When kids shows just miss the mark.

by , under entertainment, Mom, personal, television

I have no voice today. My fabulous mother-in-law took the Oldest Kidlet to his best friend’s birthday party, so I’m sitting here watching TV with the Little Kidlet.

We’re watching one of his favorites, Dino Dan, which airs on Nick Jr.

For those unfamiliar, Dino Dan is a Canadian show about a little boy named Dan. His father (never seen) is a paleontologist, his mother is a police officer, and he is the dinosaur boy.

You know him. You might have been him- there’s always one in a class. The little boy that’s obsessed with dinosaurs and knows everything about them. No matter what you try to talk about, they find a way to link it to dinosaurs.

That’s Dan. And because this is a show about him, his classmates tolerate him and even think he’s cool.

But there’s a problem. You see, Dan doesn’t just know everything about dinosaurs- he sees them all around Toronto. The show commits itself to having Dan believe this, even convincing his best friend it’s real. But nobody else believes him, and there are hints all around that it is Dan’s imagination. What could have been a very entertaining show about the power of imagination instead feels more like a little boy who is so desperate for his father that he creates the one scenario that’s guaranteed to bring him home- real dinosaurs.

Curiously, I’m watching an episode of Dino Dan that might just be my favorite. Dan goes to visit his friend Cory, who has built a time machine with his Dad- out of cardboard and pie pans. They’re clearly playing, and Dan eagerly joins in, narrating an adventure for them so that they (Time Traveler Cory and his Robot D-A-D) can travel back in time to see a T-Rex. It turns into a cartoon segment, and is education and fun. In the end of the episode, Cory tells Dan it was a great story and invites him to join them for another one. Lots of imaginative fun.

But it highlights just how far off the mark the series usually is. Is it too much to ask for the show to not be so earnest about the dinos?

When I was a kid, the big storyline on Sesame Street was Big Bird and his friend Snuffleupagus. You see, Snuffy might have been Big Bird’s imaginary friend- or he might have just been really shy. This went on for awhile, but the people at Sesame Street Workshop realized that it’d be bad to put Big Bird in a situation where adults wouldn’t believe him (which would make kids think that adults might not believe them) so Snuffy was revealed to be one shy Snuffleupagus.

Odd then that the people behind Dino Dan would have opted to create a show that other parents have described as a mix between Jurassic Park and a Beautiful Mind.

Somehow these days, it’s easy for kids shows to miss the mark when it comes to dinosaurs. Look at Dinosaur Train, which has the mindboggling premise of a dinosaur family that visits the various ages of dinos on a time-traveling train. If you can get past that, the show falls into so many annoying traps that it’s hard to enjoy. Buddy (the adopted T-Rex) and Tiny (his Pteranodon sister) are overly precious- speaking in sing-song unison to greet adults. Not only that, it makes you wonder- how do dinosaurs that invented time-travel die off? Why is the dinosaur train the only real invention they have- other than a few articles of clothing? They treat fossils of dinosaurs so casually, do they ever have Yorick moments, wondering if that fossil they found might have been a friend they only saw just the other day?

I suppose it bothers me that time travel is treated so cavalierly. Though not as much as it bothers me that my kids love this show. Oh, well.

  • Dana K

    I do not like Dino Dan at all. You bring up some good reasons for me to use for not liking it. I had a very active imagination but I wasn’t desperate to make my imaginary world real…unlike Dan.

  • http://www.whitneydrake.com Whitney Drake

    I had a very active imagination as a kid, too.  And honestly, as much time as my sister and I spent in our games- we knew it wasn’t real.  I was a science geek and the one think I knew from early on was that animals that aren’t around now usually have a good reason for not being around now- climate changes, etc.

    I can’t wait until there’s a better dinosaur show out there, because my youngest REALLY likes dinosaurs.

    Thanks for commenting!  :)

  • http://twitter.com/difbutdeterm Jen

    Dino Dan always made me uneasy. I never liked it but couldn’t really put my finger on why. Now I understand. It makes me uncomfortable that he takes his imaginative play so seriously. As an adult, seeing Dino Dan from this perspective does give it a weird vibe, kids don’t get that though.

    On the other hand, how is cartoon dinos on a time-traveling train any worse than a giant yellow bird that talks to little monsters? Of these, being that one is a cartoon, I’m more uneasy about Sesame Street than Dinosaur Train.

    Looking at them from this perspective; any show that is live action (with puppets or with CGI) is creepier and hits way off the mark, while cartoons are nothing but entertainment.

  • http://www.whitneydrake.com Whitney Drake

    Well, I grew up with Sesame Street.  Since I knew what puppets were, I knew that Big Bird wasn’t a real bird- that never bothered me.  And at least they teach you the alphabet.

    Now on the other hand, I dislike Elmo intensely.

  • http://www.theoccludedfront.com Kristin

    Dino Dan has always rubbed me the wrong way. I know that children’s shows set out to promote an anti-bullying message, and to accept people for who they are, but did they really have to make Dan so overbearing? In the “real world” people wouldn’t so much bully this kid, but he’d certainly have everyone rolling their eyes and ignoring him the minute he mentions dinosaurs too often. 

    I’ve seen other posts on this show describing Dan as having serious mental issues. While I think that is a little far fetched (as it’s a fictional show), I do wonder why the writers created the character of Dan to exhibit behaviors indicative of a mental disorder. 

    In addition to all of that, the show is just badly done as a whole. Bad acting, awkward pauses, and uncomfortable silences. It often makes me uncomfortable when I watch it, you can cut the awkwardness between the actors with a very large knife.

  • http://www.whitneydrake.com Whitney Drake

    Thanks for commenting-  it’s one thing to have kids accept Dan, but they treat him like a rock star for suggesting that it was the dino of the day who caused a problem.

    I certainly don’t really think that Dan has a mental problem- but in trying to walk the line of making you wonder if it’s his imagination (which they’ve said in numerous interviews that they want you to wonder), they set it up where he does seem completely in denial.  And honestly, I have encouraged imaginative play with both my boys- but they understand that there is a line between real and imagination.

    It is pretty badly done.  The kids aren’t anything special, acting-wise (Trek especially) and if it weren’t for Andrea Martin, I would probably never actually pay attention to any of the show.
    I find it’s really bad when I was in some small budget acting productions as a kid, and they were better put together than this!