DIRECT HITS "Direct-to-video" movies used to mean "not good enough for theaters." But lately that hasn't been the case with children's films. Kids eager to see more of familiar characters from such hits as The Lion King and The Little Mermaid can find them in sequels, including Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp's Adventure (released last week) and Blue's Clues: Blue's Big Musical Movie, which spins the TV series into a full-length extravaganza.
BABY BOOM Children ages 3 and younger are the audience for entries seemingly crammed full of shapes, colors and second languages, often set to classical music. If you're trying one for your mini Mozart, Baby Shakespeare (Family Home Entertainment) is among the best produced. As soon as your little ones are ready to move from Bach to bop, they may enjoy the Australian group The Wiggles' video Toot Toot! (Lyrick Studios).
YOU GROW, GIRLS! In dribs and drabs, we're seeing this category grow. Scholastic weighed in with The Royal Diaries and the Dear America series, both featuring spunky heroines in such titles as Isabel, Jewel of Castilla (the former) and Color Me Dark (the latter). The Ruby Princess Runs Away (Blackboard Entertainment) refreshingly showcases the possibility that not every girl is born with the act-like-a-princess gene.
LICENSED TO THRILL A core group of familiar characters is skipping from one entertainment platform to another--TV, video and the big screen. Here Comes Clifford (Artisan Entertainment), featuring the big red dog, is great for kids starting to appreciate narrative. Arthur Goes to Hollywood (Sony Wonder), which skewers celebrity, is a wonderful re-creation of the way kids speak and interact.
RISING FUN If you've seen Pokemon, you've seen anime, stylized Japanese animation. But there's more to it than squealing monsters. My Neighbor Totoro (20th Century Fox), about two girls who befriend some forest creatures, and Princess Mononoke (Miramax Home Entertainment), a dark fable for older adolescents, show how imaginative this genre can be.
REAL WHIRLED Luckily, we have yet to see Temptation Island for Tots. But even for children, an emphasis on the real world exists in home entertainment. Kids who dig machinery might want to check out the There Goes a ... series (Kid Vision). The 19 titles cover everything from roller coasters to fire engines. Those whose taste runs more to pigs than rigs should try Zoboomafoo (Warner Home Video), episodes from the TV series about animals.
And if none of these categories appeals to you, look to classic fare, from older Disney movies to true classics like Buster Keaton and the Marx Brothers. After all, marketing techniques may come and go, but Groucho endures forever.