Pros: Lamb Chop, informative, fun songs about Chanukah and Passover.
Cons: Too long to hold young children's interest.
As a child, Shari Lewis' Lamb Chop character was always one of my favorites. She was basically a sock puppet made to look like a little lamb, and though she tried to be very sweet and innocent, she often got herself into minor trouble. After I had children, my parents gave us this DVD entitled Lamb Chop's Chanukah and Passover Surprise for my family to enjoy.
"Lamb Chop's Special Chanukah" opens with Shari Lewis in an open market shopping for dinner supplies and singing when she bumps into Pat Morita, Alan Thicke and Lloyd Bochner. After explaining some aspect of Chanukah to each of them, she invites them to a holiday dinner at her house.
When Shari returns home, Lamb Chop and Hush Puppy have just finished a game of Dreidel and she has to reprimand Charlie Horse for opening his Chanukah gift early. She explains that there is more to the holiday than presents, and that strengths such as courage and freedom should be celebrated. They then get into a bit of a debate about the spelling and pronunciation of the holiday and Shari ends the discussion by saying that there is more than one correct answer.
While Shari and Lamb Chop prepare the Latkes for dinner, they sing a song about their love for that particular food. There is no exact recipe included, but they go through the steps of cooking them. Lamb Chop and Shari explain what the Menorah is used for and about the miracle that occurred when one day's worth of oil lasted for eight days. Shari and the puppets also put on a play featuring King Antiochus and Judah Maccabee and explain how the King ruled with a heavy hand over the Jews and took their temple, and how they, even though they were outnumbered they fought and won it back.
Throughout the film, Charlie Horse is focused on his new video game and its contest to create a new superhero. He first creates Super Ninja (Pat Morita), then Super Brain (Lloyd Bochner) and then Weapons Man (Alan Thicke), all of whom come to life in their living room and all of which are missing something. After they perform the play, he creates a Judah Maccabee superhero, wins the contest and and uses the prize money to buy Chanukah gifts for his family.
There are a few songs throughout "Lamb Chop's Special Chanukah", but none are really memorable, and added to the fact that the three guest stars do not really fit into the show very well, I found it to be very choppy. My children have never cared to watch this episode, and if I were not such a Lamb Chop fan, I probably would have given it away, or thrown it away, a long time ago. As with most of Shari Lewis' work, there is some fun banter between her and the puppets, but the few bits of Chanukah information that are imparted in this movie are just not worth sitting through.
Following the Chanukah episode is one entitled "Shari's Passover Surprise", which I like much better. It opens with Hush Puppy singing a catchy tune about Matzo and spinning sheets of it on his head and paws. While Lamb Chop is out grocery shopping, Shari Lewis is trying to finish typing a book, and Charlie Horse is outside playing ball. When his baseball goes through a window of the house next door, he meets his new neighbor, Robert Guillaume, who accepts a dinner invitation for the following night as payment for the broken window.
At school, Charlie Horse is running for class president, and while his opponent wants to try to get more books and computers for the school, his platform is that kids should make the rules and they should not have to abide by those that adults set out for them. He promises that everybody who votes for him can come to a party at his house where his "best friend" Robert Guillaume will put on a show. The party is actually the Passover Seder which is the following night.
When Charlie Horse finds out that they are supposed to have their Passover Seder at their aunt's house instead of their own, he quickly convinces Lamb Chop and Hush Puppy that they will be better off if they can convince Shari to have the dinner at their own house.
Even though Shari is under a deadline for her book, the three puppets convince her to have the Seder at home just for their little family, still not telling her that Guillaume and the entire fifth grade was also invited. The three begin to prepare the dinner, complete with egg shells in the Matzoh Balls. After Hush Puppy spills the Matzoh Ball mixture on his head, Shari explains why Jewish people only eat Matzoh during Passover.
Always cunning, Charlie Horse visits Chef Dom Deluise to invite him to the Seder and tells him that often, guests come early to help cook the dinner. On the Seder night, Deluise arrives with an army of helpers carrying groceries, one of whom is Alan Thicke. When Shari comments that they have an enormous amount of food, Charlie Horse reminds her that the Haggadah tells us that you should always be ready for extra guests at Passover, but he still neglects to mention that he invited all of his classmates over.
Lamb Chop sings about her honor as the youngest to be able to ask the Four Questions which is an integral part of the Passover Seder and Shari explains in a song to Dom Deluise about the six items that go onto a Seder Plate and how it related to Passover.
Their Passover Seder begins very pleasantly with Shari Lewis, Hush Puppy, Lamb Chop, Charlie Horse, Robert Guillaume and Dom Deluise at the table. On Passover, it is customary to open your door during the Seder to allow anybody who is needy or hungry outside to come in and share in your meal. Charlie Horse was very eager to open the door, and when he did, some of his friends from school came running in.
As they proceed through the Seder, the topic of slaves gets discussed and Robert Guillaume sings a song about Moses freeing his people and the ten plagues. While this song is informative, it switches from black and white to color, with odd slow motion parts while others are sped up, with no apparent reason. Next is an interactive story and song told by Hush Puppy who has the children (and those at home) cheer when they hear the word Moses and say "no no no" when the word salve is mentioned. Here we learn about the parting of the Red Sea and Matzoh.
At the end of the Seder, all of the children search the house for the Afikomen (a special piece of Matzoh) that Shari has hidden, and since Hush Puppy is a dog, he is the one who eventually sniffs it out. As the winner, he is able to claim a prize from Shari, and he asks her to promise to always have the Passover Seder at their home. My family has a different tradition with regard to the Afikomen, where one (or more) of the children steal it away from the person leading the Seder when he is not looking and hide it. This adult is then supposed to search and find it, but since the children usually hide it so well, he has no choice but to give them a prize or money to get it back since the Afikomen is dessert and the Seder cannot be completed until everyone has a piece.
In addition to the two episodes, each holiday has some coloring pages and games to print out. Since Shari Lewis has passed away, her daughter Mallory has taken over the ventriloquism of her puppets, but is not quite as good as her mother was. Mallory and Lamb Chop have an introductory segment that tells about this DVD and also sing a song about holiday traditions, which is catchy, but not quite as good as if Shari Lewis had performed it. Both of the episodes star Shari, and Mallory is not in them at all.
Both the Chanukah and Passover shows have fun songs and impart information in a clear manner, but each has some very slow moving parts. Dom Deluise as the guest chef and Robert Guillaume as the new neighbor fit into the Passover story quite well, but the guests who are made into super heroes in Charlie Horse's game seem forced and make the Chanukah story very choppy. Each story is almost an hour long, which makes it difficult for very young children to stay interested, even if they enjoy the puppets. Both shows could have been shortened if they got rid of some of the nonsense between and bad acting that the guest stars bring to this DVD
Overall, Lamb Chop's Chanukah and Passover Surprise is an informative and enjoyable way to learn about those holidays, even though there are some slow parts of the storyline. The interaction between Shari and the puppets can be quite entertaining for children and adults alike.