Vid Stuff

It's a million and ten degrees in the shade and you've warned your kids that if they don't behave, you're sending them outside until they're medium to well-done. So they mill around the house, expecting you to entertain them.

Here's what you do. Stick a tray of ice cubes down your shorts (purely a safety measure) and race for your corner videopolis. But don't rent The Wizard of Oz, Lady and the Tramp or any of the titles your children have seen so often they can recite the credits. And beware the garbage that makes up 90 percent of the kidvid stock.

What's left? A handful of shamefully neglected or underrated goodies that will delight young'uns and clear your afternoon for a nap. The only catch is that you might have to scour the video shelves to find some of them. And, of course, you'll have to borrow a fresh tray of ice cubes from the clerk for the trip home.

Allegro Non Troppo. Mr. Disney wasn't the last to illustrate classical music with animation. Italy's Bruno Bozzetto followed, and proved himself as much a visionary and showman as Uncle Walt with this feature. The highlight: the evolution of life in an empty Coke bottle, backed by Ravel's "Bolero." 1976; Vestron.

Charlotte's Web. Hard to believe those TV-animation schlockmeisters at Hanna-Barbera produced this funny, poignant, musicalized feature based on the E.B. White story about the camaraderie between a worry-wart pig and his mentor, a barnyard spider. Voices by Debbie Reynolds, Henry Gibson, Agnes Moorehead, and Paul Lynde. 1973; Paramount.

The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. Perhaps the best-kept secret in movie-fantasyland, co-written by Dr. Seuss. Tommy Rettig (Jeff on TV's first Lassie series) dreams he's sent to a music school run by a crazed piano teacher (Hans Conried), whose 500 pupils--and their 5,000 fingers--are being primed to pound the world's biggest piano. 1953; RCA/Columbia.

Gulliver's Travels. Max Fleischer, famous for the early, classic Popeye cartoons, tried to out-Disney Disney with this 1939 animated feature based on Jonathan Swift's story--and came closer than history has admitted. I found this public domain item in a drugstore discount-video bin for $3.99. Fleischer's Hoppity Goes to Town (1941; Republic) is another solid, full-length diversion.

Jason and the Argonauts. The Indiana Jones of the early Sixties, courtesy of Ray Harryhausen, the master of stop-motion animation. As the hero travels the world in his mythic search of the Golden Fleece, See! Purple-winged harpies! Thrill! To a seven-headed hydra whose teeth turn into an army of unfriendly skeletons! Swim! From an overweight, forty-story merman! 1963; RCA/Columbia.

Labyrinth. George Lucas produced, Monty Python's Terry Jones wrote, and Jim Henson directed this non-Muppet epic. Still, the film vanished from theatres before families had a chance to discover it. Too bad. There's real movie magic and some gentle life lessons (along with a few bleak tunes performed by villain David Bowie) in its story of a girl who wishes her baby brother into goblin land--and then must rescue him when the wish comes true. 1986; Embassy.

Mighty Joe Young. Generally remembered as a cut-rate King Kong, but actually a delightful fantasy/love story about a nightclub starlet and a giant gorilla who joins her act . . . but quits (and runs amok) when heckled by rude, unappreciative patrons. Animation by Ray Harryhausen and "Kong's" Willis O'Brien. 1949; RKO.

The NeverEnding Story. A little talky, a little frightening for the very young--but any watchable kidflick that extols the joys of reading can be forgiven for just about anything. Directed by Wolfgang Peterson (Das Boot), it concerns a lonely, motherless boy who's drawn--literally--into a book about a magical kingdom called Fantasia. 1984; Warner.

The Red Balloon. A French-made featurette that's simple, wordless and wonderful. A young boy befriends a red balloon, which follows him everywhere--and introduces him to the powers of love and friendship. 1956; Embassy.

The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao. Tony Randall stars as an old Chinese magician out West, who changes his audiences' lives by changing his appearance (into a snake, Merlin, Apollonius, Medea, Pan and the Abominable Snowman). Superior fantasy, first-rate effects. 1964; MGM/UA.

The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. Another Ray Harryhausen jaw-dropper. The titular pirate battles a man-eating cyclops, a fire-breathing dragon and a sword-fighting skeleton. Two worthy sequels, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973) and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977), are also available on video. 1958; RCA/Columbia.

My son would never forgive me if I failed to include Destroy All Monsters! (1968), the ultimate badly dubbed giant-radioactive-Japanese-monster movie. One of his all-time favorites, this public-domain cheapie pits the giant radioactive Godzilla against a giant radioactive moth, a giant radioactive snake, a giant radioactive brontosaurus, a giant radioactive porcupine, a giant radioactive spider and a giant radioactive three-headed flying monster.

Hide your breakables; it's an adrenaline-pumper.

 
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