Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Pre-school DVD : Jack & Holly's Christmas Countdown


I was recently approached by the lovely Jezz from a small independent animation production company called Blockhouse TV to see if I'd like to review their new pre-school DVD called Jack & Holly's Christmas Countdown. They describe themselves as "a tiny husband and wife team taking on the big boys" and trying to improve on the current pre-school offerings from other established market leaders who all too often produce what they call "e-numbers for the eyes".

Well, I settled down to watch it with all three of the Madhouse Family mini-testers this weekend : 9-year-old Sophie, 5-year-old Juliette and 1-year-old Pierre. They were all so absorbed that I couldn't resist taking a few sneaky snaps - and they were so wrapped up in the DVD that they didn't even notice ! I think their faces say it all really !

  

For the entire 70 minutes that the DVD lasts, not one of them moved ! I decided to join in and snuggled up on the settee with them for a few minutes and ended up watching it all too ! The DVD is split up into ten segments that you can watch one at a time or - like we did - one after the after for a lovely introduction to all things Christmassy. Don't be put off if you don't celebrate Christmas though  - it focuses on the magic and fun of the festive period, dealing with snowmen, Santa Claus and decorating Christmas trees, rather then anything overtly religious !

When it finished, Juliette asked if she could watch it again ! I said no, as it was almost time for bed, but the next day, as soon as they got home from school, she asked again and this time I relented, so she happily watched it all over again while I settled down with Sophie to help her with her homework. Once she'd finished and put her books away, she went and joined her little sister in front of the TV to watch it again too. The DVD therefore far exceeds its target audience of 1-4 year olds !

I tried to work out why it was so amazingly appealing to the kids, especially given the wide range of other DVDs they have to choose from. Firstly, the characters of Jack and Holly are really lovely and uncomplicated. The only thing that bothered Juliette was their lack of feet - she asked if they'd been cut off in an accident ! They also loved the interplay of animation and real-life video sequences. The characters' voices, which reminded me a bit of those on Charlie and Lola, are very cute and immediately make the kids feel like they are listening to people their own age, just like them. All of the voices, including those of Jack and Holly, are performed by children, as are the lovely songs, both traditional and new, which the girls also loved listening to and joining in with, especially in the Christmas concert part. There are educational games such as counting too, and another brilliant feature is that you can download an accompanying workbook for free to continue the learning experience and share some lovely moments interacting with the kids. Juliette in particular kept telling me about things that she'd seen and it was really enriching to hear her telling me all about her memories of last year's Christmas and winter.

What really struck me was how calm the girls seemed afterwards and how un-headachey the DVD was. It's perfect viewing for just before bedtime or for whenever the kids need to calm down a bit. When I went on to the website to look for the workbook, I noticed that there will soon be another adventure featuring Holly and Jack in space. When I mentioned it to the girls, Sophie immediately asked if we could buy it and said I could even use her pocket money. That certainly proves that Jack and Holly have got the seal of approval from the Madhouse Family testers !

star rating : 5/5

RRP : £9.99

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