October 16, 2011

When kids shows just miss the mark.

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.

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