Jack and the Beanstalk by Mindshapes Review

Posted by Amy Solomon on August 24th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Jack and the Beanstalk by Mindshapes is a nicely done universal interactive storybook with wonderful animation and interactions included.

Based on the classic tale of the same name, the caliber of animation used here is very impressive. These images are bright and colorful, with stylings so great that they make me reminisce about the works of Genndy Tartakovsky, known for his brilliant cartoons shown on the Cartoon Network during the 1990’s and early 2000's.

I do love the look of this app as does my son and there are some really fun interactions woven into this story as well, from playing with the magic beans which react to gravity and physics, to helping the beanstalk grow and assisting the giant’s wife feed Jack food or helping Jack hide from the giant - my son’s favorite interactions. There is also a nice moment when the player must dress Jack in appropriate garb for giant fighting. When the entire outfit is complete, decorative flames shoot up from behind a prepared Jack with sound effects that resonate “Hero...Here Comes Jack Attack,” reminding me of an opening moment of The Powerpuff Girls, a nice detail that stood out in this well-crafted interactive storybook. It is also fun to tap the characters provided to hear them deliver extra lines of dialogue as well, adding to the humor that this app provides.

Some changes have been made to this story, not found in the original - some that I like, and some that give me pause. In this version, Jack is a typical video game-playing, chore-avoiding teen, details that I readily accept in this updated take on a classic story. I enjoy how his love of video games translates to a great imagination shown as tapping transforms him and his cow into different fantasy characters as they go off to the market. It is also fun how the giant has some elements of being a biker outlaw as well - details I enjoyed even though they may have been over my son’s head.

Since childhood, I have enjoyed a good traditional story like Jack and the Beanstalk, and I am always happy to review a classic tale transformed into an app as I am now introducing these stories to my son as well. In general, though, it has always bothered me how so-called protagonists steal from the villains in classic fairy tales and Grimm's stories, found in such places as at the end of Hansel and Gretel when they steal the dead witch's jewels to help feed their family, or here as Jack takes the Giant's personal possessions - a bag of gold coins, a hen that lays golden eggs and a singing harp. Sure, the characters in question are typically poor and steal to deal with their times of need, but stealing is still immoral, and it bothers me that this point is typically not raised within these stories. In this version, the giant is said to have gathered his riches by looting, and at the end Jack helps not only his family but shares the wealth with the entire community, which presumably was being stolen from in the first place, making this more child-friendly in terms of the issues of taking things that do not belong to oneself.

I don’t like, however, that within this version of the story, Jack goes up the beanstalk only once and not returning to take other items of interest found within the Giant’s home, simply stealing all objects of value at once. I do admit - every time I hear this story I have the urge to tell Jack not to go back up to the castle, just to be glad he made it home safe the first time. However, the adventure Jack gets himself into going back a second time for me is what makes this story so unforgettable. In the versions I am familiar with, Jack goes up twice, even three times in some cases, taking the bag of gold and then stealing the hen and the singing harp - a detail that is most memorable to me, but also made me feel bad as the harp calls out to the giant warning him of what is happening. This theft has elements of a kidnapping as well, as Jack steals this harp amid her protests. The version found within this application avoids this detail, keeping a truer moral compass as here, with Jack coming to "the rescue" of the harp and hen, but also greatly shortening this story and leaving out many details that for me make this a classic story. I do enjoy my fairy tales morally ambiguous and do wish for a more complete version, from my point of view, were used as it would also open up this app to more wonderful animations and creative interactions.

I have also noticed that the narration included here becomes highlighted as the story is read, but there are moments where the highlighting is a little slow and not always in sync with the spoken narration. I do find this a little distracting, and I hope this can be looked at in a future update. Silencing the narration is also an option if one chooses, but I think it would be a good choice to offer the option of no highlighting as the story is read as a simple solution to the syncing issue.

All-in-all, I think the quality of the animation and the creative use of interactions makes this app worth a download, even if it is not as full a story as I am used to. Kids will really enjoy all that there is to look at and interact with, as will adults, making this great fun for all.

iPhone Screenshots

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iPad Screenshots

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Jack and the Beanstalk by Mindshapes screenshot 6 Jack and the Beanstalk by Mindshapes screenshot 7 Jack and the Beanstalk by Mindshapes screenshot 8 Jack and the Beanstalk by Mindshapes screenshot 9 Jack and the Beanstalk by Mindshapes screenshot 10
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