Small screen, big fun: DVDs for kids
Indie rock music and bonkers characters ... Adventure Time is a delicious, slightly subversive alternative to Disney wholesomeness.
Family movies are all well and good when you’ve got time to sit down with the children (or perhaps entertain them on their own) on a rainy day, but every parent will know how valuable DVDs of kids’ TV shows can be when you want to keep them occupied for a shorter time frame – such as when you’re cooking, or supervising an older sibling through their homework.
Actually, overgrown children (that is, nerdier adults) might find themselves momentarily distracted by the likes of Iron Man: Armored Adventures – The Armor Wars: Termination (3.5 stars) – although all viewers old enough to have seen the Iron Man movies may find themselves scratching their heads at the continuity.
This incarnation takes place when all the key characters are much younger: while still the genius who has built the Iron Man super-suit, Tony Stark isn’t old enough to grow, let alone sculpt, his distinct goatee; the familiarly bald Nick Fury has hair; and Black Widow hasn’t yet joined the ranks of the good guys.
Secret weapons ... The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes! includes lesser known characters Wasp and Ms Marvel.
It’s presented in the computer animation style you sometimes see on ‘‘previsualised’’ storyboards on movie-making-of documentaries, so these Armored Adventures (you’ll have to forgive the American spelling) look a little raw and, let’s be frank, cheap. But the technique makes sense for a character such as Iron Man whose face doesn’t move. The action is also pretty cool for what it is and, as with any good comic-book character, it’s interesting to see this one from a perspective different to that most of us know best.
If that might distract you to the point of overcooking the pasta a touch, The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes! (4.5 stars) might have you burning the sauce. There are two new volumes out featuring the superhero team (subtitled Friends or Foes and New World) and these animations not only look fantastic – slicker, classier and benefiting from the brighter colour palette offered by Thor, Captain America, the Hulk and others, including Iron Man – they have decidedly chewier storylines.
There are heroes that viewers only of this year’s celebrated movie may not know, such as Wasp and Ms Marvel, and the Hulk is more eloquent than you might expect, but don’t let such factors put you off. And even though some slightly darker themes may set off some alarm bells, they’re not so scary as to give anyone older than age five nightmares. (For younger fans of these celebrated Marvel Comics characters, there’s always the excellent Super Hero Squad anyway – an endearingly goofy animated series whose adventures have been available on DVD for a little while.)
If all this sounds particularly male-friendly, you might get a surprise ... but then you might also marvel at how children of both genders enjoy the adventures of a six-strong gang of fairies, a selection of whose fourth-season adventures are collected in Winx Club: Believe in Magic (3.5 stars).
The show has a tween-friendly vibe – with its colourful, magical characters indulging in human activities such as falling in love, wanting to be pop stars and the like – but it’s mercifully harmless. It even makes an attempt to teach the occasional moral lesson, which proves unexpected but welcome, and its anime aesthetic (despite being an Italian production) looks good, so it’s generally fine by us. Although it does lose marks for each episode ending with a ‘‘next time on Winx Club’’ preview that can thus lead to tears when it’s time to turn off the telly.
Finally, somewhat out of left-field, is the wonderfully irreverent but loveable lo-fi animation Adventure Time, whose first season is collected on, wait for it, Adventure Time: The Complete First Season (4 stars). From its indie-rock theme music to its bonkers characters (principally a boy called Finn who wears a strange hat that makes him look like a walking television, and his dog, Jake, who can shrink or grow at will), it’s a delicious, slightly subversive alternative to Disney wholesomeness – not to mention that, while the other shows reviewed in this column come in standard 21-minute episodes, this is served in potentially useful 11-minute portions.
Adventure Time does push the boundaries of scariness – although this disc is rated PG, we’ve seen episodes involving soul-sucking demons on a G-rated collection – so it might be one, like the aforementioned superhero releases, to watch with the little ones first. But if both you and they approve, it could become a household favourite.
Iron Man: Armored Adventures – The Armor Wars: Termination
(Beyond) Rated PG, 154 minutes
The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes! Friends or Foes
(Beyond) Rated PG, 129 minutes
The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes! New World
(Beyond) Rated PG, 129 minutes
Adventure Time: The Complete First Season
(Madman) Rated PG, 286 minutes
Winx Club: Believe in Magic
(Nickelodeon/Paramount) Rated PG, 157 minutes