Times have really changed since i was an ankle-biter. i reflect on this whenever my oldest daughter finishes watching her favourite kids’ show, and says “again! Again! i wanna watch it from the ‘ginning!” So i grab the PVR remote and rewind the show to its starting point. And when the six o’clock news comes on and her age-appropriate programming is finished, she simply says “Daddy, i wanna watch x,” inserting the name of whatever show she can think of, and lo and behold: we have at least ten episodes saved on the hard drive. i just queue it up, and she watches it.
Never mind what it was like when i was a kid. Never mind that whenever a show ended, i would start bawling my eyes out and my mother, from the next room, would say “new story coming, Ryan. New story coming.” And if i wanted to watch something and it wasn’t on right that minute, when the teevee gods deigned to air it, i just wouldn’t get to watch. It was The Beachcombers or nothing.
So while things have changed in that regard, kids’ teevee is just as screwed up as ever. i remain amazed that authors and other content creators continue to make the same bizarre decisions when it comes to realizing their worlds.
Take Franklin, for example. Based on the series of children’s books and toothlessly reproduced by Nelvana in their characteristically over-cautious style, the show chronicles the pedestrian adventures of an anthropomorphic turtle and his woodland friends.
Good news: you can bore your child to death on DVD, too.
So the turtle’s name is Franklin. What’s his bear friend’s name? It’s Bear. And the goose? Why, “Goose” of course. Beaver? His name is “Beaver”. It makes sense, doesn’t it?
No, it does not. It most absolutely does not. Why does the main character get a name, and none of the other animals do? What do you do if you need to introduce a second goose? What do you call it? “Goose”? “Goose Two”? “Also Goose”? You’d think this might have crossed the author’s mind, but i suppose that when crossing comeone’s mind means traversing a barren wasteland, not all thoughts make it to the other side.
Also on the long list of Nelvana shows that we switch off reflexively is Miss Spider’s Sunny Patch Friends. The characters are largely built from 3D primitives like spheres and … well, just spheres, really, presumably to match the look of the source material, a series of children’s books.
The characters look like they’re built from pom-poms. Fine.
It’s all well and good until you catch a glimpse of the show’s villain, Spiderus, who looks exactly like this:
What in Technicolour f@#$ is this guy supposed to be? He’s a spider, just like any of them, but some artist went crazy with the nurbs modelling and trolled out this distrubing theatre mask and stuck eight legs on it. It just smacks to me of breaking your own rules – the rules you decided on when you were crafting your imaginary world. Either all the characters look stupid and are made out of spheres with inexplicably yellow eyeballs, or all the characters have nightmarish Punch and Judy masks for faces. Take a stand, author.
No world is more guilty of breaking its own rules than the Mickey Mouse universe, where all of the animals walk around in varying degrees of dress, except Pluto the dog, who romps around naked on all fours and can’t speak like the rest of them.
Numerous observational comics have pointed this out over the years, asking why Goofy gets to wear pants and drive a car, while Pluto is fed dog bones and wears a collar. The most common defense that i’ve heard is that Goofy’s not a dog – he’s a goof. That doesn’t explain what Pete is. And anyway, it’s not a very strong defense. Regardless of Goofy’s nebulous origins, it remains a fact that only select members of the animal kingdom are fit in Disney’s mind to walk upright and do people things, and it’s always struck me as unfair.
The injustice continues even today with shows like Word World, which is too awesome to hate, but which presents enough niggling little problems that i’m mildly annoyed whenever it comes on. Here again, you’ve got a walking-talking Pig, Bear, Frog, Sheep, Ant, Bug and Fly, but the dog acts like a dog, barking and walking on all fours. BUT he someone has his own house and lives alone. AND when they put someone in a real-life Dog costume, the character walks upright:
I’m getting confused …
AND all of the animals are named after their species, a la Franklin. And while i’m getting this all off my chest, Frog’s voice work is too close to Kermit for comfort, which has always bothered me. And in the show, when you put letters together, they form the shapes of the things they spell … BUT the shutters and window in Dog’s room spell “D-O-G”, but they don’t take the shape of a dog – they take the shape of a window and shutters.
AND, now that i’m on it, if i lived in Word World, i think i’d just gather up all the letters to spell “S-E-R-I-O-U-S B-L-I-N-G” and “B-A-R-E-L-Y L-E-G-A-L T-R-O-P-H-Y W-I-F-E” and call it a day. But i guess that’s the distinction between a show for preschoolers and a show for Daddy.
The whole Pluto Dichotomy rears its ugly head in another popular kids’ show, Arthur. i don’t have many negative things to say about Arthur, because it’s one of the most truly excellent shows in the pantheon of children’s entertainment. But once again, we have an anthrophomorphic animal living in a world full of anthropomorphic animals, and here’s the main character holding a puppy.
One last thing, while i’m on it. This is what an aardvark looks like:
Round head? Nope. Rounded ears? Er … nope. Subtle snout? No sir. (note: i’m reading up on it as i write this, and apparently author Marc Brown started out drawing Arthur with a long snout, which has subsided over the years. Kind of like how Mickey used to look like a white guy in blackface.)
My mom came over to look after the girls one day, and Arthur was on. She watched it for two minutes before wincing and saying “what animal is that kid supposed to be?” i told her he was an aardvark, and my mom scrunched up her face and said “no … no, i don’t think so.”
And here’s what sets Arthur apart from all the other kids’ shows on the tube: in one episode, the Arthur characters are watching a show on their teevee, which was a parody of Arthur. And one of the characters says “What’s that kid supposed to be? A mouse?” Another kid chimes in “And why does he have a dog?” And another: “What do they serve in the school cafeteria – tree bark and garbage?”
Bravo, folks. Bravo.