It’s the season of the witch, and we have been playing our Halloween music and watching our Halloween films since mid-September.  We have already rolled out our yearly music playlist, and are ready to follow up with some more ways to get your kid-friendly scares on this Halloween.

“The Grand Scream of Things” by Andy ZListen To: “The Grand Scream of Things” by Andy Z

Award-winning kids’ musician Andy Z has just released an ambitious musical audio play for kids 8-12 called “The Grand Scream of Things.” The 66-minute music adventure takes listeners on a Halloween day journey with protagonist Andy, his dog Reggie,  his buddy Danger Dude and Pleadia, a teenage alien and potential romantic interest for Andie. Interspersed through this “old time radio show” style adventure are stand-alone songs that span the punk, hip-hop, pop and hip-hop genre. Guest kid musicians like Paula Messner (Candy Band) and RhymeZwell show up while production is handled by Grammy-nominated producer Tor Hyams

Bonus Mention: Children’s musician David Tobocman is offering a free Halloween song download called “Spooky Stuff.” This tune was written by David’s 1st grade daughter Zoe.

PlayPeekaboo Trick or Treat with Ed Emberley.
Peekaboo Trick or Treat with Ed Emberley
We are long-time fans of Night & Day Studios’ Peekaboo brand of apps. Each release brings unique artwork and new tricks to their trademark line of  apps  featuring animals and objects popping out and surprising toddlers and babies. For Halloween, Night & Day enlists the talent of Caldecott award-winning author and illustrator, Ed Emberley (“Go Away, Big Green Monster!”) to create kid-safe interpretations of Halloween mainstays like witches, werewolves, bats and ghosts. In “Peekaboo Trick or Treat,” little ones tap on the  colorful “haunted house” and are greeted by a rotating cast of 14 characters with silly sound effects.  A simple app with inspired illustrations that allows even the youngest ones to celebrate the season without getting too scared.
 
Watch: The Worst Witch

The Worst Witch

The Worst Witch introduced the young, fledgling witch/wizard-in-the-making story years before Harry Potter entered pop culture history books. Based on the book series of the same name,  this made-for-TV production focuses on central character Mildred Hubble as she tries to find her way at Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches. Along the way she deals with bullies, botched spells, evil witches and a meeting with the honored Grand Wizard. While the special effects are slightly dated, the movie’s central themes are ageless, as Mildred overcomes obstacles both realistic and supernatural to become the school’s superstar student. Adult viewers: come for the retro charm, stay for the positive message, and come back again for Tim Curry’s hammy performance as The Grand Wizard and his musical number “Anything Can Happen on Halloween.”

Bonus Mention: Scholastic Storybook Treasures: A Very Brave Witch…and more Halloween Stories.  Eight classic kid’s books are brought to life in this Halloween-themed edition of the Scholastic Storybook Treasures series. For parents who prefer a mellower, literary approach to television viewing, this a great option.  Most of the stories in this DVD compilation are filmed books with simple camera pans, celebrity narration and optional onscreen read-along.

Go & Do: PhilharMONSTER! @ The Peter Norton Symphony Space in NYC

Lucky NYC-ers can go to this special one-off Halloween show on Sun, Oct 28 at 4 pm.  The young musicians of the InterSchool Orchestras of New York’s Carnegie Hill Orchestra (ages 8 to 12) and ISO Symphony (ages 12 to 19) will perform horror-themed orchestral classics to get into the spirit of the season. All players will be dressed for the holiday, with a special Ghost Conductor.

HallowilloweenBonus Mention: Be sure to check out musician Alastair Moock’s “Slightly Scary Spectacular” concerts at Jammin Java (Saturday, October 27, 10:30 am) and 92Y Tribeca NY (Sunday, October 28, 11 am).

Read: “Hallowilloween: Nefarious Silliness” by Calef Brown 

Artist/poet Calef Brown could be described as a modern-day Dr Seuss, with an edgy folk-art touch. He has even inspired an album based on his previous books. “Hallowilloween” features Calef’s trademark ridiculous rhymes, this time themed around his own brand of monsters. Meet the baseball “Vumpire,” shunken head Duncan, the brain-eating “Oompachupa Loompacabra”  and the cowgirl “Witches of Texas.” Age appropriately morbid, Calef Brown’s poems are humorous enough to circumnavigate any nasty nightmares.

Bonus Mention: “Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #1: Professor Gargoyle”  by Charles Gilman. A novel for tweens that references the king of horror and “speculative fiction.” Yes please! “Tales from Lovecraft Middle School” tells the story of twelve-year-old Robert Arthur as he navigates his way through a middle school filled with mysterious passages,  Lovecraftian beasts, and teachers that are never who they appear to be.

We have just come back from what has been established as an American tradition: the first family trip to Disney World. Unlike a recent “adult trip” we took, where the main objective was to get our FastPasses for the most intense rides possible, this time we had one “necessary” goal: meet all the Disney Princesses. Princess-mania has been in our house for over a year now, and Disney was as much about Mickey and the rides as it was about Cinderella and crew.

My wife, in-laws and aunt made it a mini-game to become Princess “completists,” getting all the signatures and photos of the faux royalty for Maia’s little book.  Be it top-tier princesses like Snow White and Sleeping Beauty or the more recently crowned like Tiana and Mulan, we were going to make it happen.

Maia had the time of her life, in awe of the in-person appearances of her cartoon heroes and barely able to eat at a Princess breakfast in the castle. She seemed not to notice that the actors changed every time she saw them and had no problem standing in line or searching far and wide to seek out hard-to-find characters like Mulan. While some characters were questionable in live-action form, others looked like Enchanted-style princesses, ripped from their cartoon settings to appear in person at Disney World.

We didn’t have to work as hard as I thought to complete the safari. We left Walt Disney World sweaty, tired but successful in our quest. The autograph tent in Mickey’s Toon Town made some of this easy, as did the breakfast in Cinderella’s castle. The less popular characters took a bit of searching, but we used logic (Pocahontas in the forests of Animal Kingdom, Mulan in Epcot’s China) and all were found on the first try. And, for the most part, the actors did an amazing job capturing the look and feel of the character.

Check out our personal “Princess safari” below and let us know what you think. Does Disney deliver the costumed character goods?

Snow White at Disney
Snow White: The O.G. Princess
Pocohontas
Pocahontas, at one with the costumed animals
SleepingBeauty
Sleeping Beauty, wide awake for photo opps
The Little Mermaid
Ariel sans fins
Princess Tiana
The new kids in town: Princess Tiana and Prince Naveen
Cinderella
Cinderella, ready to face those autograph hounds
Aladdin and Jasmine
Aladdin and Jasmine, properly dressed for the heat
Belle
Beauty and the Belle
Mulan
Mulan, the buried treasure of Epcot

Realizing the holidays were approaching, our daughter notified us she “only wanted Princess stuff.”  She then added to that, “real princess stuff, Disney Princess.”

I realize I am the parent, I could put my foot down, maybe even sneak in some wooden puzzles. But, in truth, it is not like she asked for a Tiffany bracelet or a Hannah Montana doll. And on the positive side, Maia’s favorite princess is currently Mulan, teaching her some other (slightly Disneyfied) culture than that which exists under the sea and in a castle. Plus, underhanded plans are already in the works to sneak in some non-Disney branded Princess paraphernalia, and as long as it is pink and royal-looking she will be a happy toddler.

So, on my excursions to hunt down various Princess presents, I came across some licensed products that lend themselves quite naturally to the brand (Barbie-style dolls, pajamas, DVD players, pop-up castle tents, even toothpaste). However, I have chanced upon a few that left me with a slight feeling somewhere between bemusement and professional curiosity. I wondered how important it was to stay true to a classic brand, respect the back-stories and remember the magic that originally made these films so successful.

Before I share my list of Perplexing Princess Products, let it be known I am in no means an anti-Disney anarchist. I can’t wait to bring Maia to Disney World, show her all the movies I watched as a kid, and take her to each new one as it comes out. But, it is hard not to poke fun at some of the licensed products coming out of the House of Mouse, whether or not they are ringing up sales at the registers.

Ten Perplexing Princess Products

1. “The Princess and The Frog” Comfy Throw Blanket – Yup, it’s a Princess Snuggie, or Snuggler to be more accurate. The current As-Seen-On-TV product we all love to laugh at is now available at your local toy store with your favorite new princess image on it.

Princesssnuggler

2. My 1st Disney Princess Baby Ariel Doll – With this release, Disney is going “retcon” on us. If I recall, Ariel did not have legs until her later years. I understand this may be categorized as nitpicking, and the target demographic may not be so concerned, but ignoring a classic back-story devalues a much-loved license.

BabyArielDoll3. Princess Ariel Bride Dress - I am okay with princess dress-up, but a bride’s dress borders on “Toddlers and Tiaras” level creepy. I understand the value of role-play, and Maia loves to pretend her Princess dolls are getting married. But seeing her walk down the “make pretend” aisle in a white dress that “includes a bonus veil to make you feel like you are headed down the aisle with your own Prince Eric” is messing with my head a bit too much.

AirelBrideDress

4. Any Disney Princess Enchanted Nursery Toy - This whole line is based off the concept that Belle, Beauty, Cinderella and their princes all played together as toddlers. Seeing The Beast as a toddler in his outfit did make me chuckle, but the words “brand erosion” come to mind when seeing some of these dolls.

Disney Princess Enchanted1
Disney Princess Enchanted Nursery Pairs

5. Enchanted Nursery Sea Shore Snow White - A build off of the previously mentioned line, this has Snow White “dressed up and ready to go” for a day at the beach. Sunglasses and sparkle bathing suit are included. Again, I go back to the story of Snow White and question whether she had access, deep in the woods, to the latest Ray-Bans and La Blanca products.

enchantedsnowwhite

6. Snow White Vacuum & 7. Snow White Ironing Board Seat – Speaking of Snow White’s resources, I am sure she would have loved this vacuum and ironing board when cleaning up after those 7 slobs. Unfortunately, the “real” Snow White had to do with her helpful animal friends and some elbow grease. Fortunately, today’s girl has more options, and the little Snow White of tomorrow will have some practice with these Princess-branded toys.

SnowWhiteVacsnowwhiteiron

8. Disney Princess: A Christmas of Enchantment – After borrowing this from a friend, I anticipated the Princess crew would help us celebrate the season with some new holiday content. But watching it, all I found was recycled bits of old Disney content with brief intros. We are given a chopped version of the previously-released Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas DVD, an edited short from Fantasia 2000, some above-average 1930′s era cartoon shorts, a Little Mermaid story with no animation and two songs with clips from the Princess films.

DVD

9. Disney Princess Plush Rocker – No direct tie-in to any princess is clear here, as we know none of the royal girls were riding flamingo-colored horses. The color pink seems to be the only connection to anything princess.

plushrocker

10. Disney Princess Nursery Doll Set – Sure, girls love playing mommy to little baby dolls. So, why not slap a Princess logo on a doll and sell it as a branded Princess item? Also available to keep your baby comfy: princess branded cribs, swings, beds, feeding sets and more.

disneynursery

Your thoughts? Any Princess products you love? Or think are over-the-top? Feel free to comment!


This is a special “guest” post from my wife Michelle, a talented writer, wonderful mom and my pop culture partner-in-crime.  I wanted to call her Mama Nugget. She declined.

The conversation went soemthign like this: Nurse: Do you like Hannah Montana stickers? Maia: No. Who’s that? Me: She’s a girl on TV who sings and has concerts. Maia: Like Ashley, Mama? Me: Yes, like Ashley. Nurse (to me): She doesn’t know Hannah Montana? Good. Keep it that way. That Miley Cyrus with her YouTube videos and slutty clothes and makeup, she is headed for trouble. She’s no role model. Nurse (to Maia): Do you want princess stickers instead? Maia: YES!
At this doctor’s visit, the complicated issues surrounding providing good role models for our daughter presented themselves in full force. This concept of a role model is not something I think I fully prepared myself for when I first rejoiced over finding out I was having a baby girl, and it’s definitely something I’ll continue to wrestle with. Maia has become infected with the Princess bug, despite our initial struggle to keep her immune to it. And I’m still not sure how I feel about it. Sure, there’s plenty of research out there about the negative effects of the Princess Phenomenon. From the focus on beauty to the notion of the damsel in distress, the messages aren’t so hot for a young girl in a modern world. After meeting their prince only once, the princesses fall head over heels in love and want only to get married. No education, no career goals, no desire to do charity work or travel the globe. Yuck. And let me also add that Maia categorizes princess paraphenalia into “real princess stuff” (Disney) and “the fake ones” (sometimes equally beautiful books, crowns, etc.). And she usually only wants the real stuff. Go Disney.  But I am losing a battle, one which I’m not so sure I actually am even fighting very hard, or even want to call a battle at all. The smile that comes over my daughter’s face when she sees princess toothpaste or a box of princess raisins is one I’m not interested in squelching. I don’t know how or why this particular property thrills her in this way, but the bottom line is, it does, and I love seeing my daughter thrilled. Fairy tales have been around since the beginning of time, I think, and they’ve always told these stories. I heard them as a kid, and I still grew up to be a money-earning, home-owning, relatively confident woman who uses the hammer and screwdriver much more than my husband. The princess tales may infultrate her well-being to a certain extent, but all I can do as a mother is make sure I counteract any of that stereotypical girl stuff with other role models, giving Maia a wide variety of options. She will hopefully learn lessons about friendship and hope just as much as she learns any other negative lesson from the princess tales, and she won’t only have Ariel and Cinderella to look up to. Enter Ashley, mentioned above in the doctor’s office conversation. Ashley is Ashley Albert of the kids’ band The Jimmies, and she is Maia’s hero. She may be playing with princess dolls, but she is often making Belle sing and dance to songs like “It’s Cool to be Uncool” or “Bedhead.” And beyond that, when she talks about what she wants to wear, or who she wants to be like when she grows up, her answer is not “Cinderella,” it’s “Ashley.” She doesn’t see the Princesses she loves as real people, but she imitates the dance moves and even the expressions that she sees and hears on The Jimmies’ “Trying Funny Stuff” DVD – the first DVD from the kindie rock band, which features music videos, a live concert and a behind the scenes documentary. I catch her in the living room singing along with the concert, watching Ashley intently, flipping her hair and wiping the sweat off of her lip just like Ashley. She knows all the words, the order of the concert’s songs, and all the right moves. We even had to buy a new copy of the DVD, because Maia scratched it when she tried to shove it into the DVD player without opening the player first, because she wanted it to watch it and nobody was immediately there to help her put it in. I have a feeling that if Maia were to watch Hannah Montana, she’d like it. But the nurse was right – mainstream, tabloid-followed, trying to be cool, popular rich and famous kids might not be the best influences on Maia. Kids’ singers like Ashley Albert fly below the tabloid radar (though word is she’s getting a photo shoot for Women’s Day magazine!) but are still glamorous and amazingly cool to Maia. Maia has always had a love for music, and a talent for it too, I think, and I am nothing but happy that she wants to follow in the footsteps of someone like Ashley, who has fantastic talent and lots of wit too. She’s beautiful, without overdoing it. She wears fun, poofy dresses without the diamonds and crowns. And she puts herself out there, laughing at herself, being silly and having a great time while performing. The behind-the-scenes documentary really displays what a passionate, hard worker Ashley is, creating many of the sets and props for her amazingly elaborate music videos. It’s not meant to do that – it’s both a hysterical and honestly educational piece of the DVD that I love to watch – but it is teaching Maia some lessons about what it takes to be like Ashley while it makes her (and me) laugh. We did get to meet Ashley in person, though I fear that Maia was too young to remember it, even now. When we did, Maia was shy and didn’t want to get the photo opp Matt and I wanted, but in the end I think she was just in awe. She didn’t know what to do with herself once she actually met her idol in person, the way any of us might react. But as role models go, I’ll take Ashley any day.

The conversation went something like this:

Nurse: Do you like Hannah Montana stickers?
Maia: No. Who’s she?
Me: She’s a girl on TV who sings and has concerts.
Maia: Like Ashley, Mama?
Me: Yes, like Ashley.
Nurse (to me): She doesn’t know Hannah Montana? Good. Keep it that way. That Miley Cyrus with her YouTube videos and risque clothes and makeup, she is headed for trouble. She’s no role model.
Nurse (to Maia): Do you want princess stickers instead?
Maia: YES!

At this doctor’s visit, the complicated issues surrounding providing good role models for our daughter presented themselves in full force. This concept of a role model is not something I think I fully prepared myself for when I first rejoiced over finding out I was having a baby girl, and it’s definitely something with which I’ll continue to wrestle. Maia has become infected with the Princess bug, despite our initial struggle to keep her immune to it. And I’m still not sure how I feel about it. Sure, there’s plenty of research out there about the negative effects of the Princess Phenomenon. From the focus on beauty to the notion of the damsel in distress, the messages aren’t so hot for a young girl in a modern world. After meeting their prince only once, the princesses fall head over heels in love and want only to get married. No education, no career goals, no desire to do charity work or travel the globe. Yuck.

But I am losing a battle, one which I’m not so sure I actually am even fighting very hard, or even want to call a battle at all. The smile that comes over my daughter’s face when she sees Princess toothpaste or a box of Princess raisins is one I’m not interested in squelching. I don’t know how or why this particular property thrills her in this way, but the bottom line is, it does, and I love seeing my daughter thrilled. Fairy tales, whether told by Disney or not, have been around since the beginning of time, and they’ve lasted through the ages for some valid reason. I heard them as a kid, and I still grew up to be a money-earning, home-owning, confident woman who uses the hammer and screwdriver arguably more than my husband. The princess tales may infultrate her well-being to a certain extent, but all I can do as a mother is make sure I counteract any of that stereotypical girl stuff with other role models, giving Maia a wide variety of options. She will hopefully learn lessons about friendship, hope and generosity just as much as she learns any other negative lesson from the princess tales, and she won’t only have Ariel and Cinderella to look up to.

Ashley Albert and Punxsutawney Phil
Ashley Albert and Punxsutawney Phil

Which brings me back to Ashley, mentioned above in the doctor’s office conversation. Ashley is Ashley Albert of the kids’ band The Jimmies, and she is Maia’s true idol. She may be playing with princess dolls, but she is often making Belle sing and dance to songs like “It’s Cool to be Uncool” or “Bedhead.” And beyond that, when she talks about what she wants to wear, or who she wants to be like when she grows up, her answer is not “Cinderella,” it’s “Ashley.” She doesn’t see the Princesses she loves as real people, but she imitates the dance moves and even the expressions that she sees and hears on The Jimmies’ “Trying Funny Stuff” DVD – the first DVD from the kindie rock band, which features music videos, a live concert and a behind-the-scenes documentary. I catch her in the living room singing along with the concert, watching Ashley intently, flipping her hair and wiping the sweat off of her lip just like Ashley. She knows all the words, the order of the concert’s songs, and all the right moves. We even had to buy a new copy of the DVD after Maia decided she didn’t want to wait for mom or dad and tried to shove the disc into the player,  essentially runing it.

I have a feeling that if Maia were to watch a Hannah Montana performance, she’d like it. But the nurse was right – mainstream, tabloid-ready, rich and famous kids might not be the best influences on Maia. Kids’ singers like Ashley Albert fly below the tabloid radar but are still glamorous and amazingly cool to Maia. Maia has always had a love for music, and a talent for it too, I think, and I am nothing but happy that she wants to follow in the footsteps of someone like Ashley, who has fantastic talent and lots of wit too. She’s beautiful, without overdoing it. She wears fun, poofy dresses without the diamonds and crowns. And she puts herself out there, laughing at herself, being silly and having a great time while performing. The behind-the-scenes documentary really displays what a passionate, hard worker Ashley is, creating many of the sets and props for her amazingly elaborate music videos. It’s not meant to do that – it’s both a hysterical and honestly educational piece of the DVD that I love to watch – but it is teaching Maia some lessons about what it takes to be like Ashley while it makes her (and me) laugh.

As far as role models go, I’ll take Ashley any day. Ariel, Cinderella, Aurora and company may inspire her love for pink and storytelling, but role models like this unselfconscious musician teach a young girl to forget poise and posture and celebrate her beautiful, quirky, unique self.

All attention on her idol
All attention on her idol at live Jimmies event
Ashley & the Band
Ashley & the band