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It doesn't take a sultan or even a sea scholar to figure out why two Disney heroines are spinning off into their own line of new home-video mini-adventures.

Ariel of "The Little Mermaid" and Jasmine of "Aladdin" have become animated role models to millions of young girls since their respective feature films came out. No wonder: They're charming, independent, sometimes headstrong, and, most of all, glamorous. They're sort of like Barbie with a life.They are marketed specifically for girls, but preschoolers of both sexes seem to enjoy the short-story format of the "Princess Collection," and the 20-minute tales make great bedtime stories.

"Ariel's Songs & Stories: Giggles" (Walt Disney Home Video, 44 minutes, $12.99) was our screener, with the title tale a deep-water fantasy about the importance of being one's self. Ariel's pals, Sebastian the calypso crab and good-natured Flounder, are once again in the swim of things with the ruddy-tressed mermaid. The second selection, "Against the Tide," introduces another of Ariel's sea-creature pals who comes complete with a bad reputation with the scary Ursula the Sea Witch.

The collection includes four volumes (two stories apiece), and a marketing tie-in includes character cloisonne jewelry with each video, making it a great birthday-party package.

And do you remember "Harry And the Hendersons?"

The folks who bring you the made-for-video film "Bigfoot: The Unforgettable Encounter" (Republic Pictures, 89 minutes) certainly do. Not that that's bad; this "Bigfoot" is every bit as heartwarming, although it lacks some of the big laughs and major property damage that thrilled youngsters in "Harry." (Bigfoot is cute in his sunglasses. He kind of reminds you of Chewbacca the wookie in the "Star Wars" triology.)

Zachery Ty Bryan, the oldest son on "Home Improvement," plays Cody, the unhappy camper who is rescued in the wild by the gentle giant. Cody does some maturing as he sees his savior hauled off like some kind of animal, and makes humane choices as the adults around him go media-wild and gun-crazy.

Adults in the cast include Matt McCoy ("The Hand That Rocks The Cradle"), Clint Howard (remember him as a kid on "Gentle Ben"?) and Rance Howard.


Question: I saw some tapes at a library that were called "descriptive videos" for people with poor vision. Are these for sale? Where?

Answer: The Descriptive Video Service is run by Boston's WGBH Educational Foundation, which provides narrative commentary for the visually impaired on some PBS broadcasts. The description of the action is heard on the secondary audio program available on stereo TV sets. WGBH also provides a limited but growing number of popular movies on cassette with descriptive narration added. These special cassettes do not require SAP, as the narration is part of the normal soundtrack. DVS videos can be ordered by mail. Call 800-333-1203 for information and a catalog.

- Andy Wickstrom (Knight-Ridder)

- Do you have a question you'd like answered? Send your queries to Andy Wickstrom, The Philadelphia Inquirer, P.O. Box 8263, Philadelphia, PA 19101.


BLUE SKY - How scarce were good film roles for women in 1994? See "Blue Sky" for your answer. Yes, I know Jessica Lange won a best-actress Oscar as a long-suffering military wife opposite Tommy Lee Jones. True, Lange gives one of her better performances under Tony Richardson's direction. But Lange's frenzied presence is far from her best and certainly not of Oscar calibre. It's just that Lange didn't have any real competition for 1994. That's tragic enough. That she won an Academy award for work done in 1991 points out the tragic dearth of roles of substance for women in Hollywood. PG-13, 1994, Orion, $96.98.

- Max McQueen (Cox News Service)

CAMERA BUFF - Years before the current popularity of his "Three Colors" trilogy, Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski directed this sardonic 1979 parable about the conflicts between self-expression and censorship in a bureaucratic nation. The hero is a factory worker who buys a movie camera to film his new baby, joins a state-sponsored cinema club with help from his supportive boss, then finds that the boss has strong opinions about suitable subjects for his amateur documentaries. The story swings from comic to tragic and back again, never losing its finely tuned compassion for everyone involved. New Yorker Video.

- David Sterritt

(Christian Science Monitor)

THE STORY OF A CHEAT - Sacha Guitry was a major figure in French cinema during the 1930s, but his reputation has languished despite the high praise he received from disciples in the popular new-wave movement. His virtuosity and versatility are triumphantly on display in this 1936 comedy about a man who learns the value of skullduggery at an early age, profits from a whopping variety of tricks and cons, and succeeds at everything he tries except going straight, which is his greatest ambition of all. Guitry directed the consistently clever movie from his own screenplay, based on his own novel, and he also plays the leading role. The result is delightful, but be warned that it's difficult to enjoy on this poor-quality cassette, which reduces the size of the image and translates the French dialogue in subtitles that are often hard to decipher. It's wonderful that this rare film is now available, but what a pity it isn't better served. Interama Video Classics.

- David Sterritt

(Christian Science Monitor)