6 animated kid’s shows I’ll sit and watch myself

Here are six animated shows my kids are always happy to watch. Not only do I not object, I’ll sit and watch it with them, because they’re genuinely entertaining, and the creators knew what they were about. We get our TV through DVDs, or by streaming Netflix or Amazon Prime.

Shaun the Sheep

Shaun the Sheep belongs in a category with The Three Stooges, The Marx Brothers, and the heyday of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. Miraculously evocative stop-motion animation by Aardman, the folks who made Wallace and Gromit, it serves up the clever and ridiculous adventures of a band of thrill-seeking, British sheep who never get tired of outwitting (and sometimes colluding with) poor Bitzer, the faithful, scrupulous working dog, who, with his knit cap, his terry cloth wristband, and his everlasting to-do list, manages the farm and fruitlessly strives to please the irascible farmer. There’s always a mild rebellion afoot, mainly consisting in eating all the pastries, ordering pizza, and putting underwear on their head.

In this episode, Bitzer loses control of a bottle of glue:

There’s plenty of pure slapstick (complete with special theme music for those times when you’re getting beat up by pigs, and those times when you’re balancing on top of a runaway rolling object) and well-conceived stock characters (the winsome lamb Timmy; the ponderously ravenous Shirley; the trio of malicious pigs; the dreaded visiting niece; some unnervingly canny crows, and the occasional curious alien); but the show also allows itself some fleeting peeks into the characters’ interior lives. In one animated filler between episodes, Bitzer in human mode throws a stick, and then, becoming pure dog, bounds after it. And then he tries to take it away from himself, but growls and resists, because he is a dog. Brilliant, impeccably crafted, immensely satisfying. No words, but the sheep bleat, Bitzer whimpers and barks, and the farmer mumbles, rants, and hollers their way through unmistakable dialogue.

Four seasons, originally on CBBC, available on Amazon Prime.

***

Puffin Rock

Just a little lullabye of a show. There’s a tiny paradise on Puffin Rock, a wild island off the coast of Ireland, where the puffins, little Oona and her baby brother Baba, explore their little world, make friends, have some mild adventures, and always end up safe and happy. Here’s a taste:

Narrated by the cozy, corduroy voice of Chris O’Dowd (Roy of The IT Crowd), the show is pretty and atmospheric, giving you the sense you’ve put your head out the window to feel the breeze and smell the salt air. Gentle and lovely, with child voice acting that doesn’t grate or irritate.

Two seasons, 26 episodes, available for streaming on Netflix.

***

Ronja the Robber’s Daughter

Amazon Prime original series. We’ve seen the first two episodes of this new Studio Ghibli anime series (released January 2017), set in Medieval Scandanavia(ish), based on a 1981 book by Pippi Longstocking author Astrid Lindgren, and directed by Goro(son of Hayao) Miyazaki, narrated by Gillian Anderson.

I’m into it so far, with some reservations. Unlike my kids, I’m not a huge anime fan, but the ickier aspects (some sentimentality around children, weird pacing, sometimes jerkily animated facial expressions) aren’t overwhelming in this show. The animation is mixed, sometimes blocky, sometimes brilliant; some of the watercolored scenes are gorgeously atmospheric, and the sound effects go a long way to creating an arresting, believable world. It’s offbeat and funny enough that I’m invested in watching the rest of the series.

I just about died watching the robber and his band of toothless, muscled henchmen trying to coax their adored baby girl to eat her cereal; and I got a real chill from the harpies swirling around the castle while the mother labors to give birth to Ronja. Here’s that scene (not in English, though, sorry! The Netflix series is dubbed into English):

The mother is a huge pain in the neck, and I hope she gets taken down a few pegs, or just fades out of the story. Looking forward to getting back to this show.

***

Pingu

Sweet and hilarious adventures of a penguin named Pingu, his baby sister Pinga, his erratic friend the seal, his affectionate but stodgy father, and his loving but harried penguin mother. The show is done in appealingly fingerprinty claymation, and the dialogue is inspired gibberish. Pingu acts exactly like every little boy I’ve ever met. He has spectacular ideas that backfire on him; he tries to evade his pesky little sister, but deep down he loves her passionately; and when he’s bored, he just staggers around making noise and hitting stuff.

He does dumb stuff and then repents, and his parents bug out and then forgive him. Real, warm family and community relationships played out deftly without sentimentality. Entertaining and endearing.

160 five-minute episodes (1986 to 2000), originally from Switzerland, now available on Amazon Prime

***

Batman: The Animated Series

A lovingly-designed homage to 1940’s noir, a complete feast for the eyes, with real suspense and actual stories. The creators of this series put together a “writer’s bible”, including guidelines like “The humor in our version of Batman should arise naturally from the larger than life characters and never tongue-in-cheek campiness … Dry lines in tough situations and occasional comments about the outlandishness of costumed villains is certainly within the realistic context of our vision of Batman.” And the Joker makes jokes, but he is scary.

No Robin, no partnering with the police, no origin stories. Batman is grim and strong, and doesn’t lean too much on gadgets. When it’s funny, it’s really pretty funny (as in “Almost Got ‘Im”). Each episode has three acts, with a set-up, story development and increased tension, and then climax and resolution. Did I mention how it looks? It looks so good. I’ll share the opening sequence, because it’s a work of love and captures the show so well.

This show, true to its style, includes truly sinister people, nail-biters and cliff hangers, and female characters in skin-tight clothes, so caveat viewer. If you watch any animated Batman, let it be this one.

Five seasons, (1992-1995), now available on Amazon Prime

***

Sarah and Duck

This British animated show is made by people who really, really remember what it’s like to be a six-year-old. The matter-of-fact Sarah, a polite problem-solver, is accompanied by her slightly less patient friend, Duck, as they navigate adventures like becoming queen of the ducks, cheering up friends, going for a ride on the sea bus, and baking with ingredients that talk back.

The simple, big-headed characters came straight off your kid’s artwork on his fridge; and the plot lines and characters will ring true to anyone who’s listened to an imaginative kid tell a story. Weird and charming, devoid of sassiness and preching, it gives a very relatable model of considerate friendship. In this clip, Sarah and Duck fill in for the Bread Man:

Character include the daft scarf lady and her long-suffering handbag, a family of squeaky, cheerful shallots, and the moon. The music is also top notch.

Two seasons, originally on CBeebies, available for streaming on Netflix.

***

Next time: Shows that I will watch with half an eyeball while I’m working, and that I won’t mind too much if my kids watch.

 

 

12 thoughts on “6 animated kid’s shows I’ll sit and watch myself”

  1. And I’m embarrassed to admit it–but I love Barbie’s Life in the Dreamhouse, which you can find on Netflix. It is a hilarious send-up of Barbieness and the teens in this house love it but it might not be good for little ones who don’t get the satire.

    Ken: “My Barbie sense is tingling! Either she needs a coaster for her beverage, or Barbie’s in danger!”

  2. Shaun the Sheep – did you know that little Timmy has his own spinoff show as well?

    Sarah and Duck – also a 3-year-old favorite. Beautiful in it’s simplicity. A girl and her duck.

    Speaking of British shows, have you heard of Pocoyo? Voiced by Steven Fry. It’s fantastic.

  3. My favorite thing about B:tAS is that Batman is so *kind.* In light of all the grim sociopathy of Zak Snyder’s Batman (and, well, everyone else in Zak Snyder’s vision), the B:tAS version of Batman really is the perfect hero: unflinching in doing his duties to stop evil, but showing mercy and compassion to his broken rogues’ gallery. He gets that there’s an alternate reality not too far from this one where he’s a villain, and that allows him to show empathy. (See, for instance, the end of Baby Doll. Is there another version of Batman that would have given her a hug here? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUtLTxBYZHw) I also love that Bruce Wayne is such a philanthropist; there’s a throwaway reference in one episode to him having a prison outreach program to reduce recidivism, because of course he does.

    I also love the way that evil is treated in B:tAS. With a few notable exceptions like the Joker, the villains are tragic and pitiable–but they’re WRONG. We feel empathize with Mr. Freeze. We profoundly wish that Two-Face’s life had been different. We kind of want to reach through the screen and give the Mad Hatter a hug. But we never, ever want them to win, and we never believe that their villainous actions are justified. It lets you understand the villains’ motivations without ever straying into sympathy for the devil, and that’s darned hard to do.

    1. Rachel K, I couldn’t have said it better myself! Thankfully, this exact portrayal of Batman is continued in the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited series, particularly his connection with traumatized children.

  4. The Batman series is A GIFT. Beautiful, exquisitely crafted, and as fine a piece of serial animation ever originated (if not animated) in the United States! If you like B:TAS, then I strongly recommend Disney’s Gargoyles series! (Or at least the first two seasons…) Gorgeous animation, terrific voice acting, great character development, intelligent storylines, massively intricate story arcs AND ALL THE SHAKESPEARE REFERENCES!!! 11/10 would recommend!

  5. I love “Ronia” so much, I’m hesitant to watch it. The book is so perfectly done and is pretty much JPII’s ToB reflections on “my sister, my bride” in story form.
    But we’ll be checking out Pingu and Shaun!

  6. Judging from this list, here’s something else you’d like: “Fables of the Green Forest,” based on the Thornton Burgess stories. It’s early seventies anime, and TV Ontario did a dubbed version way back when; we used to watch it at school sometimes when I was little. It’s somewhat similar at least visually to “Puffin Rock,” judging from this clip. Most or all of the episodes are available on Youtube.

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