“Baby Einstein: World Animals – A Retrospective Review,” by Peter Dabbene

May 12th, 2010 | By | Category: Nonfiction, Prose


Like you, I was once an avid viewer of television and film, but due to the addition of small, loud, highly dependent mini-humans in my household, my viewing habits have changed these last few years. I may not see as much adult-oriented television these days, but I have become something of an expert in the often underappreciated field of children’s entertainment. The recent recall of Baby Einstein products prompted me to sing out in defense of an unrecognized classic in the video entertainment industry, that being Baby Einstein: World Animals.

Do you think classical music is just too long and complex? Do you prefer to experience nature through your television set? Do you HATE going to zoos, what with all the smells, noise, parking, and admission fees? Do you have a limited attention span and the propensity for tantrums when bored or upset?

If so, this is the video for you.

One of the earliest releases from the art/industrial collective known as “Baby Einstein,” World Animals features Jane the Monkey Puppet in a masterful performance. Her wordless tour de force draws on the influence of Marcel Marceau, even as it incorporates the inventions of puppet predecessors like Lamb Chop, Kukla, and Ollie. Jane the Sock Puppet Monkey comes into her own here as the star she truly is, and editor/videographer Mark Burr knows exactly how to let his new diamond shine.

Jane encounters animals in the jungle, ocean and savannah, backed by rousing classical music from the Baby Einstein Orchestra, which synthesizes its way through abbreviated versions of Beethoven, Dvorak, Mendelssohn, and Smetana on the way. Why bother with the full versions, when the highlights are all right here? With World Animals, the B.E.M.B.O. (Baby Einstein Music Box Orchestra) has reached a new level of maturity, building on erratic, dare I say childish, past works like Baby Mozart and Baby Beethoven.

Always daring, the Baby Einstein collective eschews the obvious, offering an upbeat, folky twist with the song “Deep Blue Sea” by Jack Moss. Moss insightfully sings, not from the human point of view, but that of the denizens of the deep:

“Hey, we’re havin’ fun/swimmin’ in the deep blue sea

Oh yeah, we’re havin’ fun/swimmin’ in the deep blue sea.”

Coupled with stunning stock video of dolphins jumping and fish swimming, the segment makes an unspoken, but obvious call to arms against overfishing, global warming, the overuse of nitrogen-based fertilizers, littering, whale hunting, seal slaughter, and the destruction of coral reefs.

There are too many great moments in World Animals to recount them all here. When Jane compares her banana with a rival’s banana split, well… the humor is both classic, and poignant.  A Chaplinesque episode involving a lion, a giraffe, and some tall grass provides a light touch before the video delves into the complex world of Earth’s cutest fauna for a final farewell montage (approximately six seconds per fauna).

The feel-good ending may leave some feeling cheated—no, Jane the Sock Monkey Puppet was not eaten by that lion, or mauled by that tiger, as might have occurred with their real-world counterparts. I, however, am willing to grant a level of dispensation for this apparent flaw. Let’s face it, aren’t we all trying to get a little less salt, and a little more saccharine (now that it’s no longer considered a carcinogen)?

The DVD itself offers many valuable special features, such as repeat play, interactive flash cards, repeat play, a video tutorial, and repeat play. I repeat: there is a feature called “repeat play.” With a total video time clocking in at less than half an hour, this is vitally important if you want to kill a few hours in the other room catching up on the latest celebrity gossip without the kids interrupting your “me time” with “I’m hungry!” and “I need attention!” and “I didn’t ask to be born!”

Baby Einstein: World Animals will have you exceeding the suggested TV guidelines for your toddler—and yourself! Recommended for kids ages 1 to 100, and in particular for adults under the influence of drugs, alcohol or the effects of sleep deprivation.

Note: If you do follow my advice and seek out this DVD, try to find the not-quite-rare but slightly less ubiquitous “Baby Doolittle” version, as it may prove a collector’s item. Early releases were titled Baby Doolittle: World Animals, which was soon changed to Baby Einstein: World Animals. One can only assume that after extensive research, the Baby Einstein company’s marketing department determined that anxious parents would greatly prefer their kids to be geniuses, rather than eccentric animal conversationalists.

Finally, speaking of Einstein’s legacy, and in defense of the Baby Einstein company (and its owner, Walt Disney Co., which saw a good thing in Baby Einstein and consumed it like a giant children’s entertainment amoeba): a number of children’s TV shows are preceded by a message claiming the show “enhances interpersonal skills” which is a little like saying that watching sports on TV enhances my athletic skills. But surely, repeated viewing of quality television is what made this country great.

Recent attempts to reduce Baby Einstein videos to a small part of a complete developmental and educational program unfairly imply that these products are useful only if viewed while the parent interacts with the child. Apparently, quality television isn’t enough anymore, now you have to tutor your child while singing and dancing during the playback. It’s reminiscent of those pictures on the backs of cereal boxes where the Fruity Pebbles were portrayed as part of a complete breakfast, along with milk, orange juice, pancakes, eggs, and sausage. We all knew the truth: if you ate enough Fruity Pebbles, you weren’t hungry anymore. Similarly, I say Baby Einstein: World Animals is complete in itself, the alpha and the omega of learning, as perfectly complete as any children’s video or sensory input device will ever be, in all of history, ever.

All of you naysayers will have to wait to be proven wrong, until the great Baby Einstein baby bomb goes off – say, about 2019 or so – when the millions of adults once exposed to fare such as this as children wake up and suddenly begin to harness brainpower  the likes of which the world has never seen. For the babies of Einstein, The Unification of Physics is only the beginning.

Next time in this column: The Wiggles’ Yummy Yummy or The Beatles’ “White Album”– which is TRULY the album of the 20th century?  DID President Obama steal his “Yes we can!” slogan from Bob the Builder? And finally, we answer the question: Does watching children’s videos detrimentally affect one’s taste in entertainment?  The verdict: Yes.

Yes it does.


Peter Dabbene is a Hamilton, New Jersey-based writer. His poetry has been featured in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Zillah, The Journal of New Jersey Poets, Apple Valley Review, White Leaf Review, California Quarterly, Adagio Verse Quarterly, Ampersand Poetry Journal, Hinge Online, Griffin, BluePrintReview, ByLine, Bogg, Red River Review, SLAB, Rokovoko, Cantaraville, Astropoetica, and Bread and Lightning. He has also published two story collections, Prime Movements and Glossolalia, and a poetry collection, Optimism, as well as a novel, Mister Dreyfus’ Demons. Some of his stories can be found online at www.parentheticalnote.com, www.eyeshot.net, www.quantummuse.com, www.yankeepotroast.org,   www.wordriot.org, and www.philadelphiastories.orgin print in US 1, American Drivel Review, North Atlantic Review, Universe Pathways, Riversedge, Writer’s Post Journal, Cantaraville, in the music anthology Tribute to Orpheus and recorded in the audiozine Scyweb Bem. Several of his plays have been performed at various theaters in New Jersey and Philadelphia. He has also reviewed books for The Hamilton Post and The Ewing Observer newspapers. He is currently co-creating a graphic novel called Ark, to be released late in 2010. His website is www.peterdabbene.com

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