Hotel.

Visitors also can take part in some winter Spike Ball (a combination of volleyball, baseball and tennis), a side-scrolling/climbing poster-hanging challenge (to help the twins promote their mom’s singing career) or a food fight, or have London assist them in a virtual fashion makeover.

Just a taste of the other games presented throughout the various cyber-stops includes basketball (Eddie’s Shot Clock Showdown), pinball (Jake’s Pinball Inferno), matching (Phil’s Photo Frenzy), an art program (Rose’s Print Shop) and a simulation for junior paparazzi that requires them to shoot in-focus pictures of Hannah Montana (Hot Shot Photo Pro).

Of course, the site’s other major section is Videos. A selection of full episodes from all of the shows is available through the site’s own player, with some in six different languages — although the heavy Disney advertising message permeates.

Especially entertaining for the target crowd are segments from the Disney Channel’s “2006 Games.” Older couch potatoes will fondly remember “Battle of the Network Stars,” which featured celebrities demonstrating their athletic process or futility in a series of physical events often hosted by Howard Cosell.

The Disney Channel version features all of its younger stars in team contests. Videos offer the two latest episodes, but fans also will want to check the minisite found through the So Hot Summer icon (https://psc.disney.go.com/disneychannel/sohotsummer/main/index.html) for a ton of information on the participants.

A final place to mention merges some educational opportunities with the programs as Disney’s Cable in the Classroom contribution enables parents to get some extended benefit from junior’s being glued to the television.

Downloadable PDF lesson plans from pre-K to ninth grade can be used in tandem with specific episodes of the shows. Teachers just need to record the shows and print out the pages.

Have a cool site for the online multimedia masses? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at the Browser, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send e-mail (jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com). Joseph also writes a Web-exclusive column for the Washington Times Web site where he reviews educational software and family-friendly video games. Check it out at www.washingtontimes.com/familytimes/romperroom.htm.

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