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Robert Abrams
Arts and Education
Special Focus
Hip hop

Angelina Ballerina: Love To Dance DVD

by Robert Abrams
August 18, 2010
Angelina Ballerina: Love To Dance DVD contains a set of five animated shorts of about 12 minutes each. The animation uses computer generated graphics rendered with a 3D look. The animation's clean lines help the viewer clearly see the dance moves. (For those of you who do not have children, Angelina and her friends are dancing mice.)

Each story shows a different aspect of Angelina's life, organized around Angelina's arrival at a new school. At the core of each story is a moral dilemma that Angelina and her friends solve by the end of the episode. There are often secondary teachable moments as well. And, of course, there is dancing: ballet, Irish step dancing, hip hop and some others - but mostly ballet and hip hop. Each episode works as a continuous presentation, but I think they could also work in a scaffolded mode where a teacher would provide commentary and class discussion at key moments.

You can either play each episode separately, or let the entire DVD play in the pre-set order of episodes, in which case the DVD plays more like a full movie. Played as a full movie, I did notice one discontinuity: in one early episode, Viki, one of Angelina's friends, is presented as the hip hop expert, but in a later episode, a new hip hop mouse comes to school and Viki appears to be new to hip hop. In the grand scheme of things, this is a minor flaw, and besides which, discontinuities are not always problematic - The Simpsons have "alternate histories" all the time and this hasn't stopped that show from being a long running hit.

The pacing of the episodes at times seems a little slow, but I think this is just from my adult perspective. The pacing is likely ideal for a young audience. (There is no substitute for field testing with the target audience. I am sure that HIT Entertainment and Lionsgate, the developers of the DVD, have already done so, and here at ExploreDance.com Educational Labs we are working on setting up a field test to get kids' reactions too.)

The DVD also includes three bonus features. One is a "Simon Says" type game, where Angelina demonstrates various ballet positions and asks the child to copy her. I liked it, but I also thought that for a child completely new to dance, it might have been moving a little too fast. HIT Entertainment and Lionsgate should consider creating a second version of this game in which Angelina moves a little slower and asks the child to repeat each move three or four times. The other two bonus features are music videos with full dance routines.

While I liked the dancing in the various parts of the DVD, and while I thought each episode was an appropriate length, overall I would have liked to have seen more dancing. I think there is a solution to this "problem" which would benefit children, give HIT Entertainment and Lionsgate an entirely valid reason to sell more product and boost the Angelina Ballerina brand's stature. Yes, Angelina Ballerina is already a well established brand in early childhood circles, but some "serious" dance aficionados (and critics) are likely to say "A dancing mouse for kids? How can I take that seriously?"

I suggest that HIT Entertainment and Lionsgate license choreography from a variety of established dance companies and choreographers, and then animate that choreography using the Angelina Ballerina cast of characters. This would make Angelina Ballerina even more aspirational than she already is, and it would introduce young children to sophisticated dance which would be good for the field of dance as a whole. Of course, the specific works chosen from such dance companies would have to be selected carefully for appropriate content, music and accessibility, but there is plenty out there that would fit the bill - dance for children that isn't childish.

I was done watching the DVD when my 23 month old daughter wandered in. I played the episode where Angelina introduces her friend Alice to her new friends. It held my daughter's complete attention for the first half. Then she got distracted, and then came back a minute later. For the last five minutes or so, she was watching, but also playing with some pens and a lollipop. She did start to dance in response to the video a little too, though. I then played a bonus music video, which she liked, but was also a little distracted. She did ask for more of the video twice, and then wanted an apple. Not half bad.

The DVD has sound tracks in English, Spanish and French so it can be enjoyed by a wide range of people, and also has some potential as a language learning tool. The language choices do not appear to be available for the bonus features, though. It might be worth offering the additional languages for the bonus features, especially since one of these is a karaoke video with the written words of the song synced to the music. I could imagine a version, of this bonus video or of any of the full episodes, with subtitles available in multiple languages, possibly even having more than one language displayed at the same time for a rosetta stone effect, mixed and matched with different spoken languages.

I would also like to see, either in the DVD itself or as a separate resource - perhaps flash cards or playing cards, the poses and moves Angelina presents in the DVD shown as stills with descriptive text.

I really can't find anything in the Angelina Ballerina: Love to Dance DVD that rises to the level of a complaint. There is a lot to like - the stories have heart, the messages are positive and the dancing has passion - and Angelina leaves the viewer wanting more, which is what a dancer is supposed to do.

As a postscript, a few days have passed since I wrote this review. In that time, my daughter has watched the Angelina Ballerina DVD again, sometimes for several episodes in a row. One time, she was watching some PBS Kids show, when she started saying, very insistently, "Anina anina." At first I did not know what she meant. And then it dawned on me. I asked her, "Do you want to watch Angelina Ballerina?" to which she replied "Yeah." I switched to the DVD. She was happy.

Which is all well and good, except that even with quality shows like Angelina Ballerina or PBS Kids, there can be too much of a good thing. Some TV (or "Dee Dee" as my daughter calls it) for small kids is fine, but too much is not. Kids should spend plenty of time reading books and playing outside. But if you need a transitional activity (i.e. something that is TV related, but more interactive), try collecting ducks in the Wii Sports Resort canoeing practice game. (As far as I know, there is no Angelina Ballerina dance studio in the Wii Sports Resort, but there probably should be.)

The Angelina Ballerina: Love to Dance DVD will be released on August 31, 2010. The suggested retail price will be $14.98.
For more information, go to www.angelinaballerina.com .
Angelina receives a yellow rose after a lunch time performance at her new school, Camembert Academy. (Marco, Angelina, Viki and Gracie)

Angelina receives a yellow rose after a lunch time performance at her new school, Camembert Academy.
(Marco, Angelina, Viki and Gracie)

Photo © & courtesy of Lionsgate

Angelina dances with Alice, a long-time friend from her old school

Angelina dances with Alice, a long-time friend from her old school

Photo © & courtesy of Lionsgate

Angelina and Gracie

Angelina and Gracie

Photo © & courtesy of Lionsgate

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