As I was sitting here thinking of what to write about this week, I suddenly heard an annoying voice coming through my television. A bossy, pushy rabbit voice, that belongs to none other than Ruby, from Max and Ruby. This got my thoughts going to how sad it is that our children don't have the same television shows we had growing up. As a parent I find today's offerings for children's programming to be lacking the same appeal as the shows we all watched in our youth.
Let's use Max and Ruby for an example, because that show makes no sense whatsoever. Ruby is the older sister, of Max, and from what we can tell they are both under 10. They don't appear to have parents, yet there are photos on the wall of them. Ruby takes the bus, does laundry, bakes, all the while bossing Max around. Max is as naughty as they come, always getting into trouble, but he's also the smartest of the two. I'm confused as to why they have a Grandma that they go visit, but no parents at home. Overall, this cartoon teaches children nothing. There is usually no moral lesson that is obvious, however we do learn that Max always wins in the end. He whines, he wins. Score for parents every where. (In case you missed it that was drenched with sarcasm.)
Toopy and Binoo is also a fickle and very irritating cartoon. There are a few good lessons to be learned such as, a cat and mouse can be friends, that not every relationship makes sense. Toopy is a mouse, who is actually bigger than Binoo, who is a cat. This teaches acceptance of others, and that friends come in different shapes and sizes. That said Toopy has a tail that looks like a pile of poop, and I say this because my 6 year-old, and her friends point this out regularly. Granted, if we're being honest, children love poop -- but it's still awkward looking. Also, Toopy never wears pants, EVER. A shirt, no pants. However, when he dresses up as princess Toopy, he has a dress on that covers him completely. I find this odd. At times the story lines have topics only older audiences would find odd. One moment that comes to mind is a magic bar of soap, they keep dropping as they are in the bath tub together. Enough said.
There's also Franklin, where Franklin and his sister, Harriet, are the only characters with names. All the other animals are named after their respective animals. Bear, Beaver, Fox, etc. Why? The same goes for The Bernstein Bears, why are they named, Sister, Brother, Mama, and Papa? Do we think so little of our children's intelligence that they can't figure out the family roles if the characters are given names? (Side note: I am aware both of these cartoons have been on for a while but they have been redone lately for a new generation.)
There are so many other examples of strange things on kids shows, but there are a few good shows that deserve to be mentioned. Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Handy Manny, Little Einsteins, are all examples of excellent children's programming. They are smart, interactive, and actually teach our kids. It's shows like these that make television educational.
As I look at the television offered for my children, I do feel sad. While I'll continue to put on Teletoon Retro, and the old shows on DVD, they will never feel the excitement of waking up on Saturday morning for a new episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I heard the words, "By the power of Grey Skull" the other day, and I smiled thinking fondly of HeMan and SheRa. Our cartoons weren't perfect, but they were ours. We had so much more variety to choose from, My Pet Monster, Fraggle Rock, Gem, Thunder Cats, Teddy Ruxpin and the list goes on.
Our cartoons had so much more heart than today's cartoons, as if the creators wrote them with more care. The characters had more depth which allowed us to fall in love with them easier, and we never forgot the lesson that good deeds won over bad. Turtles doing martial arts is ridiculous but they were a family, and family stuck together. We learned things by watching without realizing it. The moral lessons weren't a 'repeat after me' exercise, they were woven into the plot -- challenging our minds to piece it together.
I can trace my love of books, and television all down to my love of 1980s/1990s kids cartoons, and I hope that my kids can one day look back on their cartoons with the same fondness. I'm not sure how a pile of poop tail will do that but none the less.
The moral of the story is that while not all children's program is failing to make the grade, a lot of it is. Engage our children's minds, give them stories to follow and trust that they are smarter than you realize. Parents for the love of all things television, introduce your children to the cartoons from your childhood. The shows that sparked something in you will often spark something in them.