Two Inventive Mothers Hit the Tot Charts with Baby Songs
01/16/1989 at 01:00 AM EST
Rockers from puberty up may want their MTV, but if you're only 2 or 3 years old, all that wailing about paradise by the dashboard light is going to sail right over your head. You want videos with pint-size stars, locations like sandboxes and jungle gyms, and lyrics you can really relate to. For instance: "Today I took my diapers off/I've never felt so free/ My pants are not puffed out in back/What you see is me."
In short, you want Baby Songs, the hot new music video for tots. Baby Songs features toddlers like yourself tastefully trying out new potty seats and showing off a drawerful of bright new underwear ("Today I Took My Diapers Off") triumphing over separation anxiety ("My Mommy Comes Back") and hanging on for dear life to a dog-eared old blanket Daddy wants to wash ("Security"). Baby Songs and its sequel, More Baby Songs, provide enough fascination to keep you entranced for a full half hour. You'll love it, and—trust us—your mother will too.
Two mothers who already do are Amy Weintraub and Brooks McEwen, a pair of Los Angeles-based moms-turned-producers who felt their own kids deserved a video break. "We didn't want to make edutainment," says Weintraub. "We wanted it to be fun." Baby Songs turned out to be both. Says Martha Dewing, editor-publisher of Children's Video Report: "I loved the tapes immediately. The visual and audio respect the listener. They're not at all condescending." Raves film critic Gene Siskel: "As soon as I heard "Piggy Toes" I was hooked."
More than 150,000 copies of Baby Songs and More Baby Songs have danced out of stores in a little more than a year—a remarkable performance in a field dominated by Disney videos and such popular cartoon characters as Bugs Bunny. "I can't keep Baby Songs in stock," says Boston retailer David Pulda, and the video's appeal is just as strong on the other coast. "We show a parent two minutes of a tape," says Los Angeles shop owner Laurie Sale, "and they buy it immediately."
Baby Songs was conceived as a video five years ago, after Weintraub, now 32, and McEwen, 38, met at a Jane Fonda pregnancy-workout class. When their babies were small, the two mothers had fallen in love with an audiotape called Baby Song, composed and performed by children's songwriter Harlan "Hap" Palmer (with lyrics by Palmer and his then wife, Martha). "I wanted to write songs that would reflect the lives of children and their experiences, in the way that adult songs do for us," says Palmer. The results touched a chord. "It was so much better than singing 'Old MacDonald,' " says Weintraub. Chimes in McEwen: "They were the stories of our children's lives."
Palmer was delighted when the two women, who had both worked in TV production, told him they wanted to turn his songs into videos. Working out of an office in the Weintraub garage, the two spent a year collecting rejections from home-video executives before Hi-Tops Video took a chance and handed over $150,000.
Working around the births of their second babies, McEwen and Weintraub hired seven directors with different styles ("We wanted that MTV look," says Weintraub) and picked locations and costumes with an eye to bright colors and clean backdrops. The actors were the producers' friends and their children. Nobody bothered with market testing. "The directors were also parents," says Weintraub, "so we just asked ourselves what our kids would like to see."
Directing a passel of enfants, many of them occasionally terribles, was no small task, even though there were no lines for the little actors to blow. "We'd put tape on the floor and try to get them to go to those markers, but it didn't always work," says Weintraub. "We'd carry gum and candy and anything else we could think of to keep their attention." Along with heaps of toys and strollers, "we hauled our own kids around in the backs of our cars like props," she says. "If we needed a quick shot of a boy chasing a ball, we'd just send them out there."
The only major problem occurred the day a professional clown so frightened the kids that "instead of running toward him like they were supposed to," Weintraub says, "they ran screaming the other way." By comparison, the chimp who threw food from a high chair was a real trouper, though his performance has received mixed reviews from mothers concerned that their children may duplicate his performance. Worried moms, says McEwen, should just tell their kids, "that's how chimps behave, not children."
Demand for a Baby Songs spin-off is responsible for Turn on the Music, due out in February, a more sophisticated set of Palmer songs on video for the 3-to-7 crowd. Further Baby Songs are in the works, and McEwen and Weintraub have taken an option on a children's book called Half Magic, which they hope to turn into a feature film. For the two of them, there's only one minus. "We film with children all day, working really hard, and then we go home to our own at night," says Weintraub. "I have to admit it: I get a little burned-out on kids."
—Louise Lague, and Marie Moneysmith in Los Angeles