Holiday Gift Guide: CDs and DVDs

Can you imagine a life as a parent without a DVD player? I didn't think so. Here's some of our moms' views on the latest offerings in music and movies:


Up, $45.99, Rated PG (some peril, death and action)

Best for ages: 9 and older, although younger ones will still enjoy parts of the movie.

What it's about: I would never have imagined that a grumpy old man could get me out of the funk I felt about my family. Upon seeing the trailer for Disney/Pixar's newest creation Up, I was also sure that kids wouldn't be interested in this film either. I was wrong on both counts. I had just come back from a long weekend with my parents in California. My mom has been suffering from complications with diabetes including dementia. It was a tough, agonizing, emotion-filled visit and I needed to take my mind off the experience. Then, I saw Up with my 8-year-old son, and was instantly reminded of my parents. The film begins with a montage of scenes chronicling the relationship between a shy, quiet boy and an adventurous, spunky girl that turns into a lifelong love and marriage. As the scenes progressed, tears streamed down my face as I watched Carl kiss his beloved Ellie's forehead -- an act I witnessed my father do just before I left home for Texas. Without Ellie by his side, Carl does become a grumpy old man. He gets grumpier every day as skyscrapers and contractors surround the home he shared with his late wife. The development threatens to destroy everything he holds dear -- all of the possessions that remind him of his soulmate. He obsesses over the one promise that was never fulfilled in Ellie's lifetime -- an adventure to the mystical, magical Paradise Falls somewhere in the heart of South America. Like many couples, Carl and Ellie had hoped to save up to make their trip, but a tire flat here and a hospital there pushed that dream to the side. Carl, a skillful balloon cart salesman, concocts a plan to literally fly out of the mess he’s in. He attaches hundreds, maybe thousands, of balloons to his home and takes off. His plan of escape would have been perfect if not for the stowaway passenger, Russell, a sweet boy who just wants to earn his last badge to become the ultimate explorer -- and to impress and get attention of his father.

Why we like it: While the emotional impact of the movie can be heavy for adults, the fantastical adventure story that plays out is light enough for kids. Everyone in the family will enjoy this wonderful film about friendship, love and what’s really important in life. The kids loved Dug, the talking dog who "talks like a kid." Pixar has done an amazing job with the technical wizardry to keep the entire audience entranced. But what makes Up stand out from other animated films is not just the details in the visuals, but the adept storytelling that tugs at the heartstrings.

Good to know: Be prepared for questions about death from your little ones. The Blu-Ray four-disc set includes a Blu-Ray DVD, DVD, a digital copy to take on the road and the exclusive animated short film: Dug's Special Mission that the kids will love.

Grade: A

--Submitted by maricar

Frosty Friends, $14.98

Best for ages: 3-7

What it’s about: What do you get when you combine Bob the Builder, Thomas the Train, Barney the Dinosaur, Pingu and Kipper all in the finite space of one writable disc? A new form of mommy torture? Depends on who you ask. If you ask a 4 year old, he will tell you he struck the jackpot. Complete with five episodes each featuring one of the characters mentioned above, Frosty Friends has something for everyone. The episodes, though unrelated in all other ways, share a common theme of winter and the holiday season. Especially endearing is the Barney version of the fabled Gift of the Magi story, where two friends sell their most precious possession to buy a gift for the other—gifts bought ironically to complement the friend’s newly sold prized possession. (Insert sentimental sigh here.)

Why we like it: If you’ve got a six year old in love with Barney and a four year old who won’t watch anything but Thomas, save your money buying individual holiday DVDs and consider this a one-stop media resource.

Good to Know: Although there is about 10 minutes of previews and commercials before the DVD’s main menu becomes available (or maybe there IS a way to fast forward but we lost our remote control so it remains a Rhodes Family mystery), the disc features a convenient Auto Play function where the episodes will automatically begin after all the intro material has played out. Translation: you don’t have to stand around, remote control in-hand, waiting for the commercials to be over in order to push play. Sure, your kid has to sit through a bunch of stuff before getting to the subject at hand, but at least you’ll be off checking Facebook at that point.

Grade: B+

--Submitted by Julie

Walt Disney's Pinocchio 70th Anniversary Platinum Edition, $35.99

Best for ages: 5 years and older

What it’s about: Does this movie need an introduction? Meet Pinocchio, a puppet who wishes upon a star to become a real boy. We follow his mischievous adventures, along with his pal, Jiminy Cricket, as his loyalty, honesty and his character are tested along the way.

Why we like it: “When you Wish Upon a Star” is the best musical theme of childhood. Also, when his nose grows for lying reminds us of what can happen when you tell even the whitest of lies. This is definitely one of those Disney classic you must add to the collection.

Good to know: This set is a wonderful gift for young children. Not only does the set include the BluRay edition, but also a DVD version you can put in the car for those long car trips or to leave at grandma’s. Also, there are lots of special features that you can play with once your little one has watched the story.

Grade: A- (It's essential to see, but it is still not my favorite Disney movie.)

To see the features, visit:

--Submitted by arredmom

Bob the Builder: Built for Fun, $14.98

Best for ages: 3-7, though savvy two year old will enjoy the visuals

What it’s about: The gift set comes with a DVD of five 8-9 minute episodes and a bonus toy truck. Learning lessons about friendship, individuality and teamwork, Bob the Builder and his crew are an ever-lovable and dependable ensemble your kids will enjoy. In Episode 1, Bob and the crew form a radio station and encourage each truck or otherwise vehicular device to contribute their own special talents. When Flex feels left out, the team encourages him to use his special gift for describing the plants in the valley. In Episode 2, Bob and Crew learn about the value of recycling when they build the mayor’s office entirely out of “unusual” materials like tires, bamboo and recycled glass. Episode 3: “Roley Brings the House Down” shows the value of taking responsibility for your actions. In Episode 4, Scoop learns to think things through and improvise while building a hotel swimming pool despite a cantankerous radio DJ who needs his sleep. And Episode 5 shows the importance of being prepared in any situation.

Why we like it: Claymation sure has come a long way since Gumby (in my day), and with vibrant colors and detail, it’s hard to look away. Though I will admit my two year old has the attention span of a gnat, I imagine slightly older kids will be all about it. My favorite character was DJ Mike (Episode 4) solely because he has an obvious and very intentional toupee in all its plastic-claymation glory. So needless to say, there’s something for everyone. Side note: it is plausible that Barak Obama took his relentless campaign slogan “Yes We Can” from the Bob the Builder team. They sure say it enough. With bonus features “Build with Bob: the Game” and “Building Buddies: Read Along”, this gift set is a fun addition under any tree, claymation or otherwise.

Good to Know: With the wealth of characters and rather sophisticated story lines, it can be difficult to follow if your kids typically watch TV in “drive-by” mode. Not that they would care.

Grade: B

--Submitted by Julie

Shaun of the Sheep: Sheep on the loose, $14.98

Best for ages: 4 and up

What it is: Shaun and the flock run amuck in the English countryside in six delightful episodes from the makers of "Wallace and Grommit." The sheep take a trip to the carnival in "Sheep on the Loose". "Saturday Night Shaun" has the animals' boogying in the barn. Mishaps with the trash and the farmers vacuum have the crew chaotically cleaning in "Tidy Up." When the farmer get's sick Shaun and the other sheep are responsible for daily chores in "Shaun the Farmer." The sheep get curious with a tent and a raw chicken in "Camping Chaos." And last but not least the Sheep plot to get the farmer out of the pool in "If you can't stand the heat."

Why we like it: Although the episodes are short the funny and smart writing keeps our family in stitches.

Good to know: This collection is only six episodes instead of eight making it shorter than the other DVDs. The DVD does include two bonus features Building a Pig (real time workshop on how to make the pigs from the series) and The Mini Making of Shaun (step-by-step documentary of how an episode is made from the storyboard phase to the computer).

Grade: A

--Submitted by heatherw

Thomas & Friends Hop on Board Songs and Stories DVD + Music Set, $14.98

Best for ages: 3-6

What it is: A collection of two classic Thomas episodes, along with seven sing-alongs featuring bouncing lyrics. There's also a CD with five of the songs.

Is it worth it? Don't be fooled by the packaging: these are not new episodes featuring the realistically rendered CGI Thomas. This DVD uses the old stop action animation and didn't hold my daughter's interest at all.

Good to know: Spend your money on High Speed Adventures instead.

Grade: D

--Submitted by jenniferb

Thomas & Friends Holiday Express, $16.98

Best for ages: 3 and older

What it’s about: All aboard for a snowy ride with Thomas and his friends! This gift set DVD comes with a mini Thomas train your tot will love. A collection of 5 mini episodes that revolve around winter and snow, the DVD will have you shivering with delight as Thomas and crew go from adventure to adventure. (How’s that for a plug.)

Why we like it: In a world fraught with such annoying specimens as Wiggles and Elmo, Thomas is a breath of fresh air to all us mommies out here. He is soft-spoken, polite, and rather charming in a faux-British kind of way. I’ve always found it a little peculiar that Thomas lives on an island very much resembling England—replete with hills and sheep and rivers—and how everyone has an almost-British-accent, yet somehow the creators found it unacceptable to just plain set Thomas & Friends down in a realistic location. (The series is actually made in England, go figure.) Nevertheless, it has all the charms of a good, respectable British series on PBS. Oh, and if your kid is into trains like mine is, it’s a win-win.

Good to Know: Don’t be fooled. The production low-techiness is part of Thomas’ on-screen charm. It has nothing on Bob The Builder claymation.

Grade: A-

--Submitted by Julie

Barney Book Fair, $14.98

Best for ages: 2-5

What it is: Whether you love him or hate him, Barney the purple dinosaur is back working his magic, keeping your kids entertained while learning a little something along the way. In this DVD Barney uses reading to teach children to use their imaginations. And as a bonus, you also get a book that'll help teach your child to count to 10.

Why we like it: Love the book/DVD combo, especially to go along with the theme of this DVD. And you can't help but admit Barney makes the kids happy! The book is colorfully illustrated and fun to read and a mom can never complain about something that teaches children the benefits of reading.

Good to know: This one will grow with your child. 2-year-old tester loved the book, but couldn't quite make it through the 52-minute DVD. Luckily the DVD is nicely segmented because Barney uses different books to teach different lessons in imagination.

Grade: A

--Submitted by K_Crane

Thomas & Friends Hero of the Rails, $19.98

Best for ages: 2-5

What it is: This is a sure winner if your child is a lover of trains, and especially Thomas the train. This is a full hour-long movie, following along as Thomas tries to help Hiro, an abandoned engine. Your children will learn all about working together in this movie, and obstacles that can get in the way of doing the right thing.

Why we like it: Aside from the train our kids all love, this movie has a great story and lesson to share. The colorful animation is great for all ages. Love how every words is so carefully chosen in these movies. Everyones uses lots of descriptive adjectives, making this a great learning tool for younger kiddos. And most of all, it's fun and entertaining for the kids.

Good to know: This is a pretty long movie for the younger end of the age range, but it's still fun for a 2-year-old. You also get a nice selection of bonus features with this DVD, including games and singing!

Grade: A

--Submitted by K_Crane

iCarly, Season 2, Volume 1, $25.49, Nickelodeon

Best for: Ages 9-14, or any kiddo that regularly watches the show; A great gift for kids, grandkids or friends' kids!

What it is: A 2-disc set containing 11 episodes (one of which is an extended version and one is a TV movie) from the second season of iCarly on Nickelodeon. iCarly stars Miranda Cosgrove (in our house we first knew her as the annoying suck-up in School of Rock with Jack Black), who along with her BFF Sam, runs a weekly web-show from her in-home makeshift studio.

Why we like it: iCarly is appropriate (albeit sometimes dumb) tween/teen humor and my kids (both male and female) love the show and loved this DVD. On a grown-up scale, it is FAR more tolerable than most of the tween/teen shows out there (in truth, iCarly is one of my favorite things they watch).

Grade: A+ for appropriateness and keeping the kids entertained and quiet!

--Submitted by HeyLaura

Kidwinks: Farm Created by a speech pathologist, and art therapist, and music therapist, $14.95, Kidwinks LLC

Best for ages: 18 months +

What’s it’s about:/strong> It takes your child on a farm adventure where you can learn the names of animals and the sounds they make. Your child will also learn the ASL (American Sign Language) sings for the animals.

Would kids like it? Kids tend to love animals and the sounds they make, so I think most kids would enjoy it.

Buy it? I would honestly have to say “no” to this one, because I believe there are better products available by Signing Time. If I were spending my money; I would spend it on Signing Time and not Kidwinks.


--Submitted by Meliissa

Fireman Sam: Help is Here!, $14.98, HIT Entertainment

Best for ages: 2-6, but the younger ones will enjoy it the most.

What it is: These five Fireman Sam episodes find our hero saving the grocery store, helping the rescue dogs find people and making a daring helicopter rescue in the middle of a forest fire. Along the way, Fireman Sam offers safety tips and emphasizes the importance of teamwork.

Why we like it: This is a nice alternative to Bob the Builder or Thomas the Train. If your kiddos have worn out those shows, they'll like Fireman Sam and his crew. The stories are colorful and move quickly.

Good to know: The DVD's running time is 45 minutes. (Enough time for some laundry or dinner prep!)

Grade: B

--Submitted by kimb

The Very First Alvin Show, $16.99, Paramount Home Entertainment

Best for ages: 3-6 (or adults, see below....)

What it is: This DVD offers the "very first" broadcast show of the classic chipmunk series from 1961. The collection also includes two other episodes, Rockin' Thru the Decades and A Chipmunk Reunion.

Why we like it: The adults in our family appreciated the quaint quality of the animation. As always, the chipmunks' songs were a highlight.

Good to know: Today's kids will not be impressed with these shows. Attention spans were quickly directed elsewhere. The 74-minute running time is more adult-friendly.

Grade: C, for kids. Your grown-up Alvin fans might enjoy the trip down memory lane!

--Submitted by kimb

True Jackson VP, Season 1, Volume 1, $18.99, Nickelodeon

Best for: Ages 9-16, or any kiddo that regularly watches the show; A great gift for kids, tweens/teens, grandkids and/or friends' kids!

What it is: A 2-disc set containing 13 episodes from the second season of True Jackson VP on Nickelodeon. The show follows True Jackson as the 15-year-old vice president of a youth-apparel fashion company (hence the title of the show).

Why we like it: It's a Cinderella story (what 15-year-old wouldn't want to be VP of a fashion co.?!). Also, I appreciate that my kids see the way a teen has to struggle with inter-office drama and business situations — dramatized and not completely realistic, of course, but hey, it's less far-fetched than Hannah Montana! I also appreciate that the characters in the show are fairly well-spoken and clean-cut for teens. And I'm not gonna lie, the fashion part is cute too — my 14-year-old daughter's favorite episode off the DVD was "Red Carpet."

Grade: A+ for hours of clean entertainment

--Submitted by HeyLaura

Strawberry Shortcake Skys The Limit, $17.49, Rated G

Best for ages: 4 and older

What it is: A bid storm hits berry city and puts their water supply in jeopardy. The girls find a way to get the water they beed for Berry City.

Why we like it: Its a great story of perserverence, the girls work really hard to save the city and never give up.

Good to know: There is Lots of color, and there is a special sing along!

Grade: A+ my daughter loved it, I enjoyed the movie as well.

--Submitted by Tiffany2you

Bionicle: The Legend Reborn, $19.98

Best for Ages: 5-8

What it is: The Bionicle series is based on LEGO’s toy collection of part-machine, part-organic robots that the company launched in 2001. In this movie, the fourth Bionicle film, the lead character Mata Nui helps rival villagers to team up together to defeat Skrall and Bone Hunters who are trying to destroy the villages.

Why we like it: The graphics are beautiful in this movie with wonderful set designs in another world. It has a good, positive message of working together to accomplish a goal.

Good to know: There is a lot of fighting in this movie. And while the hand-to-hand combat of robot-like characters does not create a bloodfest, it seems like 5 minutes can’t go by without another fight sequence. Also, if you have not followed the Bionicle movie series (which I have not), the movie plot can be very confusing.

Grade: C. I can’t really recommend this unless you’re a fan of the Bionicle series and toys. My kids said they liked it but I found it stiff and boring.

--Submitted by ajkoos


Radio Disney Jams 11, $18.98

Best for ages: 6 and up

What it is: Get ready for some bubble gum pop from your favorite Disney Channel stars. With hits such as "Burnin’ Up" by the Jonas Brothers and "Fly on the Wall" by Miley Cyuus, this compilation has several pop-friendly hits on the CD. There is also a bonus DVD with a live performance by Cyrus and the video of "Future Love" by the Varsity Club.

Why we like it: This CD is on constant play in my car as my kids love the pop songs, particularly "Amazed" by Vanessa Hudgens and "Distracted" by KSM.

Good to know: The big problem with this CD though is that if you have a child who keeps up with music, like my daughter, we already had half of the songs listed on this CD on our iPod. Many of these songs are a few years old, for example Taylor Swift’s "Teardrops on my Guitar" is on the Radio Disney Jams 11 CD and it was first released in February, 2007.

Grade: B, mainly because the songs are not new or current "jams".

--Submitted by ajkoos

Dora's Christmas, $11.99

Best for ages: 2 to 5

What it is: This CD includes nine traditional Christmas songs with a Dora the Explorer twist. Seven other songs exclusive to Dora and her friends are also on the CD. Songs include Deck the Halls, Sleigh Ride (with Dora and you), Feliz Navidad, Jingle Bells and much more!

Why we like it: The kids get into the Christmas spirit while singing along with their favorite animated characters.

Good to know: If you're expecting the traditional song lyrics you might be disappointed. These have been changed to fit the theme of the show.

Grade: B

--Submitted by heatherw