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Early Reading Software Reviews

Disney's 101 Dalmations Animated StoryBook

For Ages 3 to 7

See also the Summary Rating Table for comparisons with other Early Reading software titles, and the SuperKids Buyers Guide for current market prices of PC and Mac versions.

Reviewed on:
Children's Software Screen Shot PowerMac 6100/60 with 24MB and 2XCD
Pentium90 with 16MB and a 2XCD

Content
Disney's 101 Dalmations Animated StoryBook is the sixth release in a series of screen and book adaptations. Like its predecessors (Lion King, Winnie the Pooh, Pocahontas, Toy Story and the Hunchback of Notre Dame) 101 Dalmations is an interactive book that allows early and pre-readers the opportunity to read along with a narrator, or stop and explore the scenes in a familar story.

Will it teach a three year-old to read? No - but our parent and teacher reviewers generally felt that it stood a good chance of building a child's interest in books, and developing a child's ability to think beyond the boundaries of the story to bigger concepts.

For those of you who haven't recently experienced the classic Disney version of the story, 101 Dalmations is the story of two dogs, Purdy and Pongo, whose puppies are abducted by the evil Cruella De Vil, who is intent upon creating a spotted fur coat. When the humans and Scotland Yard fail to find the pups, the dogs take over the search, and manage an amazing rescue.

On first use, some of our reviewers felt that this program had less to offer than most of the previous Disney Animated StoryBooks. To the extent that it has only 12 main story screens, they were correct. However, upon further exploration, we discovered a significant number of other activity story screens. Some of these were quite captivating for our four and six year-old testers.

"My daughter almost had to be dragged away from the computer for dinner the first week, because of her infatuation with the name matching game, " wrote one parent. In this variation of the old 'Concentration' game, the user has to match the spoken name of a pet with the written name, hidden behind shuttered windows. In another popular game that resembles Pac-Man, the user has to guide a puppy through a maze ahead of Cruella to recover objects that begin with specified letters or sounds. All of the activites are available in multiple difficulty levels, and offer numerous variatons before becoming repititious.

Other activities, however, seemed curiously out of synch with the target audience. The progam offers six sing-along songs, complete with on-screen subtitles. Unfortunately, the songs were totally unfamilar to our kid reviewers, and the text was too difficult to read in the time available for the target age group.

Ease of Install / Use
101 Dalmations installed without any difficulty on our reviewers' PCs and Macs - if you have the necessary of disk space. Just like the previous Animated StoryBook from Disney, ( the Hunchback of Notre Dame) this program reuires 20 MB of hard disk space. Users with recently purchased computers may find this no problem, with the 1.2 or 2 GB disks found on new machines. Users with older computers may have to delete or compress some files to create the space. Fortunately, the program includes an uninstaller.

The program is reasonably intuitive to use, for adult users as well as the target audience of young children. Our reviewers were able to make it all the way through the program without having to consult the manual.

Methodology
Like most programs of this genre, 101 Dalmations allows the user to sit back and listen to a narrator read the story, with much of the text highlighted on screen, or to read along. In this latter mode, after the narrator finishes reading a screen, the user can replay the highlighted text, explore the scene by clicking on a wide array of objects, or try out several different problem-solving activities.

Disney has added two new features to the basic model in this title, by identifying some words in the text as candidates for synonym substitution. For example, on one screen the word "pretty" is highlighted in a box. Clicking on the word offers the potential replacements "lovely," "good-looking," "beautiful," and "gorgeous." Other words are highlighted in red. Clicking on them produces definitions in the form of rhymes. For example, the word bachelor is defined by: "Bachelors are men who never married, bachelors are men who never wed..." Although our parent reviewers all felt these were neat educational features, none reported significant interest by their children.

Proxy Parent Value
Proxy parent value is SuperKids' measure of a program's ability to capture and hold a child's attention. Interestingly, in this program, the story was less captivating to our kid reviewers than the activities. We're not sure if this was because of a weaker story presentation, or more interesting activities. Regardless, the net effect was to make this program less of a bedtime story replacement, and more of an after dinner or after school activity program.

Best for...
As a true reading development tool, 101 Dalmations is best suited for early readers, at about the first grade level. But as a means to interest a child in thinking about a familiar story, and interacting in some of its settings, the program is appropriate for a broader age range.

Bottom-Line
If your child liked the classic story, and enjoys click-and-explore programs, 101 Dalmations is a safe bet.

Education=4/5, Kid Appeal =4/5, Parent Friendly=4/5
Ratings Key: 5=excellent, 4=good, 3=OK, 2=weak

See also the Summary Rating Table for comparisons with other Early Reading software titles, and the SuperKids Buyers Guide for current market prices of PC and Mac versions.



Children's Software System Requirements


PC

Macintosh
Operating System Windows 3.1; Win95 or later System 7.1 or later
CPU Type and Speed 486/50 or faster 68040 or faster
Hard Drive Space 20 MB 20 MB
Memory (RAM) 8 MB 8 MB (16 MB for Power Mac)
Graphics 256 color monitor 256 color monitor
CD-ROM Speed 2X 2X
Audio 8-bit sound card n/a
Other Needs


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