Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Review: Being Elmo

I don't normally do this here on the TV Mom blog, but I have to... HAVE to... let you parents out there know just how incredible this documentary is!

Being Elmo is a documentary about Kevin Clash, the voice (and arms!) behind one of the most famous muppets. It takes you through Kevin's childhood interest in puppets, on his whirlwind journey to meet Jim Henson, and into his career as a "muppeteer". There are interviews with Mr. and Mrs. Clash (Kevin's parents), his siblings, various producers and mentors, Frank Oz, and of course, Kevin himself.

Stuffed with behind-the-scenes pictures and video, this documentary visits the sets of Kevin's various career stops, including Captain Kangaroo, The Great Space Coaster, and even Labyrinth. Of course there is plenty about Kevin's involvement on Sesame Street too.

I can't say enough good things about this film. Kevin is one of the most truly genuine "celebrities" out there, and this film delves deep into his character (by which I mean both his puppet characters and his own personal character).

Let me warn you... when he talks about the Make A Wish kids coming onto the set to meet Elmo, you're going to need tissues. TEARS! Wow!

I was lucky enough to be able to borrow the DVD from my local library, but I know Being Elmo is available on Netflix streaming right now too, as well as an iTunes download (click on the link at the top of this review for links to the digital versions as well as places where you can buy the DVD). This is probably going to be one I go out and buy (which is rare for me and documentaries that aren't about Star Wars). It's so powerful, so moving, and so downright inspiring, that I want to be able to watch it several more times, and at different stages of my own son's life. It's just incredible to watch a young kid have a dream and be able to realize it before he's even out of high school. I hope my son has a fraction of that success with his dreams and ambitions!

Kevin Clash has officially made my "List of Famous People I'd Like to Have Dinner With and/or Meet Someday". He's such an inspiration, not only for African American kids with a dream, but ALL kids.

Definitely do yourself a favor and find this film. You will NOT regret it! Watch it alone, watch it with your kids, watch it several times! All these film festivals are not wrong!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Jake and the Neverland Pirates

Image Courtesy Disney Junior©
Peter Pan fans, this is a show for you! Jake and the Neverland Pirates is one of Disney Junior's new programs, their first after the switch from the Playhouse Disney setup. Jake and his pirate friends sail around the seas of Neverland solving "Pirate Problems" and collecting gold dubloons for their efforts, and learn some great little lessons along the way. Disney has dreamed up new characters to inhabit the Neverland world that Peter and Wendy loved so dearly.

The main cast consists of (from right to left) Jake, Izzy, Cubby, and Skully the parrot, along with Captain Hook, Smee, and that croc with the ticking clock in his belly. Fun fact: Skully the parrot is voiced by David Arquette (as in used-to-be-married-to-Courteney-Cox David Arquette). Each of the members of Jake's crew has a special pirate piece of equipment: Jake has his trusty wooden sword from Peter Pan himself, Izzy has a pouch of pixie dust--which she reminds viewers is special and only for emergencies--given to her by the fairies of Neverland, and Cubby has a special map of Neverland.

Each episode begins with Jake and his crew asking the viewer to say the Pirate Password, "Yo ho ho!". Any little pirate in your home will happily oblige, I'm sure. The program has other instances of question-answer format, in which the characters ask the viewer a question and pause for a response. Some of their pauses are a little long for a parent's taste, but kids will love being able to shout out their answers at the television. At the end of each episode, the crew sings a song about counting the dubloons they found during the program, and encourage the kids to count along with them to put them in their treasure chest. It's Disney, and in typical Disney fashion, there is a lot of singing--some done by the characters on the show, and some done by two live-action guys in pirate outfits (akin to those on Captain Hook's crew, and oddly enough, they bear a striking resemblance). The songs are catchy and, above all, short. Any parent will like that!

In this program, Captain Hook isn't nearly as despicable as he is in the Pan films, but he does still have a naughty streak about him. He likes to take things from Jake and the crew. There are lots of misunderstandings between the two crews that make for fun viewing. Hook is slightly more demanding in this program too, although he always was the egotistical leader in the Pan films. Many times, the two crews meet up and work together to solve big problems (such as finding Mr. Smee's pet chameleon Blinky).

Jake and the Neverland Pirates airs on both the Disney Junior channel and the regular Disney channel during their Disney Junior block of programming. These channels are available through cable and satellite providers, so please check your local listings for channel numbers and airing times. There are also episodes on Disney Junior On Demand, and a "full length" (hour long) feature available on DVD in which Peter Pan returns to Neverland. 

What your child learns:
  • Logic: Solving problems using given information, answering questions. 
  • Counting: Counting dubloons to put in the treasure chest.
  • Social and Emotional Development: Being helpful, being a good friend, sharing, and being kind to others.
As a parent watching, you might find amusement in the antics of Smee and Captain Hook, and the animation is adorable. It has enough cartoonish humor to keep you from being too annoyed. There are also lots of cute catchy songs to sing along with, and it's always fun to encourage your child to help the characters solve problems. The program doesn't tout itself as being overtly educational, but your child won't walk away empty handed for certain. It also doesn't come off as preachy, which is important for keeping the kiddos' attention.

Age ranges for this program are going to be from early preschool years through about second or third grade, maybe longer if your child is a pirate fanatic. Younger toddlers will probably enjoy the bright happy characters and the music as well.

Image Courtesy Disney Junior©
Now, something fun I get to do with this post is talk about their upcoming Mother's Day special and share some exclusive previews! Captain Hook's mother, Mama Hook, pays the Captain and his crew a visit. Fun fact: Mama Hook is voiced by none other than Sharon Osbourne. (I think she is downright perfect for the part. Heck, she's had to deal with Ozzy's shenanigans for easily three decades now, I think she could easily handle a self-absorbed pirate!) Another fun fact... apparently we get to learn the Captain's full name...

Leave it to a mother to "full name" her son in front of his entire pirate crew! Of course, good old Hook doesn't seem to be bothered by the fact that his crew is snickering behind his back.

Image Courtesy Disney Junior©
During this episode, Mama Hook finds out that her son isn't being very nice to Jake and his friends, and "teaches him a lesson about sharing."

This episode is perfect for sitting down with Mom and Grandma to learn a lesson about being kind, and show kids that you're never too old or too important to love your mom! This special episode will air during Disney Junior's Mother's Day weekend, on Saturday, May 12th at 8:30 Eastern and Pacific times. Be sure to set your DVRs for this one, folks!

And of course, Happy Mother's Day to all my mommy readers! To celebrate, claim the remote this weekend, and watch what YOU want. :)

Saturday, May 5, 2012

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic

Image courtesy The Hub (source)
Anyone who was a child of the 80's knows My Little Pony. But this isn't your old MLP with Megan and lots of pink. This one is SO much more awesome. Welcome to My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, brought to you by the same animation studio as Dexter's Laboratory and PowerPuff Girls (both of mid-90's Cartoon Network fame).

The main pony cast consists of (from left to right):

Twilight Sparkle. A unicorn, she is a student of Princess Celestia (not pictured above), tasked with learning about friendship in Ponyville and reporting back through letters written by her pet dragon Spike.

Rarity. A unicorn, but she doesn't possess any magical powers other than knowing how to accessorize an outfit perfectly. She doesn't like to get dirty, and is one of the few ponies spotted wearing clothes.

Applejack. A country gal pony, she lives on a farm with an apple orchard, and speaks with a Southern twang. She is fearless and kind of tomboyish.

Pinkie Pie. A pony that needs no caffeine to be full of energy and happiness. She loves to throw parties for any reason she can find, and is always joyful and positive. She is a stark contrast to her dreary gray upbringing by an almost Amish pony family.

Fluttershy. A pegasus, she is soft spoken and, well, shy. Her talent is talking to animals and caring for nature.

Rainbow Dash. Also a pegasus, she is boisterous and loves to fly fast. She holds the record for fastest pegasus in Ponyville.

Image courtesy The Hub (source: see above)
There are tons of other commonly occurring pony characters, most notably Princess Celestia. She is the ruler of Equestria, in which Ponyville lies. She has a sister named Nightmare Moon, who was once evil, but now is just socially inept because she was trapped in a statue for so long. Princess Celestia is a pegasus unicorn, and very magical. She also has a great sense of humor and can be laid back when she wants to be. She has a pet phoenix as well, who gave poor Twilight Sparkle a fright while she was bird-sitting... apparently phoenixes molt. Amusing.

Something interesting about this program is that it has an interesting fan base that refer to themselves as "Brony" (bro-nee). These fans are generally male, in their late teens to early thirties, and enjoy watching MLP:FiM. My son, who is only almost 3, is also a hardcore Brony. I'm totally cool with this, as my go-to toy in the 80's was MLP. I still have several of them, and my son's collection has grown to three of his own. Being a mom of a boy, I was always kind of remiss that I wouldn't ever get to share my favorite childhood things with my kid, but MLP:FiM changed that for me. We can play ponies, and be totally hardcore doing it. Way cool.
The Brony Pony I made for my son using this awesome pony creator

Each episode usually ends with Twilight Sparkle writing her letter to Princess Celestia regarding what she learned about friendship, normally things like "it's okay to be proud of your talents". (You can find all the friendship lessons at the MLP wiki.) These lessons are pretty much the only "education" going on in this program. As far as cartoons go, this is probably the first non-educational one I've reviewed. So parents who are dead set on their child viewing only educational programming, this one probably isn't for you. This is more of the "fun Saturday morning cartoon" variety. With that said, however, it's not violent, and it is amusing to watch even as an adult. That said, I'm not going to include a "What your child learns" section in this article. They learn to be a good friend. The end.

This show airs on the Hub network, which is available through cable or satellite providers, so check local listings for channel and show times.

Age ranges for this show are going to be really broad. Pretty much, most ages will enjoy this show. Maybe Grandpa will be annoyed with it, but I'm almost positive there is something for everyone 40 and under. It really is an enjoyable and amusing show, perfect for family time in jammies with bowls of cereal on a weekend morning. My husband and I are almost thirty, and we both enjoy it just as much as (if not more than) our son does. Girls are going to be drawn to it for obvious reasons... "Ponies! Sparkles! Magic! Cuteness!", but parents of boys, don't freak out if your son loves it too. Remember, being a Brony is a cool thing!

I highly recommend checking out MLP:FiM. It's definitely one of my favorite cartoons on the air right now. My son enjoys it. My husband enjoys it. And for the geeks out there, there are tons of awesome pony mash-ups (my favorite is the MLP Dr. Horrible one... youtube it. Trust me, you won't be disappointed.) Even more information can be found at the MLP wiki, which is run by some super awesome fans. It's a great family program and a fun watch.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Doc McStuffins

Image courtesy DisneyJunior.com (source)
Welcome to the first of the new Disney Junior shows that will be covered here on TV Mom!

Doc McStuffins is a really novel new program, although the initial premise of talking toys may sound familiar to Disney fans. This program follows a six year old little girl named Doc (short for... Dottie. Yes, really.) -- Talk about parents naming their kid for what they want them to grow up to be, eh? -- who takes her moniker very seriously. She is a doctor to toys and stuffed animals who have boo boos or illnesses.

Each episode depicts a toy with an "illness" or a "boo boo", and it walks them through their diagnosis and doctor visit, and ends with the toy singing the "I Feel Better" song. Doc likes to log her various toy maladies in her Big Book of Boo Boos, by drawing what happened to the toy and giving it a funny name like "Left on the right-itis" (for a toy who had his legs put on backwards after they fell off). There are lots of other songs for various things, and another recurring song entitled "Time For Your Checkup" in which Doc tells the toy all of the procedures she must do to make sure they are healthy.

This show is great for a number of reasons. First, the main character is an African American female in a powerful role of a physician. This is something that has been missing from pretty much all television, and Disney has definitely capitalized on that absence. Doc really gives girls someone to look up to other than a puffy pink princess who needs a prince to rescue her, and African American girls have a strong intelligent role model that they can relate to specifically.

Another interesting note in this category is that Mrs. McStuffins, Doc's mom, is actually a physician herself, which is part of why Doc aspires to be a doctor. Two strong African American females in this family! Doc is even voiced by a real young African American actress, Kira Muhammad, which I'm super glad about. (Honestly, nothing bugs me more than having a white person voice an African American character.)

Even cooler, Doc's DAD is the one who stays home with her and her younger brother Donny. That is a market that children's programming (heck, ALL programming!) seems to miss entirely. Stay at Home Dads, this one is for you!

Second, this show helps children to understand what happens in a doctor's office and visit, making them feel at ease with procedures such as getting their ears, eyes, and blood pressure checked. Also, it's great for showing kids that it's okay to be afraid when you are hurt, but that doctors help take the pain away. Several of the episodes I have viewed show the toys having apprehension at first, but the other toys and Doc herself all do their best to put them at ease. This is something else that is unprecedented in children's television as far as whole episodes and different situations under which a doctor visit is required, for injury and illness as well as just routine checkups.

Doc has her own crew of main talking stuffed animal and toy characters. There is a nurse hippo named Hallie, voiced by Loretta Devine, who you might recognize from various television roles including a part in Boston Legal, the secretary Patty from ABC's one-season lawyer series Eli Stone, or Adele Webber from Grey's Anatomy. There is a snowman named Chilly, voiced by a popular character actor Jess Harnell, whose voice-over credits include Wakko Warner from Animaniacs and Secret Squirrel on Two Stupid Dogs. There is a stuffed lamb with jingle bells in her feet named Lamby, who loves to give cuddles to everyone, voiced by Lara Jill Miller, who also voices Widget on Wow Wow Wubbzy (although thankfully she's not NEARLY as obnoxious on this program!). Finally, there is Stuffy the Dragon, who is voiced by Robbie Rist... a name very few would know... unless you remember cousin Oliver from the Brady Bunch. Yeah, same guy! He's also the voice of Michaelangelo the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle in the movies from the late 80's/early 90's. Quite the cast if you ask me! They even have already taken to having guest voices, most notably Modern Family's Ty Burrell as a daddy Jack-in-the-box whose son Jack-in-the-box can't pop out properly.

This program airs on the new Disney Junior channel, as well as during the Disney Junior block on the regular Disney Channel. Check your local listings to see if Disney Junior channel is offered in your area through your cable or satellite provider, as it is fairly new (it has only been on the air since mid-March), but you can always set your DVR for it on the regular channel as well!

What your child learns:
  • What to expect from doctor visits for situations of injury, illness, or even just routine checkups. They learn what each test is for and why the doctor needs to use it, in gentle language that is familiar to them.
  • Social and Emotional Development: Caring for friends, encouraging others, calming fears, allowing children to recognize and feel emotions such as fear and uncertainty.
  • Logical reasoning: Taking pieces of information and putting them together to solve a problem (or make a diagnosis).
As a parent watching, you won't be overly bored. The dialog isn't too slow, and the characters are cute and amusing. There are plenty of fun songs to encourage your child to sing. It's also a great tool to use in advance of a doctor visit, to help open up a dialog with your child about what will happen and how they feel about it. Kids are also going to hear good advice about being safe, eating healthy, exercising, grooming, and proper rest, all things a kid is much more likely to absorb coming from a singing animated stuffed dragon than boring old Mom.

Age ranges for this program will vary from early preschool years to probably third or fourth graders. I think kids much older than that will think that the program is a little beneath them, but I do think that younger toddler aged kiddos will enjoy the fun characters and songs.

Overall, it's not a super educational program, but it is great for making kids feel better about visiting the doctor, something that every mother knows and has to deal with. As I've said, the characters are cute and the songs aren't obnoxious, which makes for decent watch-ability. Kids will enjoy it, girls will enjoy having a great role model, and parents will like how it opens communication about something that all kids have to endure and may not be super keen on. My son likes it, so it's a keeper in our book!