Saturday, June 25, 2011

Handy Manny

Handy Manny is another show that will teach your child Spanish. The format is slightly different than Dora, in that Manny uses his Spanish in conversation, and then repeats exactly what what was said in English. Manny is also far less loud, demanding, and annoying than Dora too, so far more tolerable for parents.

We actually started watching Handy Manny while I was still in the hospital after having my son. At 36 hours old, my son wasn't super interested. But, having limited channels to choose from in the hospital, Disney seemed the most entertaining, and so Manny became a part of our family. As my son got older, Manny became a staple character. We have several of the toys already, and he squeals "It's Manny!" with joy when it comes on our TV. However, viewings of Handy Manny have become fewer and further between because of the reformatting of Playhouse Disney into Disney Junior. Disney Junior will soon be its own channel (slated for a 2012 introduction), so hopefully having a 24 hour lineup, Manny will reappear in our house more often.

Handy Manny is about a handy man, named Manny (obviously) who lives in a town called Sheetrock Hills (which I can only guess is somewhere on the West coast, since he can drive to the ocean and the desert). He is voiced by Wilmer Valderrama, aka Fez from That 70's Show, which is one of the things that drew me to him in the first place. Manny has a box of talking tools: Pat the hammer, Dusty the saw, Squeeze the pliers, Rusty the monkey wrench, Turner the flat head screwdriver, Phillipe the Philip's head screwdriver, Stretch the tape measure, and more recently Flicker the flashlight. Manny makes a point that while each tool has a special job to do, they must work together in order to get the job done "todos juntos". He is usually called up to fix something for someone in town, and the tools end up learning a lesson about themselves or working together while doing the repair.

Manny also has several neighbors whom he fixes things for and interacts with. Mr. Leonard Lopart has a candy shop next to Manny's repair shop on the town's main street. Some parents thing Mr. Lopart is a "little light in the loafers", as he is not married, dotes on his cat Fluffy like a child, and has a strange connection to his mother. I just think he's an overgrown momma's boy. Mr. Lopart refuses Manny's help most of the time, even when he's obviously in need of assistance from someone with opposable thumbs (i.e., not Fluffy).

Then there's Kelly, the owner of the local hardware store that, while in a tiny storefront, seemingly has everything you could possibly want from even a Walmart. Her endless stock even impresses the tools (and upsets Turner, as well it should!). As a parent, I'm hoping for the day Manny and Kelly get to go on a date. Neither is married and they obviously have a lot in common. Besides, they could have the biggest conglomerate in Sheetrock Hills in their wedlock. However, I don't think the makers of the show are on the same wavelength as us parents. Sigh.

We also see Manny's grandfather "Abuelito" a lot of the time. Abuelito has stories of Manny's childhood, as well as that of his sister Lola (who we also see a lot of, Manny is quite the awesome uncle to her two children). We don't know why Manny doesn't have a mother or father, as they are never mentioned even in discussions of Manny's upbringing. We see a photo of Manny's mother once, but that's it. He never talks about her.

Other characters include the town's Mayor Rosa (yes, a WOMAN in charge, people!), Jackie the city worker, Mr. Kumar the china shop owner, Sheldon the shoe salesman, Carmella the town artist, and countless others.

This show is animated and is shown on the Disney Channel during their Disney Junior segment in the mornings. Disney is a channel that is only available through cable or satellite providers, please check your local listings for times and channels. However, there are several full-length Manny features available on DVD and BluRay, so even if you don't get him on TV, you can still easily enjoy Manny at your family's leisure.

While the show is intended for younger audiences, I think it will have broader appeal up into the early elementary school years because Manny isn't a child himself, and the situations he gets into aren't childish either. Also, I don't think you'll have to worry if you only have daughters, because there are plenty of female characters in prominent roles to provide good models for girls as well.

What your child learns:

  • Cultural Education: Spanish language, Hispanic holidays and festivals, festivals and holidays celebrated by other cultures, Hispanic culture.
  • Problem solving: How to work together to complete a task, which tool to use for what job.
  • Social and Emotional Development: Caring for friends and neighbors, empathy, feelings, caring for the planet by saving energy and caring for nature.
  • Mathematics: Measuring and counting, quantity differences.
  • Tool education: What each tool is called and what it does, when to use a tool, and how to take care of them. This is also more extended in the Disney shorts "Handy Manny's School for Tools", in which more tools are introduced but are not present in the main program. 
While this isn't the most supremely educational program out there, I do like the simple lessons it teaches as far as caring about the world and people around you, as well as the delivery of the Spanish language throughout the show. There is very little "the Spanish word for... is..." and more conversational Spanish while repeating the same in English. I think that makes it easier for younger audiences who are still working on their primary language. Manny is calm and level-headed, so I think that sets a good example for children to not be as excitable during times when they must use their brains to solve a problem. Such a lesson was even the focus of an episode where Manny is stuck in an elevator without his tools, and he reminds them that in an emergency, being calm is the first and most important step.

As a parent watching, you're not going to be annoyed out of your wits (except perhaps by the whining of Rusty the wrench, who is voiced by the guy who played Ray Romano's whiny cousin on Everybody Loves Raymond, as well as countless other whiny roles across television that you'd recognize him from). For the most part, the characters speak at normal levels and are even-keeled.

Overall, I enjoy Manny, as well as his growing list of special full-length episodes. My son likes playing with the talking tool box and his Manny doll (yes, my son has a doll), and when we manage to catch the program, he watches intently. It's a win in our house. Now if only it wasn't on at ungodly hours of the morning so we could watch it...

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