Dahl the right combination

6th June 1997 at 01:00
It's a bit of a problem producing educational videos for young children. Especially on a low budget. You might think that you could not go wrong with Roald Dahl and you would be right - up to a point. Get a well-known actor to relate a Roald Dahl story and - Bob's your uncle! So we have four "celebrity" videos from Tempo (Pounds 9.99 each): Revolting Rhymes narrated by Martin Clunes and Dawn French; Dirty Beasts by the same pair; The Magic Finger by Caroline Quentin; and The Enormous Crocodile by Dave Benson-Phillips.

Quentin makes a good job of the sad saga of the Gregg family, who turn into ducks after shooting at some fowl and Clunes and French have good, if predictable fun, with the two collections of verses. Benson-Phillips is less successful, missing the sheer fun of The Enormous Crocodile and flattening out the vigour of Dahl's prose. But the actors are really let down by the format, which is a kind of animated page-turning, neither Jackanory-style still shots of pages, nor real animation.

"It's not as good as I thought it might be," observed one seven-year-old Dahl fan sadly. A vivacious teacher or parent with a real book would do better.

Likewise with Sooty's Amazing Adventures (Tempo Pounds 9.99) it is hard not to long for the familiar glove puppets and their daft handler when watching these four cartoons: "Alas, poor Sooty", where the gang stage a play; "Hopalong Sooty" shooting it out in the Wild West; tangling with a robot in "Scampi and the Computer Chips"; and, finally, messing about in the Middle Ages with "A Hard Day's Knight". Sooty, however, can triumph even over the cartoon format, a kind of essential silly goo nature shining through, but it's a struggle.

These videos are all very short, not more than 30 minutes. Considering this, they are expensive and it is hard to imagine their target audience as other than adults keen to plonk children in front of distraction.

If that is the case, the Postman Pat, Thomas the Tank Engine and Fireman Sam hardy perennials are a much better buy. They offer good, strong, storylines, professional animation and pleasant production values. For Roald Dahl followers, the books themselves, possibly accompanied by an audio tape, would also represent a much better learning and fun experience. And the film of Matilda, soon no doubt out on video, will be a much better buy.

Tempo videos are available from W H Smith and other retailers

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