When it comes to kids, stories are pretty much essential. Not only do these help them develop their communication skills, it also serves as a way for them to understand the world around them. It's quite common for parents to use them in order to turn unpleasant experiences, such as getting a flu shot or taking bad tasting medicine, into pleasant ones. It's not even unheard of for children to be read fantasy novels before going to bed if the parents are fans of these themselves.
With digital media, stories are not only a treat for the little ones to hear, they're also just as fun to watch. In Toy Story: Story Theater, kids don't just get to hear about the adventures of their favorite characters, they also get to make their own stories come to life.
Young Directors and Writers To Be
Toy Story: Story Theater encourages little ones to express their creativity through imaginative play. In this app, your child is the director and Woody, Buzz, Jessie, and the rest of the beloved toys are ready to star in his film masterpiece. Basically, the toys serve as actors (or puppets), able to be dragged around the set, resized, rotated and breathed to life with a few taps.
With its kid-friendly layout, recording is quite easy. In Free Play, Toy Story: Story Theater lets kids pick their cast of stars, sets and props. After adjusting their size, rotating and dragging all the elements to their starting places, they can begin recording the scene. They may move the characters around the stage in order to play out actions and even speak into the microphone for voice-overs and sound effects.
Big Ideas, Little Hands
Story Play takes the system a step further by integrating preset scenarios into the process. In this mode, children can simply choose from a list of places and events to make a story come to life. Off the bat, the choices are rather slim as there are only three to choose from: The Wild West, Outer Space and Woody's Roundup. Though that may sound like a bad thing, it's not. It actually makes it easier for a child to grasp the mechanics on his own before more backgrounds are unlocked during play. Keep in mind that the stories can get a bit busy as the app supports multi-touch. This makes it possible for two characters to move at the same time, giving you the opportunity to create a story along with your child.
After placing a character on the scene and recording a brief introduction, it'll be time to choose the surprise event for that story. Is tonight going to be the night that Woody lassoes the pesky Bank Robber? Or perhaps, it's time for Jessie to use a Laser Blaster to freeze a Spaceship -- whichever the case, pressing "action" means that the cameras a rolling and it's time to direct the puppet actors. Again, kids can choose to use their own voices as sound effects and such.
The Good, the Bad and What's Missing
With its simple system and straightforward interface, Toy Story: Story Theater is a treasure trove for creative young minds. It allows them to make use of familiar characters such as Rex or the Crazy Critters to tell their tales. Parents can use it as a means to interact with their little one during bed time, imparting lessons or explaining concepts in a fun way. After you've saved a story, you can opt to watch them later and share it to family and friends.
That's not to say that it's not without its faults. While it is great for kids to be able to record their own sound effects, it would have been nice to also have a button on screen to trigger basic ones like bangs, clicks and pops. Although it's always an option for mommy or daddy to make the sounds first to give them an idea, it would still be better to have the feature readily available. The app can also use more animations to make it more attractive to look at. As it is, the characters are simply static, more akin to cardboard cutouts than their on-screen counterparts.
Toy Story: Story Theater is available for both the Apple iOS and the Google Android. It is rated 3+ and has and in-app guide for parents which contains suggestions on how to maximize its use as an interactive learning tool, in any case, all kid friendly apps should stimulate a child's imagination and senses.