Category Archives: Fantastic Adventures

Fantastic Adventure #6: The Ghost-Eye Tree

The Ghost-Eye Tree is a children’s easy reading book that is big on visuals and not so much on text. Every page reveals a large, well-painted picture and a few lines of text. The story of the book revolves around a scary tree that lies on a moonlit path. Two children are asked by their mother to fetch a jug of milk from the dairy. Unfortunately for them, it is dark, cold and they have to walk past the scary tree to get there. Will they make it? Or will the eerie sounds and moving branches of the scary tree get them?

Why it is a fantastic adventure: The cover alone is enough to get your kids in the mood for a scary story. The first time I saw th e image of that tree something clicked inside my head. I’m not sure what that was, but since then I have been fascinated with Halloween, scary movies and the visuals of Tim Burton’s movies. I can not guarantee the same for your kids, but it is a very powerful image that will definitely last in some way.
The artwork inside of the book is done in watercolors, leaving a very Norman Rockwell-like feeling, although a tad less realistic. All of the characters have warm, rosy cheeks and realistic features. The artwork is a great way to get your kids used to looking at paintings as art. They also are a good starting point for a conversation about visual storytelling. It is not always about the written word.
The story itself is a bit foreboding, as seen in this sample:
Oooo…
I dreaded to go…
I dreaded the tree….
Why does Mama
always choose me

When the night is so dark
And the mind runs
free?

The last stanza alone is enough to get your kids’ minds wandering. If you happen to have a large tree in front of you home, don’t be surprised if you’ll be putting up thick curtains over your kids’ bedroom windows.
The sense of dread and the fear of the unknown play strongly in this book. Your kids may be a little frightened, but hopefully in a good way that fosters creativity and a wandering mind.
Finally, the visuals are what matter. The outstretched limbs of the tree waving in the wind that look like they may reach out and grab you at any moment heighten the suspense of the story and will leave your kids wanting more of that haunted feeling.

Fantastic Adventure #5: Batman: The Brave and the Bold

So, you took my advice and showed your kids Batman & Robin, and now they have a hankering for more? With Batman being so popular lately, it really does a disservice to kids when toy companies make The Dark Knight Rises action figures

and other toys, as that film is extremely graphic and nowhere near safe for child viewing.  But, of course, your kids will see the toys and then want to see Batman. If you took the first step and showed them Batman & Robin, great! If not, you can read about it on my blog and come back to this post, if you so desire. To continue with family friendly entertainment, my pick for today is Batman: The Brave and the Bold, a TV series on Cartoon Network.
Think of this cartoon series as an animated version of Adam West’s 1960’s Batman. It has all the corny humor, gags and overacting fight scenes that we all remember from the Adam West show. Each episode Batman teams up with a different hero from DC Comics and together they take out the different villains and stop their dastardly schemes.

Heroes

Why it is a fantastic adventure: Having Batman team up with a different hero each week is a good way to introduce your kids to comic books and all of the different heroes that are out there. Beyond that, it is a good way to show your kids the power of teamwork.
The entire series has a very fantastical feel to it. The heroes are big, strong, wise cracking purveyors of justice and the villains are over the top failures of massive schemes. The schemes are so ridiculous and out there that it really encourages kids to think outside the box and cerate lavish ideas of their own. Imagination is downplayed in our society. there is a time to play and a time to be “serious’. We teach our children that being imaginative is not serious. They have to study hard, do homework, learn Math and Science so they can get a job that makes good money. Don’t worry – you are not a bad parent. You are only passing on what your parents taught you. However, that may be another topic for another post.
Back to the show. With the over the top schemes (stealing a giant piano or trying to ruin Christmas), you won’t have to explain elaborate schemes to your kids.
The villains are always doing something simple and are defeated in mostly simple ways. They are brought to justice and all is well with the world. These are great base values for your

Villains

children to learn, and you can use them as talking points about right versus wrong.
Teamwork, right versus wrong, imagination and justice are the main themes of the show and a great way to not only introduce your kids to comic book characters, but a great family friendly Batman cartoon.

Batman: The Brave and the Bold is on reruns on Cartoon Network. Also available to own or rent on DVD. Rated TV Y7.

Fantastic Adventure #4: Richie Rich

First off, sorry for the delay in posts. A certain little girl keeps me busy these days.

My pick for today is the 1994 film, Richie Rich. Made at a time when the 1980s cartoon had struck big with kids, this 1994 film is more than just a mere cash grab trying to profit from the cartoon.
Richie Rich is the son of billionaires Mr. & Mrs. Rich, and as such has everything a kid could dream of. That is, until the day he goes to a small town where his father bought a factory and sees some children playing a baseball in a dirt field. It is then that he realizes he is missing the most important thing of all: having friends. Throw in a plot about his parents going missing and the second in command at Rich Incorporated trying to take over the company, and you have the makings for an adventure filled learning experience for your kids.

Why it is a fantastic adventure: There are a lot of fun activities in this movie. Richie’s new friends come over to visit where Richie shows off his collection of “toys”: a rollercoaster, go karts, and a kid launcher. If that does not excite your children and make them want to go outside and have an adventure, then there may not be much that will! In a wonderful bit of marketing, Richie has his own McDonalds in his parent’s mansion which will not only get your kids itching for a trip to McD’s, but I even found myself wanting a Quarter Pounder. Before I get comments about how unhealthful fast food is, let me just say: Moderation.
Of course, food and expensive toys are not the only experiences in this film. There is a great performance by Michael McShane as Professor Keenbean, the wacky inventor of crazy things that happen to be useful at the climax of the movie. His inventions and hammy acting will provide many a laughter for the entire family.
The climax of the movie has a lot of exciting action to keep your kids’ attention, and the end of the film has a nice heartwarming message about family, friends and what matters most in the world. Hint: It’s not money. Use it as a fun action movie and as a way to open conversation with your kids about friends, family, and the real value of a materialistic lifestyle.

Rated PG.

Fantastic Adventure #3: Scooby-Doo (2002)

10 years is a good length of time to re-evaluate a film and include it in my list of current and lasting family adventures for two reasons. One, your kids either saw this movie when it came out and are now teenagers and too “cool” to watch this movie, or, two, your kids were not born yet and maybe you were unaware of, or forgot that this movie came out. This is the most contemporary piece of my series so far, and I am going to try to present more obscure and, perhaps, a bit older items, as the current popular kid shows and movies are reviewed and presented all over the web. I would like to use this series as a tool for introducing your family to experiences you may have passed over or never heard of. With that said, I present Scooby-Doo (2002).

Chances are, you’ve probably heard of Scooby-Doo and his pals. Most people fondly remember the cartoon of the 1960s and ’70s. I am presenting the 2002 movie version not because it is the best Scooby-Doo story, but because it is the most accessible for your kids. As a child of the 1980s, I was able to enjoy the reruns on Saturday mornings, but kids of today require something a little more flashy and stylized to keep their interest.

This live action version of Scooby-Doo introduces the characters of Mystery Inc as they are at the tail end of their careers. They are frustrated with each other and split up. They all get invited separately to the latest summer hot spot, Spooky Island, where they reluctantly share hellos and ponder as to why they were all secretly brought back together. It isn’t long before the gang realizes that something fishy is going on the island, and they all decide to investigate. Without giving too much away, the gang must put aside their differences and band together to solve the mystery, finding along the way that they really do work well together and that they all miss each other and wish to reform Mystery Inc.

Why it is a fantastic adventure: Scooby-Doo himself is always a fun character, and the kids will get a lot of laughs from a talking dog. The CGI version of Scooby still holds up very well and your kids won’t have to ask why Scooby looks like a man in a suit or a puppet.
The sets range from bright and colorful to dark and scary, as the gang ends up in a haunted house at one point in the film. The haunted house scenes in particular are a lot of fun and will remind your kids of a spooky ride at a carnival, which only heightens the sense of adventure. Even pretending to be in a carnival ride sparks creativity and imaginative thinking, and that is a very important factor in child development.
Also, you will be entertained by the various adult references in the film that will completely fly over your kids’ heads. There is something for the parents in this one, as well.

Talking dogs, spooky haunted house rides and bright, colorful imagery will help fuel your kids’ imaginations and hopefully get them outside to play “make believe” after the film is over.

Rated PG

Fantastic Adventure #2: The Song & Dance Man

The second choice from my series Fantastic Adventures in Family Entertainment, is a Caldecott Award Winner, and you may be familiar with it. It is The Song and Dance Man by Karen Ackerman.
Sitting down and reading a physical book with our kids seems to be on the way out, as more and more parents are using Kindle Fires or iPads for children’s books. Those are nice alternatives if you don’t want books taking up shelf space in your home, but then your kids can’t draw in the book, hold the book with dirty hands, etc. With Song and Dance Man, I feel it is important to hold the physical book in your hands. It really helps the kids get lost in the world of the book when they can hold it themselves and put it right in their faces.

Glorious artwork allows your child to get lost in the world of the story.

 

Why it is a fantastic adventure: There is not much text in this story but what there is tells of a grand adventure. A trunk is discovered in an attic (where all great adventures begin) that contains grandpa’s old vaudeville top hat, cane. The kids learn that their grandpa used to be quite the dancer in his day, instead of the old man he is now. When I was a kid we never went up in the attic, so, of course, my mind went straight to all the possibilities up there. This book only furthers that imaginative lifestyle and gets your kid thinking and creating his or her own world of what could be up in the attic.
The illustrations are also a huge part of this adventure. They take up most of the page and really suck the reader into the world that they represent. I fondly remember staring at these illustrations for hours on end and creating new encounters in my mind every time. “Okay, there’s a radio in the corner. What if I turned it on? What type of music would come on?” This is a great way for your children to start viewing drawings and pictures as art forms. There are such detailed images in this story that your children could spend hours creating new ideas in their heads. Encourage them to draw or write out these new ideas to share with you.

This book does a masterful job with creating an adventure and allowing your children to become truly enveloped in the world it creates.

Fantastic Adventure #1: Batman & Robin

clip_image002[5]To kick off my new series, Fantastic Adventures in Family Entertainment, I thought it would be appropriate to start with a superhero film. With the glutton of superhero films hitting theaters this summer it may be difficult to figure out which one is the most kid-friendly. Unfortunately, all of the summer superhero films this summer are rated PG-13, which means you may not want your young child seeing any of these films.

However, if your child is hankering for a superhero fix because he or she sees all of the toys in the store or in a McDonalds Happy Meal, I’ve got you covered.

Batman & Robin may live in movie history as a terrible joke, but the sole purpose of the film when it was created was to be as family friendly and “toyetic” as possible. The end result is a campy, fun adventure film that boys and girls can really enjoy.

Why it is a fantastic adventure: Batman exists in a fantasy world. Gotham City is full of hulking statues, and the sets and action sequences are born out of pure imagination. Imagination is the key word here. While modern day superhero movies tend to take place in our own world, the superhero films of the 1990s took a less serious approach. Kids can watch this film and let their imagination run wild. It encourages them to create their own worlds with their own sets of rules. If the Gotham Observatory is a building being held in the hands of a massive statue as a starting point for your child’s imagination, then where they go from there, well, the sky is the limit. This is why I am a huge fan of any film that uses its own created world. It encourages its audience to dream up new and bigger things. Who knows? Your kid may be the next big set designer, fashion designer, writer, etc.

There are a lot of visually superb sets and lighting in this film with bright colors and large establishing shots that will draw your child into the world of the film.  The action is mostly non-stop, as director Joel Schumacher wanted to take you on a ride throughout the film. There is a rocket blasting to space in which Batman and Robin must free themselves, skydiving superheroes, and lots of hand to hand fight scenes. The visual effects –especially Mr. Freeze’s freeze gun – are lavish and impressive.

 
Although the rating is PG-13, I find this film to be horribly mis-rated, considering that The Dark Knight is rated PG-13 and is very violent and nowhere near kid-friendly. There are a few romantic scenes with Poison Ivy, but these are mostly related to something your kids will just say “Ewwwwww” at: kissing.

The theme of this film is family. There are touching moments with Bruce, Dick and Barbara as Alfred recovers from a life threatening disease. In the end, the message is all about family and sticking together. If you have a little girl and worried if she will not like a “boy’s” movie, you can be safe with this film as Barbara Gordon and Batgirl are introduced.

All of the over the top action, visuals and sets will keep your kids –and you – entertained for the 2 hour run time.