5 Cardinal Sins of Children’s Entertainment

i recently watched the Sesame Street flick The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland with my tiny little girls. i managed expectations by paying a requisite visit to MrSkin.com to learn that there are no nude scenes in the movie (although several characters spend the entire running time not wearing any pants).

Tickle Me Elmo

(tickle him where, exactly?)

With Jim Henson long passed, the Sesame Street and Muppet brands have really felt the loss. Some people feel Elmo epitomizes a Henson-less Sesame Street (in fact, Elmo was sanctioned by Jim, and even shared some skits with a Henson-performed Kermit). i’m not a big fan of modern-day Sesame Street’s more child-like Zoe, Rosita, Abby Cadabby, and Baby Bear (versus the old school street’s grown-up Herry, Kermit, Bert & Ernie, Sully & Biff and Grover), but the inclusion of more female Muppets is probably a change for the better – even if most of the new characters annoy the piss out of me.

Abby Zoe Rosita

Monsters beat princesses any day.

What i found unforgivable, though, was the flagrant rule-breaking the crew engaged in, where one hard-and-fast law of the Sesame Street Universe was trodden and sullied for fans everywhere (even as Sully himself was nowhere to be found). Outraged, I conjured up four other examples in which the “laws” of certain children’s entertainment brands have been broken, and the caretakers of those franchises have yet to be brought to justice.

1. Showing the Interior of Oscar’s Can

The crime committed by the Sesame Street writers in Elmo in Grouchland was filming the interior of Oscar the Grouch’s garbage can. Longtime fans (or anyone even casually acquainted with Sesame Street) can tell you that the magic of Oscar’s Tardis-like garbage can home, which houses (among other things) his pet elephant, was a silly unsolvable mystery and untouchable canon in Sesame Street lore.

Oscar's Can

Look away!

Why untouchable? Because if you show the inside of Oscar’s can, the elephant jokes of decades of Sesame Street seasons no longer work. Watch Elmo in Grouchland, and then go back and watch a gag where Oscar tinkers with his grouch jalopy somewhere inside his garbage can. You’ll say to yourself “oh yeah – that’s entirely possible. i’ve seen the inside of his can, and it’s quite spacious.”

It was a wretched, wretched idea to break this law, and worse – it was entirely unnecessary to the film’s fiction. As per usual, Elmo could have described the inside of the can in an echoey voice-over, and tell the viewer how he discovered a portal to Grouchland inside. But “show, don’t tell”, right? There’s apparently no room for imagination in a post-Henson Sesame Street.

Jim Henson

Just … dammit.

2. Poochifying Paddington Bear

The original Paddington Bear adaptation was an unbelievably charming and unique blend of stop-motion animation and classical 2D, where the very Pooh-like title character would interact with paper cut-outs of the show’s less interesting supporting cast. Here’s an episode, in case you don’t remember or have never seen it:



Recently, Cookie Jar Entertainment produced an unnecessary and awful Paddington Bear upgrade. They stripped out the narration, the stop-motion, the wit, the charm, and the Britishness. We’re left with a vanilla Paddington show that looks and feels like any other daytime filler material built to keep the little brats entertained. Watch, if you dare:


Rastafarianize him by 10%!

Ugh. After that, sticky Paddington and i both need a shower.

(For the record, the intervening Hanna Barbera take on Paddington was also crap.)

3. Naming the Man with the Yellow Hat

The Curious George series of children’s books chugged along for sixty bloody years being content to call the monkey’s friend “the man with the yellow hat”. When the film version came out in 2006, the geniuses in charge named him “Ted Shackleford”.

Why? God only knows.

The Man with the Yellow Hat

Anonymity is verboten in this post-911 environment. Let’s see some i.d.

4. Voicing the Peanuts Teacher

The adults in Peanuts teevee specials are voiced by a muted trombone. Is this a law? Yes. Yes it is. And is it a crime to deviate from this? Yes. It most certainly is.

Charlie Brown

Stop! In the name of the wah wah wah woh wah wah wah!

And why? Because we never see grown-ups in Peanuts, and teachers sound like muted trombones. That’s the way it is. The kids are important – the adults are not. This creative decision, paired with the decision to hire real kids to voice the Peanuts characters, cleverly conveyed that a child’s domain is often worlds apart from an adult’s, to the point where they even speak a different language. This helps to make the Peanuts characters’ adult-like antics, like Lucy’s psychiatry booth and Sally’s obsession with Linus, even funnier.

And … oh – what’s this? Here comes She’s a Good Skate, Charlie Brown to dump all over that.



5. Making the Cat in the Hat a Safe, Friendly Science Tutor

Dr. Seuss’s bastion of kid poetry, The Cat in the Hat, was recently adapted to television. The book is about two young children who are who are conspicuously abandoned by their mother, and who find themselves bored out of their skulls on a rainy day. They are visited by the titular cat who barges in and promises them a good time. He then proceeds to trash the house, alarming their neurotic pet fish who constantly warns them that their mother is going to lose her shit when she sees the place. With every destructive suggestion the Cat puts forth, he assures them that “your mother will surely not mind if you do.”

The Cat in the Hat

He certainly LOOKS like a respectable fellow …

And just when the kids think things couldn’t get any worse, the Cat unleashes his two frat buddies, Thing 1 and Thing 2, who demolish everything in sight. The Cat is not a nice, friendly character. For 3/4 of the book, he’s a villain, and the story builds towards this impending doom as we draw nearer and nearer to mom’s return. The Cat in the Hat is essentially a horror story for preschoolers.

Thing 1 and Thing 2

Lock the doors, honey.

Sounds like a fun concept for a teevee show, right? So what’s the premise for The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That?

The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That

First of all, the boy is brown. Whatever. i’ll let it slide. i always thought that “Sally and I” were brother and sister. If you’re going to muck with race, why not make them both brown? Because it would alienate white kids? Then why didn’t they make the fish Asian? i dunno. i don’t care too much about it.

The Cat in the Hat

The Cat is an equal opportunity shit disturber.

What i do care about is that the Cat in the Hat, anarchist, tormentor of fish and destroyer of private property, is now a friendly character who teaches the kids about science. Naturally. The show is so-titled because the Cat is ever-so-knowledgeable about aquatic life, the water cycle, the seasons, and any number of other natural phenomenon.

You know what Seuss’s Cat knew a lot about? Flying kites inside the house.

The Cat in the Hat

Here’s what you need to know about science, kids: GRAVITY.

The most awful part of this show is that the kids’ mom is always home when the Cat shows up, and when the Cat suggests they “go go go go … on an adventure” to learn about colour theory or some bullshit, he says (as in the book), “your mother will surely not mind if you do!” And you know what the kids do? They ask their mom for permission. i can’t think of anything more antithetical to the spirit of the book than taking the teeth out of it and making it that safe. It’s a true testament to modern-day paranoid parenting.

Thing 1 and Thing 2 make an appearance in every episode, usually to help the kids when they’re in a jam. Because, as we know from the book, that’s what Thing 1 and Thing 2 love to do: help little children get a grasp on science.

The Cat in the Hat

Oh – thank goodness Thing 1 and Thing 2 are here to explain SONAR.

No. You know what? NO. Thing 1 and Thing 2 are not preschool science teachers. They’re here to FUCK SHIT UP, and that’s ALL that they’re about. If you want your kids to watch a kids’ show that teaches science, the pickings aren’t exactly slim. You’ve got Curious George (makes sense – he’s curious, and he’s a monkey, and we use monkeys in scientific experiments), Peep and the Big Wide World, Sid the Science Kid, Dinosaur Train, Wild Kratts, and Mama Mirabelle’s Home Movies. Thanks to a big STEM push by the US government (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), we have preschool science shows in spades.

If you’re going to teach anything using the Cat in the Hat, you might try ethics and morality as a more brand-appropriate topic. Or teach kids what to do when people – particularly grown-ups – put them in situations that make them uncomfortable. i’m not suggesting every episode be about molestation, but rather assertiveness, communication, and self-awareness. Here’s how Seuss ended his book:

Then our mother came in
And said said to us two,
“Did you have any fun?
Tell me. What did you do?”
And Sally and I
did not know What to say.
Should we tell her the things
that went on there that day?
Should we tell her about it?
Now, what SHOULD we do?
Well…
what would YOU do If you mother asked YOU?

The Cat in the Hat

i’d tell her about animal migration and the light spectrum!

The US government doesn’t have a vested interest in preschool shows that teach morality or self-awareness. Being tops in science helps the country subjugate the rest of the world and remain a superpower. But being a morally sound or independently thinking nation doesn’t pay.

Crapping on the Shoulders of Giants

Henson, Schulz, Bond, Geisel and the Reys. We can posthumously mess with their creations and make everyone completely forget what was charming, subtle, and valuable about their work to begin with. This is what we get when men and women in ties have say over the creations of men and women with pencils.

11 thoughts on “5 Cardinal Sins of Children’s Entertainment

  1. Mushyrulez

    Just one question, how did you embed the Peanuts video at the middle of the video instead of at the beginning?

    Anyways, just some food for thought – why are these rules unbreakable? Are they unbreakable because they were the spirit of the show from the beginning, or just the spirit of the show for a long time? Are they unbreakable not because they’re necessarily central to the show, or unbreakable because they are the distinguishing point of the show, the point that separates it from other shows?

    If you can create an unbreakable ‘rule’ just from having it be in a show for a long time (not necessarily from the beginning), what would happen if that rule arose from breaking another unbreakable rule? What if the central point of the show shifts?

    Blah blah blah rhetorical questions. What I’m trying to say is, these rules all change. Perhaps these changes are not for the good, but I’m sure you could come up with another list of great changes that made shows that much better.

    Reply
    1. Ryan Henson Creighton

      Here’s how you do it. Within your iframe tags to embed the video, you append #t= with the timecode where you’d like it to start:

      “http://www.youtube.com/embed/x4TY-eSxijA#t=02m08s”

      i feel that these rules should not be broken because they’re sort of universe rules. These properties had the rules of their worlds established, and to break those rules sort of cheapens the experience. You don’t have fighter jets in Lord of the Rings. Babar doesn’t have on-screen sex. Robin Hood doesn’t murder the Sheriff of Nottingham.

      Here’s another great example – The Graduate Part 2.

      Reply
  2. UnSub

    Don’t ever, for the love of god, watch the live action “Cat In The Hat”. You’ll blow a heart valve.

    There was a puppet version of the Cat in the Hat a little while ago that was a lot more in keeping with the original, albeit a bit nicer.

    Reply
    1. Ryan Henson Creighton

      i’ve heard. Intern David related a moment in the film when the Cat holds up a sod-crusted garden implement and says “you dirty hoe”. Srsly … whattup widdat?

      Reply
      1. AnimeCanuck

        Mike Myers is what’s up with that?! Or Hollywood’s belief and commitment to add “over-their-heads” dirty jokes in family/kid movies for the parents that are stuck watching them.

        A real solution, would to just have a better, MORE ENGAGING story to begin with!!! *sighs and shakes head*

        Reply
      2. UnSub

        It’s an incredibly odd mix of tones – the adult stuff won’t interest the kids (and is arguably inappropriate at times, like the “dirty hoe” joke) and the kid stuff will bore the adults solid.

        It’s a kid’s film with a rave scene featuring Paris Hilton. How does that work?

        Reply
  3. AnimeCanuck

    Nooooooooooooooooo!!! The Man in the Yellow Hat! But that is his name! That’s how Curious George knows him! That’s his monkey name!

    All of the other above rules being broken are also atrocious, however this one irks me the most!

    … And “Shakleford”?! Of all things?!!!! That’s like the lame stand-in name kids give to either shady characters, or to themselves when they’re trying to hide their identity. ie: “Rusty Shackleford”. How is that BETTER than “The Man with the Yellow Hat”? Obviously, that is an assumed identity. ARgh! Thank you for this blog. It’s being linked to my facebook!

    Reply

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