Monday, October 30, 2006


The Competition (Part I)

Where have we been, you ask? Did the Valentines give up TV? Did we get hit by lightning?

No, we got DirecTV and more kids channels than God himself ever imagined. And so, we have been drowning in a sea of children's programming. And I must confess that my dear little Petunia has been choosing Sprout and Noggin over Playhouse Disney most of the time.

These days, the Valentine household is more apt to be yelling 'Abre!' with Dora than conducting Dvorak with the Little Einsteins. And I have to say, I still think Disney has the edge in children's programming, but my child apparently does not agree. Here's the first installation of my assessment of the PHD competition:

Bob the Builder is a can't miss. It's brilliant, a whole show around the cool construction equipment that kids love to watch working. Travis's low self esteem gets annoying, and I find Spud's mischevious ways to be irksome as well. But Bob and Wendy and the equipment working together is a winner.

The Goodnight Show is always good for an evening wind-down, especially now that Noel MacNeal of - ahem! - Bear in the Big Blue House fame is hosting. And for what it's worth, I think Bear is still one of the best kids' shows on TV, carrying the magic of the Muppets and the Fraggles to a new generation of kids. But I'll settle for hearing Bear's voice in the evenings if I have to.

I think Caillou is dumb. It made me mad the other day when Caillou's friend's mom told them that eating dinner was a race. We try really hard to encourage healthy eating by Petunia, and that includes developing healthy habits like not mindlessly finishing what's on her place, eating too fast, eating emotionally, etc. I don't need PBS pushing her in the other direction. Besides, I always wonder if Caillou has leukemia or something. Who is still bald at age four?

I also don't like Dragon Tales. Even though it is vaguely remniscient of some of the crap my sister and I used to watch growing up (think the Snorks), I don't like it.

Oh, one other gem in the Sprout crown is Thomas the Tank Engine. It kind of weirds me out that the trains talk without using their mouths (are they super ESP trains?) but kids love trains. And Thomas is harmless. I put Thomas and Bob the Builder in the same category. It's really more about watching the trains (or construction equipment) than the story.

Stay tuned for assessments of Noggin and PBS Kids.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


It's Apparently Ralph's World

Who is this Ralph? And why is it his world?

The latest little short on Playhouse Disney in the mornings, Ralph's World is yet another attempt by Disney to fill up the space between shows with hip music.

I myself favor Dan Zanes, but people have been coming out of the woodwork for the past two months to wave their virtual panties at Genevieve and the Choo Choo Soul.

I think I need to see more of Ralph before I can decide whether he's purchase-worthy, but apparently the guy has quite a repertoire and will be performing live at Disney World next month as part of the new preschool show.

Monday, July 10, 2006


Meeska Mooska

Sleeping a little later on the weekends shifts our morning routine forward a bit. And so we end up watching a little Mickey Mouse Clubhouse instead of bolting out the door at 8:28 a.m. It's actually a pretty good little toddler show.

First, how can you go wrong with They Might Be Giants doing the theme song? It's catchy. (Like the other song they do for the show, the Hot Dog song, referred to by Mickey as only "the Mousekedance.")

Sometimes I think the Mouseketools are a bit of a stretch, like using a bubble machine to slow down the giant who was chasing them (and scaring the bejeezus out of my Petunia, thank you so much for that, Disney Channel!). Really, wouldn't some tar on the ground or a fog machine or a blindfold have gotten the job done better?

And I've already seen two episodes that use "a baby elephant" as a Mouseketool. One time, the elephant weighed down a hot air balloon that had floated too high, and another time, the elephant used his very efficient trunk to blow up a bunch of balloons for Minnie's surprise birthday party. Who knew having a baby elephant around could be so helpful?

Sometimes, I feel like the Clubhouse is pushing the education/interactive thing a tad too far. It seems like the story line can't progress at all until my kid screams out the correctly shaped key or the chicken with the biggest beak or the smallest of the screws in Mickey's hand. I get that they want this to be a learning experience for tots, but it could stand to be a little more fun sometimes.

Thank god the show ends with that Hot Dog song so we can get up and dance without answering one more flippin' question from Mickey.

Friday, June 30, 2006


Imported TV

Basil and I took a long vacation to Canada recently. While flipping through the channels one morning in our hotel room, we came across Treehouse TV. It's Canada's kids station, and birthplace of some of Playhouse Disney's programming.


This is Daniel Cook is awesome. We love Daniel in our house. I want to buy Petunia Daniel's DVD so that we can watch his five-minute adventures whenever we want. We have gotten tons of mileage out of Daniel's trip to the market, where he ate exotic fruit. Our Petunia has tried berries, plums, melon, and starfruit just to be like Daniel.

He's a plucky kid who goes out and experiences cool things. Petunia has the awe for him that she has for all big kids, and giving little kids the opportunity to watch big kids out and about in the real world makes for some great kids programming.


The Doodlebops, of course, are straight outta hell. Their songs are sort of "rock-n-roll" toddler music, which means that they're practically unsingable for small children. DeeDee, Rooney and Moe are spazzy dancers, and Moe unnecessarily breakdances in EVERY SINGLE EPISODE.

I don't get why they're orange, blue and pink and whether or not they're supposed to be actual people or some sort of new species, but the makeup, costumes and sets are such a cacophony of obnoxiously loud colors that it makes me want to have a seizure.

The only slightly enjoyable part of the show is Busdriver Bob. He sings the "Get on the Bus" song when it's time for the overearnest freaks to go to their concert. This song actually has a distinguishable tune, and the lyrics are simple and easy to understand.

The best part of the song is at the end when Bob gets to do his little hitchin-a-ride move while saying, "Hey...come on...we're gonna take a bus ride" and then he pretends to drive the bus while singin, "Yeah...come on...we're gonna take a bus ride."

Too bad the other 22 minutes of the show are unwatchable.

Monday, June 19, 2006


Einsteins Redux, Again

This is apparently "new episodes" week at the Playhouse. (You didn't think we'd abandoned this site, did you? We just had a few weeks vacation!)

We caught a new Little Einsteins for the first time in ages, and - once again - they used a piece of music that had already been used. Nicolay Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee. It was featured in The Northern Nightlight, as the silly song that Quincy sings to get over his fear of the dark while the team helps Mama Reindeer find Baby Reindeer in Lapland.

In case you haven't heard it (okay, you must have heard it, even if you didn't know the name of the piece), Bumblebee isn't exactly the most singable classical work out there. So both episodes feature the kids doing a lot of humming and making nonsense noises while adding a three or four syllable phrase at the end of the featured snippet.

It was a bit of a stretch to use Flight of the Bumblebee the first time around, but it was really annoying this morning. And again, why not something else? To the best of my knowledge, they've never used Beethoven's Fifth Symphony or Strauss's Blue Danube waltz.

There's plenty of good stuff out there, Playhouse Disney! Get some new music already!

Wednesday, May 31, 2006


Elaborate Playtime

Since Playhouse Disney doesn't run commercials per se, it uses the five or ten minutes between shows to run those shorts that we love so much and also to plug itself.

One of the filler non-ads is Project Playtime.

The wiz kids at The Disney Channel have come up with little arts and crafts projects that cross-promote whatever DVD is being let out of The Vault (Lady and the Tramp, Cinderella, etc).

What cracks me up is that the voiceover always says, "With just a few basic household items you can make [insert craft project here]." Then, the voiceover goes on to say, "All you'll need is an old sock, yarn, pipe cleaners, buttons, markers, rubber bands, felt, wax paper, a glue gun, construction paper, ocean shells, cream of tartar, a live hamster and eagle feathers."

Seriously, the list is as long as a kid's arm, and they go way beyond "basic household items." I know that Disney is always going to be looking for new ways to plug old movies, but I think they need to get some more creative, industrious minds on Project Playtime.

Think MacGyver. Four items per project. Real basic household items like old dishrags, paper plates and newspapers. No glitter, paint, etc - not everyone has a closet full of craft supplies.

Friday, May 26, 2006


Feeling Good Indeed

Why is it that the Playhouse Disney shorts capture our attention so much?

This morning I was in the bathroom and I heard the theme music for something called 'Feeling Good with JoJo.' And then I heard JoJo say, "Hi! How are you? I'm JoJo. My pet lion Goliath and I are going to teach you how to do some things with your body that will make you feel good inside and out."

And I thought, Wow, Playhouse Disney is going to teach my kid to masturbate?

But, no. It turns out they were just teaching yoga moves!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


Network Ugh-gle

I know they're only part of the very good and enjoyable Breakfast with Bear, but the Wiggles get on my last nerve with their TV-network-themed show.

Greg, Anthony, Jeff and the forgettable guy were only mildly annoying the Wiggles-World-themed show, but Playhouse Disney's current offering - even though it's old news by Australia's standards - feels like a cross between the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

and that Brady Bunch episode where the kids sang in that talent show.

I don't like it, and I wish Playhouse Disney would just plug more Lola into the hour. Or better yet, more Bear!

Monday, May 22, 2006


Dan Zanes

I don't know where Genevieve and the Choo Choo Soul went, but I'm so much happier to see Dan Zanes getting a few minutes of air time on the Playhouse. Seriously, I don't know whether it's the kooky hair or the bright suits or the indie-video feel of the shorts, but he is pretty charming. And Petunia likes him, too.

This morning, we were treated to Catch That Train!, and it sounded like something Basil and I would listen to on our own, some lazy summer Saturday. It had almost a Van Morrison feel to it.

I think I see a new CD in our future.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Little Einsteins Redux

The Little Einsteins are a teeny bit yuppie for my taste, but I do like them on the whole. I especially like the fact that they expose Petunia to famous pieces of classical music, even if Annie's made-up lyrics are often pretty lame. (For good made-up lyrics, I recommend the Beethoven's Wig series.)

One of my PET PEEVES, however, is that they recycle music too much (in addition to having way more Gustav Klimp than any kid ever needs). Case in point: This morning, we were treated to 'I Love to Conduct' in which a bald eagle swoops in and steals Leo's baton. Their mission is to get the baton back, and the featured music is Edvard Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite No. 1, Morning Mood.

Terrific. Lovely piece of music. Annie actually has decent lyrics to this one. 'We lost our baton, yes, we lost our baton. Have you seen the bald eagle who took our baton?'

However, throughout the rest of the episode, the other movements from the Peer Gynt Suite No. 1 were used, including In the Hall of the Mountain King, Anitra's Dance and The Death of Ase.

Again, fine. Lovely little bits of music.

The problem is that the episode 'Dragon Kite' features In the Hall of the Moutain King and uses all the other movement from the Peer Gynt Suite No. 1. The same thing happens in 'Little Einsteins Halloween.' And the episode 'The Good Knight and the Bad Knight' also uses all the music from the Peer Gynt Suite No. 1.

And it's not just Grieg who gets replayed. Antonio Vivaldi's The Four Seasons: Spring gets double billing in 'The Incredible Shrinking Adventure' and 'O Yes, O Yes, It's Springtime.' Johannes Brahms' Hungarian Dance No. 5 is the centerpiece of both 'The Legend of the Golden Pyramid' and 'Hungarian Hiccups.'

Maybe I'm missing the point here. Maybe the Disney Channel wizzes are consciously using the same pieces of music over and over again so that they really get hammered home into their viewers' little brains. But it seems like the point of the show is to expose kids to lots of different pieces of music, by different composers and in different styles.

So mix it up already, Einsteins!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


Hooray for Lola!

Here's a confession: My favorite character on all of Playhouse Disney is Lola. She is delightful. I love how imaginative she is (she even has an imaginary friend named Soren Lorenson!),how she speaks with such certainty and authority about everything and how she uses lots of adverbs, like "absolutely, positively."

My favorite Lola episode by far was when she refused to take off her alligator costume.

Despite her big brother's embarassment, she wears it to the grocery store, the playground and in a school presentation. She is so unconcerned with what people think, and she has such wonderful confidence.

Her response is simply, "But I am an alligator, Charlie."

She can be a little difficult, and she gets into trouble sometimes and makes messes, but on the whole, she is wonderful. I hope my Petunia grows up to be just like her!

Monday, May 15, 2006


So-So Choo-Choo

The new Choo Choo Soul short did not do it for me this morning. Genevieve's rendition of Fly, Birdy, Fly, failed to capture my interest in the way 'Johnny and the Sprites' did when it first broke.

The musical style is not my favorite, but it was a new genre that hasn't been fully explored for use in child entertainment, so I'm willing to give that another try.

One big problem is that the animation was not very good, although the still on the official Choo Choo website looked promising. I also didn't like having some "live" children in the mix, and I say "live" because they were largely listless.

Let's go back in the studio with this. We either need 100% animated videos, or integrate Genevieve in with only animated elements (that is, get rid of the kids). If the latter, you are going to have to improve production value, so the interaction looks a little better. I got a definite Paula Abdul/Scat Cat 'Opposites Attract' impression, and I think you could build on that.

That said, Petunia seemed to really like it. Although she stared at it a little blankly and didn't get up to dance or do the motions, she became upset when it was over and the 'Little Einsteins' came on.

I need to fully explore my thoughts on the short features. 'Go Baby' ooks me out, particularly the disembodied hand and voice of the adult.

On the subject of Choo Choos, I would also highly recommend Buckwheat Zydeco's Choo Choo Boogaloo album.

Friday, May 12, 2006


Hot Dog

While it is uber-cool of The Disney Channel to get masterminds like They Might Be Giants to do theme song work ('Here in Higglytown' being the first offering), the downside is that the songs get STUCK IN MY HEAD.

After watching the new Mickey Mouse Clubhouse all the way through just one time, that 'Hot Dog, Hot Dog, Hot Diggity Dog' song has been playing in my head like a broken reco--wait, is that even a valid reference anymore?--a CD with a bad spot for nearly three days.

Thursday, May 11, 2006


I Respectfully Disagree

Higgly's in Space opens up a bunch of possibilities for new Heroes: Movie Star, Celebutante, Ninja, Vampire Hunter, Alaskan Crab Fisherman, or Al Gore.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Higglys Jumped the Shark

So we only caught the end of it this morning because it was a rare 25-minutes-on-one-storyline episode, but having Jane Kaczmarek as an astronaut who saves Fran the squirrel from being trapped on a rocket bound for the moon?

It was a pretty far cry from the garbage man, police dog, grandmother, grocery store clerk, librarian, ambulance driver, etc, who is usually the Higglytown Hero for the day.

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