August 09, 2005

enough with the sqeaking

I've been watching Disney Playhouse while I erg (because it's about the most intellectual stimulation I can handle at 5AM and while on the erg) and have realized a trend: it seems like a lot of the old standby kids' shows have added characters since my time, and they nearly all seem to be modeled on small childnre. (You can tell they're small children because they have high squeaky choices, though in my experience even toddlers are not uniformly squeaky in real life.) I'm a first generation Sesame Street kid, for example; I remember when Mr. Hooper was alive, Snuffleopagus was a mystery, and Oscar was orange (he turned green a few seasons in). Occasionally, Buffy St. Marie came on and sang folk songs. Back then, the focal Muppets, if I can call them that, were Kermit, Ernie, and Bert, with frequent appearances from Cookie Monster and Grover and occasional ones from Herry and other monsters. Those were still the main characters when my brother was watching the show, around the time Cookie Monster was wearing gold chains and singing "Disco Toothbrush. By the time I was old enough to babysit, Cookie Monster was doing rap, and Elmo had been added with a full range of toys for sale. Now I think they've added a new even squeakier girl Muppet. Similarly, I had both original and Disney versions of Pooh, but the latter were still based mostly on the former.

Now, on both the puppet and cartoon versions of Winnie the Pooh, they've added a squeaky little bluebird named Kessie - on an episde that must have been her first introduction, Rabbit adopted her as a baby bird who could barely talk. Now she has a full vocabulary and speaks in an infinitesimally lower register, but is still plainly a small child. (The cartoon Pooh, which is less uniformly cheery than the puppet version, also has a very funny grumpy old gopher gaffer who wears a miner's lamp and some annoying Heffalumps with Bronx accents who seem to have strayed over from a Bugs Bunny cartoon.) I dfon't really see why Kessie is needed; if children want a Very Small and timid animal to identify with, there's always Piglet - but they've lost the whole point that the Hundred-Aker Wood and its inhabitants are all in Christopher Robin's imagination. Who needs more to identify with than that?

Reputedly, Barbie was invented when a female Mattel exec realized that her own daughter preferred playing with older dolls, instead of babys. (Yes, I know, she was then based on the German Lili dolls, but those were for adults.) I think maybe the producers of kids' shows need to learn the Barbie lesson again. Kids like playing grown-up, or rather kid-appropriate versions thereof - pirates and princesses, parents and pioneers. That's how they learn. I'm not convinced they need a squeaky-voiced little-kid character in order to be able to identify with a story.

Posted by dichroic at August 9, 2005 11:13 AM

This is what TV/Movie executives do. They repeat the same mistakes over and over. Adding the little kid character is a definite sign of Jumping the Shark -- it's worked like maybe twice in all of TV/movie history. Yet, the executives continue to add the little kid because they figure that "everyone loves kids, right?"

Posted by: LenS at August 9, 2005 06:16 PM

That old gopher in Pooh always really irritated me! Why do they always want to mess with a good thing...

Posted by: ruthie at August 11, 2005 03:59 PM
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