Saturday, March 19, 2011

Children's Television: Introducing Ben and Holly's Little Kingdom

Television and motherhood have a rocky relationship.  I do not like the children watching it, the brain sucker.  In small doses it does help, emphasis on the small.  Television as child distractor obeys the law of diminishing returns: the more they watch, the less it occupies them.   When Christopher Robin and Cupcake were little, I had the upper hand over television.  But when the twins arrived, all the mom advice I saw on 4 under 4 said to get a crock pot and get over any TV aversion.  We also quickly returned to the no-yard, dismal weather land that is London.  Television pressed the advantage.  I succumbed but never took the advice to get over my aversion.  For the past three years, excessive TV quickly triggers short bouts of insanity in me.  (Yasha, Vilvy, and the kids might quibble with that "short" bit.  I have TV issues.)

I have learned to cope in one small way: make sure that your kids watch programs that you can stand watching over and over again.*  Steer clear of anything Dora.  Bob the Builder might grate on you.  (To this day you can probably mess up our sitter Pippi's day by humming the Bob the Builder theme.)  The Wiggles and a certain purple dinosaur also come to mind.

To save your sanity you can go old school with the likes of  Loony Tunes, Peanuts, and The Jetsons.  Besides trips down memory lane, those cartoons also highlight some interesting social changes, which is fun adult entertainment.  There are a few new cartoons that do not send me round the bend; two are British.

First and favorite, The Backyardigans is Canadian and has fun music.  The cartoon is re-dubbed in the UK, so we have gotten used to two different versions. In fact, lots of cartoons are re-dubbed over here.  Bob the Builder is quite proper to my ears. According Lara Lakin, the guy who voices Bob is easily reconisable by Brits as the scoundrel from a popular TV show, so she always "sees" Bob as a scoundrel.   I, myself, had no clue that Bob was from the midwest until I was in a Gymboree one afternoon in Houston.  My friend JJ, who used to work at the BBC says the redubbing is for quota reasons.  If they record British voices, then it counts as a British production even though everything else is done in Canada.  But back to the Backyardigans, this link is to my favorite ghost episode, one with a ragtime theme.  All the adventures have musical themes.  In Looney Tunes style, they use classics of different genres, and add lyrics appropriate to the story.  They have a Indiana Jones style adventure to disco and a shoot out western Broadway style.  The Backyardigans are fun.  

The first British cartoon is Charlie and Lola, a cute show that also has good music.  I made myself a ringtone from this episode.  This bit on Charlie is a step too far, however.  The earlier seasons are better as they eventually tried to teach morals in later seasons.  Set the characters and the world and the morals come. When the writers try to steer stories to morals, everything gets preachy.

As for the second British cartoon, it is my pleasure to introduce to my American friends, Ben and Holly's Little Kingdom, the new cartoon from the Peppa Pig people. Not only is Ben and Holly's better kid wise, it is one of those rare kids' programs that has secret jokes for adults.  When we visited for Christmas, it still did not play that I found.  Now YouTube has enough good videos to give you a sampling.  There is one about Queen Thistle taking the day to visit her sister, and the toddler twins, Daisy and Poppy, wreak havoc in the kingdom.  I was in tears of laughter--though that might be a mom of twins thing.

*Same goes for music too.  Kids songs are ok, but if you want to keep your sanity, expose them to music that you actually like.  Be aware that they listen to the lyrics more than adults do.  Choose wisely and prepare for questions.

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