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Saturday, April 21, 2012

Mo Willems' Pigeon and Pals on DVD

In conjunction with Scholastic Storybook Treasures, beloved children's author, Mo Willems releases Pigeon and Pals: Complete Cartoon Collection, Vol. 1 & 2. The set includes six of his beloved stories, brought to life on the screen to the delight of children everywhere. In this collection, you will get "Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!," "The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog!," "Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale," "Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity," "Leonardo the Terrible Monster," and "Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed."

It's difficult to review these wonderful stories, without first considering the man behind them. Mo Willems started out as a television writer. He went to film school, but then realized he did not have the patience to deal with the various challenges involved in creating live action. So instead, Willems began animating cartoons and writing sketch comedy for adults.

Mo was then asked to become an animator and writer for Sesame Street. He was offered the job because of his ability to be funny, telling him they could teach him to write for kids. But Mo soon learned just how challenging writing for children can be. He believes that easy readers are difficult for writers because they are pressured to tell an exciting story with just a handful of simple words.

Willems first children's book, Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, was published in 2003, but it did not come to him easily. He met with some agents and gave them a sketchbook he had developed, introducing it as a "gag thing he was doing." However, they thought there was a book that could be made of it, so he re-worked for a younger audience. Twenty-nine editors said it was unusual and turned him down before one finally published it.

The pigeon stories were born in Oxford, England. Willems had moved there for a month because he thought it would make him more intelligent. He spent a great deal of time trying to make the "great American children's book," but instead found himself drawing pigeons. To get it off his back, he created a sketchbook, and in this sketchbook, he made a young boy responsible for the pigeon, ensuring that it did not drive the bus. His breakthrough came when he found that getting rid of the middle man (the young boy) would make the audience responsible for the pigeon, making the story more interactive and, in turn, easier to draw. Willems admits that he has no control over the character of the pigeon. It continues to peck at this head, insisting he make more books.

And this is where the "Pigeon" stories come from. His earliest and most popular character, Willems has written several of them, and they keep on coming. The animated versions of those included in this set keep his unique animated style and positive message; his minimalist concept is easy to relate to for those not ready to be bombarded with stimuli. The DVDs allow the pigeon to talk to the kids even more effectively than the books do, and that interaction is what attracts them most to the tale. What's more, they stories are humorous and relatable, drawing audiences in. They even prove entertaining for the adults who must sit through them dozens of times with their kids.

Willems' "Knuffle Bunny" series, is a slightly different beast than the "Pigeon" series. Willems claims that he is lazy, and so he takes photographs to use as the backgrounds. He photoshops them to get just the right look and tone for the piece he is doing. "Knuffle Bunny" also introduces human characters, as it is the tale of a father who searches for his child's lost stuffed toy. It's idealistic, as most dads would tell their kid to wait until morning. But that only makes it more charming.

There are eight special features in this set. There is a Spanish version of "Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale," which should prove popular for multicultural households. There is also a Read-Along option for each feature, allowing parents to integrate the books with the television. This should be nice for those who want to encourage a love of reading, an important thing to teach developing children.

There are also several interviews and featurettes about Willems himself. One will get to know the author quite well in this extras. In fact, all of the background information in this review comes from the DVDs. The only problem is, they get pretty repetitive. That's OK for young children, of course, but it's hard to imagine that kids will be viewing the extras very often when their favorite cartoons are packaged right along with them.

In short, this is a terrific collection, aimed at kids kids ages two to eight. If you are a parent, pick up a copy of Pigeon and Pals: Complete Cartoon Collection, Vol. 1 & 2, on sale now. And maybe stop and get the books on the way home, too.

If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter! Article first published as DVD Review: Mo Willems' Pigeon and Pals Complete Cartoon Collection Vol. 1 &2 on Blogcritics.

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