Barney made the cut. But Cinderella did not pass muster.
That’s according to “The Facets Non-Violent, Non-Sexist Children’s Video Guide,” a politically correct compendium from Facets Multimedia, a Chicago outfit dedicated to diversity in the arts.
“I was constantly surprised by what didn’t make the cut,” said Virginia A. Boyle, who compiled the guide and serves as Facets’ educational services manager. All told, 2,500 titles were considered during a lengthy screening process with children, parents and teachers from a variety of Chicago neighborhoods. In the end, 800 videos got the “child-safe” stamp of approval. The “thumbs down” movies are not listed, however, in keeping with the guide’s goal of being positive.
“Cinderella"--recently brought out of the Disney vaults for a video re-release--was considered sexist along with such notable rejects as “Aladdin” and “Thumbelina.” “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” was deemed too violent.
The big children’s titles of the season, in fact, are noticeably absent: There’s no sign of “Casper,” “Free Willy 2" or the third in the popular animated “Land Before Time” series.
Nicole Dreiske, Facets co-founder, said timing was responsible for the omission of “A Little Princess,” along with “Babe,” a highly anticipated video release due in March.
“If they’d been out at the time, we would have put them in,” she said.
Some major studio releases that did get thumbs up are Warner Bros.’ lush “Secret Garden” (1993) and golden oldies such as Disney’s “Mary Poppins” (1964) and “National Velvet” (1944). Familiar figures from children’s television are also represented in the guide: Besides Barney, there’s Winnie the Pooh and Thomas the Tank Engine, along with offerings from Mr. Rogers, “Sesame Street” and Shelley Duvall. For the most part, however, the book concentrates on lesser-knowns rather than popular fare.
“Parents don’t need our book to hear about those videos,” Dreiske said. “They’re so well reviewed in so many magazines and have huge marketing campaigns.
Two years in the making, the $12.95 guide grew out of Facets’ long-standing involvement in the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival.
“It was a labor of love,” Dreiske said. “It came about because for years parents have been coming to the International Children’s Film Festival and saying, ‘Where can we get films like that?’ When they said that, they meant films that were humanistic. Things that they weren’t getting from the mainstream culture.”
In part, the guide is intended to give parents stereotype-free alternatives to children’s programming--and they weren’t that easy to find at first, despite Facets’ connections through the festival and its video store and distribution arms.
“Actually the process of finding the videos was a very, very long process,” Dreiske said. “I thought we were going to come out with a pamphlet with two videos. Come on--nonsexist and nonviolent?”
Said Boyle: “In the first three months, I was very disturbed because I was canning stuff left and right.” Then, through Facets’ extensive distribution contacts, she began uncovering video treasures from a variety of sources. (Facets now carries each title for sale and rental.)
“What is [included] are mysteries, science, nature, how-to, plenty of fairy tales--just not the ones everyone’s heard of--documentaries, travel, sports,” she said.
More than 30 cultures are represented in six languages. The guide is heavily cross-referenced by age, grade and category. For example, the Great Girls section includes the whole “Ramona” series and “The Baby-Sitters Club,” while the Amish culture section contains a single title. Other categories address issues such as divorce, friendship and moving to a new town. Each entry includes a brief description, along with viewing tips.
“We wanted it to be completely parent-friendly and also speak the language of teachers,” Boyle said. The videos target children as old as 12 and as young as 3 months. Boyle considers one of those infant titles, “Water Is Wet,” to be one of her favorites. “It’s like looking out the window on a rainy day,” she said.
Boyle also cited the You Can series, “an expressly non-violent” series that shows girls and boys equally, as a find, along with the videos from Bo Peep Productions, which is distributed by two mothers. These obscure titles share company with award-winning children’s videos such as “Tommy Tricker and the Stamp Traveller.” Other videos with impressive pedigrees made the cut despite problematic sections.
“It’s a guide--it’s not entirely nonviolent and nonsexist, but they all passed what we called the child-safe criteria,” Boyle said.
Videos with problematic sections are flagged. “The Maurice Sendak Library” description, for example, notes that “Native American evaluators were offended by Sendak’s ‘Imitating Indians,’ featuring a red-colored cartoon Indian holding a tomahawk and dancing around a campfire shouting ‘woo woo.’ ”
A strong lead girl character in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” earned the classic C.S. Lewis story a place in the book despite its violence and a scary witch. But, other titles, no matter how popular, couldn’t compensate for their basic premise--such as a king preoccupied with marrying off his daughter in movies such as “Aladdin” and “Thumbelina.”
“I decided I don’t need to pass along that bad message,” said Boyle, who’d much rather talk about what’s included instead of what didn’t make the cut. After all, Dreiske said, the point is to promote positive videos, not point the finger at those that don’t measure up. If that’s too politically correct for some people, Facets can live with it.
“People are going to say it,” Dreiske said. “If people want to criticize us because we’re positive and proactive, fine, let them say it and be controversial. This is a service for parents.”
“Facets Non-Violent, Non-Sexist Children’s Video Guide” is available from Academy Chicago Publishers, (800) 248-READ.