Illustrations and animations done in a style strongly reminiscent of classic Disney feature-length cartoons boost this rendition of the tale over the zillions of other digital versions.
Read optionally by an avuncular storyteller character or from a text rolling piecemeal through narrow bands, the retelling largely relegates Gretel and her father to passive roles but substantially embroiders the otherwise familiar plot with dialogue and details. Many of the illustrations pan, change suddenly or are assembled in layers for a 3-D effect. Tapping a button on each screen or waiting for the narrator to finish releases an array of smoothly functioning animations and touch-activated effects. These include grimacing monsters and surly gnomes popping into view, the evil stepmother’s Cockney-accented screeches and fragmentary ditties like a skeletal minstrel’s “Dinnertime dinnertime for the witch, / She will eat the little boy, she’s suuuuch aaaa….” That fortuitously interrupted last line, plus some eerie moments in the dark woods, may be more appreciated by sophisticated audiences. On the other hand, neither the witch nor the stepmother is definitively killed off, and the title screen offers a “Play Around” option that dispenses with the storyline entirely in favor of going to any screen to check out the interactive features.
Set apart by outstanding visuals and a tongue-in-cheek tone, if lacking the psychodrama of more traditional variants. (iPad storybook app. 8-11)