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Clay It Again, Art: Art Clokey, creator of Gumby and Pokey, will appear in person at the Kids First! Film Festival.

SpongeBob Meets Gumby and Pokey

The Kids First! Film Festival arrives at the Camera 7

By Richard von Busack

WHEN WATCHING children's entertainment, it's easy to tell the difference between work that's done by people in tune with children and people who are just trying to make a buck. Any child can tell the difference. The two-week-long Kids First! Film, Video & DVD Festival 2002 offers a combination of those two kinds of kids' shows: both the inspired work and tired kid fodder that any child learns to sit through patiently, in the hopes of something better along the way. The festival raises money for Healthy Kids, an insurance program for the Santa Clara Family Health Plan, which hopes to provide coverage for all of the presently uninsured children of the valley. Programs are rated, from toddlers to preteens; the series includes the premiere of Charlotte's Web 2 and, on Dec. 9, a New Animation Showcase from Europe and Canada, billed with a pair of documentaries on families from Russia and Israel.

There's sterling stuff even for the very young, like Bert and Ernie's Word Play: Sesame Street. When it comes to Sesame Street, I always think of humorist Fran Lebowitz's comment that the show may not lead to later childhood literacy, since a kid may be disappointed that every word in a book doesn't pop out, escorted by a pair of royal blue chickens.

Since really young children aren't supposed to read Metro, it's not hurting their feelings to charge that Hello Kitty Furry Tale Theater betrays Sanrio's prize asset. Hello Kitty isn't supposed to have a personality--that's her charm! Who could have possibly imagined that deep down this so-cute-you-could-plotz character figure harbored a desire to be a football player, as we see here? On the other hand, Gumby is a delight untarnished by the years. Animator Art Clokey will make personal appearances on Dec. 7 and 8 to promote a soon-to-be-released DVD package on Rhino Records. Clokey, working in Sausalito, named Gumby after his father's slang term ("gumbo") for mud. Gumby is a soulful clay boy with a slanted head; he and his somewhat smarter pet horse, Pokey, provided many a child's first lesson in the mutability of the world, through their adventures in history and books. In shocking contradiction to what we'd learned from most cartoons, Gumby could be fascinating even without resorting to violence. By coincidence, this festival also includes an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants, which deserves comparison to Gumby in its charm and smart humor. If children could vote, SpongeBob would be president right now.

The second half of the festival should appeal more to preteens. In When I Was a Girl, the celebrated TV journalist Linda Ellerbee interviews well-known people on the subject of their youths, including everyone's favorite TV mom, Edie Falco of The Sopranos. Legacy is Tod Lending's documentary about the struggles and triumphs of three generations of a family trapped in the slums.

Kids First! Film, Video & DVD Festival 2002 plays Dec. 7-14 at Camera 7 in Campbell. The full schedule is available online at www.kidsfirstinternet.org.

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From the December 5-11, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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