Television

Cartoon cornucopia

NORA UNDERWOOD November 10 1997
Television

Cartoon cornucopia

NORA UNDERWOOD November 10 1997

Cartoon cornucopia

Television

NORA UNDERWOOD

Getting up early to watch the Saturday morning cartoons has been a childhood ritual for successive TV generations. In the early days of the

tube, a pantheon of animated actors, including Bugs Bunny, Donald Duck, Wile E. Coyote, Spider Man and Mighty Mouse, offered action, yuks and even doses of subversive humor—durable qualities that ensured that many of those characters still turn up regularly on television. Now, the creation of new specialty channels, such as Teletoon, has meant an exponential leap in the amount of animated fare beaming out from the screen. And much of it has been produced or co-produced by Canadian companies. Two in particular—Montreal-based Cinar and Toronto’s Nelvana Ltd.—have built world-class reputations; many others are doing excellent work. Some highlights:

The very youngest viewers will relate to Caillou (Teletoon, Mon., Wed., Fri., 10 a.m.; Tues., Thurs., 1 p.m.), the story of a fouryear-old and his adventures with his mother, father and baby sister, Rosie. Based on the

popular French-Canadian children’s books of the same name, this Cinar production chronicles such everyday events as a train ride or a visit to the zoo as seen through the wide eyes of an enthusiastic preschooler. The scenes are reassuringly familiar: Caillou, with a toddler’s big bald head and sup-

ple body, wriggles away as his mother applies sunscreen.

And each sequence includes just enough educational material—at the beach, Caillou learns about tides and starfish—to satisfy a threeto five-year-old’s curiosity without being didactic.

Fans of the fabulous Franklin books by Paulette

Bourgeois and Brenda Clark will not be disappointed by Nelvana’s series about the sixyear-old turtle and his friends (Family Channel, Mon., Fri., 8:30 a.m; Tues., Thurs., 10:30 a.m). The half-hour shows are faithful in look and content to the original stories, and touch on issues appropriate for an audience aged 3 to 7. Whether dealing with fear of the dark, telling fibs, or relationships with

New shows will animate toddlers and preteens

friends, Franklin puts a green, friendly face to a wide range of emotions typically experienced by that age group. Bruce Cockburn sings the charming theme song.

Less engaging is Cinar’s production of The Adventures of Paddington Bear (Teletoon, Mon., Wed., Fri., 1 p.m.; Tues.,

Thurs., 10 a.m.), based on the popular print series about a sweet-natured but daft duffelcoated bear whose attempts to help invariably cause problems. His antics have a lowkey slapstick quality that may endear him to some, but simply bore others—even the younger portion of the threeto seven-year-old audience at

which it is aimed. But perhaps a new generation—one that is not already sated on the adventures of this British bear—will find him wholly deserving of affection. And perhaps young viewers won’t find the 1960s sitcom-style music so grating, either.

Another vintage kids’ story that has been given life on television is Nelvana’s Pippi Longstocking (Teletoon, Mon., 8 p.m.;

Thurs., 7 p.m.; Sat., Sun., 11:30 a.m. and 7 p.m.), based on the series of books by Swedish writer Astrid Lindgren. Pippi is a red-braided, freckled nine-year-old who lives with only her horse and her monkey.

The fact that she intimidates bullies, ignores rude adults and has great adventures as a result of her fearlessness should appeal to kids—mainly fourto 10-year-olds—as much now as it did more than 50 years ago, when the first Pippi book was published.

At first, Kleo the Misfit Unicorn (Family Channel, Mon.-Fri., 9:30 a.m.) looks about as appealing as those pastel-colored, plastic ponies to which Kleo bears a close resemblance. But on closer inspection, the stories prove to be more sweet than sappy. Kleo, a winged unicorn, is put in charge of nottoo-subtly named Misfitland by a senior

unicorn, Talbut (Mickey Rooney). There, creatures who don’t feel they fit in can confront their fears and return home the better. Kleo and friends—which include a hippo with zebra stripes and a tree-dwelling fish—will appeal to those still open to Barney-like treacle. Parents will probably run for cover.

Several new series will likely snag the attention of older kids—and more than a few parents.

Among them is Nelvana’s Sam and Max (Global, Sat., 9 a.m.; YTV,

Thurs., 7 p.m.), based on Steve Purcell’s cult comic about a six-foot dog and a three-foot rabbit who call themselves “freelance police.” The show has the look and feel of a ’40s private-eye movie—all dark shadows and mean streets—but the dialogue is pure ’90s irony. The supporting cast includes a computer whiz known as The Geek, the obnoxious “friend for life” Lome and the Rubberpants Commandos—two toddling babies and a cynical chimpanzee. The writing is clever and the humor is more sophisticated than the average dog-and-bunny cartoon. Younger kids may not get the jokes or the irony, but they will like the stories for their action.

Billy the Cat (Family Channel, Tues, and Thurs., 6 p.m.; Sat. and Sun., 7 a.m.) is also based on a successful comic, this one from Belgium by Stephen Desberg and Stephane Colman. A production of Vancouver’s NOA Network of Animation, the series features a nasty little boy named Billy who joins his equally horrible friends in terrorizing neighborhood cats. One of the victims complains to his owner, a magician, who turns Billy into “just another stray.” Billy still talks tough,

and is always narrowly escaping disaster, but he is a great deal more amusing in his new Garfield-like form.

Another thoroughly modern Nelvana production is Ned’s Newt (Teletoon, Tues, and Thurs., 4:30 p.m.; Thurs., 8:30 p.m.; Sat. and Sun., 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.), the story of a seven-year-old boy who buys a sleepy-looking four-inch newt at a pet shop. When the newt gorges on Zippy Newt food, he is transformed into a fast-talking, wisecracking, 500lb. troublemaker. In his giant form, “Newton” helps Ned learn to solve his problems, wreaking a little havoc of his own along the way. But when he shrinks back to normal newt size, Ned is usually left as the fall guy. The show is aimed at kids between the ages of 6 and 11, and they will love it for the same reasons they loved Aladdin: the giant newt

morphs from one character to another, doing impressions and generally behaving— and sounding—exactly like Robin Williams’s Genie.

Cinar’s Animal Crackers (Teletoon, Mon., 6 p.m.; Wed., 7 p.m.; Thurs., 6:30 p.m.; Sat. and Sun., 1:30 p.m.) follows the everyday lives of a troupe of good-natured, kooky animals who hang out in the jungle. Lyle Lion, Eugene Elephant and the others behave a lot like people as they try to impress, befriend and fight with each other. The writing is sharp and the characters are amusing, but as the dialogue consists primarily of one-liners, it threatens to become tiresome.

Most of the new cartoons are like snappy sitcoms, but a few are evenly paced tales of adventure. One is Kassai and Luk (Teletoon, Mon.-Fri., 2:30 p.m.; Sat. and Sun., 6:30 p.m.), a show based on the writings of Senghor, the president of Senegal from 1960 to 1981. Itfocuses on aboy, Kassai, ahare, Luk, and Princess Maraña, who turns into a gazelle during the day, as they journey across Africa in search of Kassai’s parents

and the evil spirit who has cursed the princess. Teletoon has wisely slotted the series, which is co-produced by Ottawa-based Lacewood, into its preschool block early in the day. An older audience might lose patience with the pace of the simple stories and could well find both the background music and characters’ voices—which sound like English dubs of martial-arts movies— annoying.

Despite its terrible theme song, Cinar’s Ivanhoe (Teletoon, Tues., 8 p.m.) is a real winner. The series about King Richard’s trusted knight is not flashy or high-tech, but it retains the spirit of high adventure and valor of the Sir Walter Scott work on which it is based. And there are plenty of knights in armor and sword fights, as well as a hunk of a hero, an evil king and much sinister laugh-

ter—perfect ingredients for a kids’ show.

Dreadful music plagues Red Beard (Teletoon, Tues., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.), too, but the show— a co-production of Montreal-based MediaToon and a European company, Medver International—manages to succeed in spite of it. Like Ivanhoe, Red Beard is aimed at an older audience, so the adventures—in this case, on the high seas—are more complex. And there is a love interest, too: Red Beard’s adopted son, Eric, who is trying to regain his aristocratic birthright, is sweet on Constance, the perfect gal be-

cause she is smart and beautiful, but she can act like a pirate, too. Three-dimensional, computer-generated sequences of waves and rain, however, add an unnecessary hightech and, occasionally, jarring look to an otherwise straightforward show.

Of course, there has to be one show that drives parents to distraction. This season’s winner of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Award goes to Donkey Kong Country (Teletoon, Mon., Wed., Fri., 4:30 p.m.; Tues., 7:30 p.m.; Sat. and Sun., 9:30 a.m.), a Nelvana production based on a Nintendo video game and aimed at sixto 10-yearolds. Characters with names like Funky, Crusher and Inkadinkadoo look and move as if they came straight out of a video game. The dialogue rarely rises above such statements as “Whoa, lookin’ like road kill now, baby,” and most of the story lines are nonsensical. With its echoes of the maddening mutant turtles, Donkey Kong Country is like a bad ’80s flashback—and the kids will probably love every second of it. □