The Current State of Children’s Entertainment

Here’s my review of what’s what for toddlers and parents on Netflix right now.

My wife’s going up for tenure in a couple of weeks, which means she’s staying busy getting everything together for that, in addition to teaching and doing some accreditation service work and other stuff. So, I’ve been watching our 13 -month-old daughter Cecelia a lot lately. Which I cherish every second of. I really feel bad for parents that have to leave their kids for the day to go to an office or wherever their off-site location may be on a long-term basis. They’re missing so much. Not just the chance to watch their kid develop at hyperspeed, but the opportunity to have a very big hand in raising them. These are the formative years, when foundational brickwork is laid. That’s pretty important.

Keeping a pipsqueak this age entertained is a tough gig, because their attention span is 1 second, they’re fickle, temperamental, unpredictable, and can’t speak. Plus we strive to incorporate some type of lesson into every activity, whether overt or not. That goes for her media as well, what there is of it. We spend time laying in bed together with a Netflix show on while she enjoys a bottle, and I’m usually coaxing her to take a nap. But I spend a lot of time finding what to have playing while we have our little bottle time because it’s an opportunity to learn.

Netflix has been pounding out the children’s shows, which is pretty smart. They’re serious money machines. By being timeless in that they’re usually animations that don’t have a lot of overhead, and once made, can yield returns indefinitely. The groups that are making these things has figured out how to make them cheaply/low-risk. And it has ruined a lot of kid’s shows, but at the same time it has fortunately given us a small handful that are pretty good. I feel like I’ve sifted through them all that are currently on Netflix. Fatherly has their best of list, which I dare say sucks, so here’s mine.

Here are my criteria for a show to kick back and watch with my daughter(She’s 1.):

I have to be able to stomach it, so it can’t have:

  • Elmo
  • Barbie
  • Non-stop liberal tree-hugging messages
  • Poor animation
  • Characters that are annoying beyond belief (Octonauts)
  • Irritating voiceovers (that may include the person or their voice)

Kate and Mim-Mim is a favorite of my daughters, and it’s one I recommend. There are two characters, Lily & Boomer, that I wish would die, but other than that, it’s a well-thought-through, creative, quality show. It’s one of the few shows left that feature humans. When humans are featured in cartoons, decisions have to be made in marketing as to skin color, ethnicity, etc…If it’s a robot, on the other hand…

Storybots is a new series that has accompanying apps and is a concept put together by the people at Jib-Jab. You should at least go set up an account and you can upload your kids’ faces and have stories and movies that star them. It’s really cool. It only has 6 episodes out, and we’ve played and replayed them a ton. This is going to be a big hit I believe and also be a big moneymaker. Nothing wrong with that. High-level creativity and hard work should be rewarded. It has accompanying apps for the iPad, which are fun to play with and will have your personalized bots there that you saved in your account.

Little Einsteins is a show that’s been around a while and is put out by Disney Junior, as is Kate & Mim-Mim. It features kids that go on little adventures. Each show is set to a theme of classical music and sponsored by a famous artist. It’s all music they’re going to have to learn in elementary school, anyway, and it’s a pretty fun show. Pro-tip: Pandora radio has a Little Einstein music channel.

Winnie the Pooh — One of the great things about being a parent is that you get to relive your childhood again. I always liked the drawing style of the Winnie the Pooh animations, and the stories were relatable because I lived on a bunch of woods and had little adventures like that when I was a boy, poking around in old logs and creating little worlds by the stream. And that the characters moved around on the actual page was cool to me as a kid. Still is. Disney controls the Pooh franchise now.

Puss in Boots: I think the official title is The Adventures of Puss in Boots, but whatever. This series is already a classic, along with the original. Apparently there was a Puss in Boots movie, which didn’t go so well. I never saw it. But this animated(cgi) series will draw you in. The storyline weaves linearly through the episodes, but each episode could stand on its own. I personally hate cats, although I own one, and watching the “adventures” of another one didn’t really sound tempting in the least. But I think one day in a panic to just get something one quickly I hit play, and I’m glad I did. PiB is made by Dreamworks, and the quality is top-notch. The writing is clever, genuinely funny and interesting, and not the mindless slock that many shows manage. The story lines are creative and adults would enjoy watching this series as much as anyone. And there are a ton of episodes. I’d recommend watching them sequentially. WARNING: Your inner voice will have a spanish conquistador accent for a few hours after watching this show. And possibly your outer voice.

Some of the shows that I steer clear of at all costs? Where to begin. Home is the first that comes to mind because it’s so stupid. It’s by Dreamworks as well, which goes to show they can’t all be home runs. If there was a Mystery Science Theater 3000 for kids, this would be on it. The cuttlefish character with the teeth is an abomination. The movie was so bad, they made a low-grade cartoon series out of it to pay homage to it’s craptacular style. Octonauts is another. Their attempt to diversify their cast is distracting, and as a southerner, I can’t take the contrived, stereotypical southern accent that’s slapped on one of the characters. Also, the preachy messages in some of the episodes I watched was overtly liberal. Teaching to share toys on the playground is one thing; teaching kids that man is evil because we build things and pollute is another. At times I felt like I was watching soviet-era children’s propaganda films, but everything was reversed.

Overall, most kid’s shows are crap. It’s a shame, because a lot of work goes into producing them. But the product fails on one level or another. Usually it’s because you can tell the movie or show was made by committee and it ends up not being very well-balanced. Or the animation style is unappealing. Or something else superficial but enough for me to boycott them for life. Like Puffin Rock has Puffins with Scottish accents. The way these movies are made today would be completely unrecognizeable to the movie-makers of 50 years ago.

Two movies that are worth the time are Room on the Broom and Minions 2. If you’re just into animation and goofy comedy, Hotel Transylvania 2 is surprisingly good, and I can’t stand Adam Sandler, so that should say something. WARNING: Your inner voice will have a vampire accent for several hours after watching this movie.

Originally published at Michael Musgrove.