Fingerbobs

This is the 70s-est TV show ever (dating from 1972, the same year I was born) – at once wholesome, creative, and… were the creators smoking pot? In this show by British author-illustrators Joanne and Michael Cole, “Yoffy” (Canadian mime artist Rick Jones in real life) animates a variety of homemade finger-puppets, including Fingermouse, Scampi, Gulliver the Seagull, and Flash the Tortoise in a series of gently enchanting stories and do-it-at-home craft projects. My 2 year old and 5 year old both love it.

Age: 0+
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 9/10
Running time: 15 minutes
Several episodes are available free on YouTube

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Apple Tree House

Apple Tree House is one of our favourite newer CBeebies shows (along with Katie Morag). It’s geared towards kids in the 4 to 8-ish age range, though fine for younger kids too, and centres around the gently humorous daily adventures of three primary school kids on an urban council estate. The cast is wonderfully diverse in terms of ethnicity and age, and the kids are refreshingly free of gender stereotypes. Both of our kids (ages 2 and 5) love it, and I love the way the characters non-didactically model kindness, cooperation, and caring for friends, family, and community.

Age: The stories are geared towards 4+, but it’s fine for younger kids too
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 10/10
Running time: 15 minutes
Available: on the CBeebies website

Mr. Dressup

Mr. Dressup is a beloved Canadian kids show, which ran from 1967 to 1996. It has some similarities to Mister Rogers, and indeed, Fred Rogers was a friend and mentor to Ernie Coombs (Mr. Dressup) in the early 60s. Mr. Dressup, together with his puppet friends Casey and Finnegan, tell stories, sing songs, and lead young kids through a variety of craft and creative play ideas.

Age: 1+
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 7/10 (not really directed towards adults — but it will bring back fond memories if you are Canadian!)
Running time: 30 minutes
Available: there are a couple of episodes on YouTube, and a 3-DVD set from CBC

Arrietty

This is a lovely feature-length animation from Studio Ghibli, based on the story The Borrowers by Mary Norton. It tells the story of the growing friendship between Arrietty, a mouse-sized “borrower” girl, and a human boy, Sho. When the Arrietty’s borrower family is discovered by the unfriendly housekeeper Haru, Sho helps them escape to safety. As in most Studio Ghibli films, there is lots of beautiful natural imagery, including some cute potato bugs (giant in comparison to Arrietty), lush greenery, and evocative rainstorms. The music is, by contemporary movie standards, pleasingly sparse, and I appreciated that there were long passages with no music at all. The story is intended for kids 4 or 5 and up, but there is nothing too scary for younger kids, and my 22 month old enjoys it as much as my almost-5 year old.

Age: 2+
Child rating: 9/10
Adult rating: 9/10
Running time: 94 minutes
Available: only on DVD, so far as I know

Geese Swans (also called The Magic Swan Geese)

screen-shot-2017-02-19-at-5-56-53-pmThis is a nice 1949 animation by Alexandra Snezhko-Blotskaya and Ivan Ivanov-Vano, based on a Russian fairytale. A young boy is taken away by some evil swan geese which belong to the witch Baba Yaga, and his sister goes to rescue him. On her way, she helps, and is later helped by, an outdoor bread oven, an apple tree, and a stream of milk. M. (4) found the part at the witch’s house a bit scary, so we skipped over that (and this is why I’m rating it 5+, though some kids might be ready for it younger).

Age: 5+
Child rating: 9/10
Adult rating: 9/10
Running time: 17’30”
Available: Available free here

Pick, The Little Mouse

screen-shot-2017-02-19-at-5-19-17-pmHere’s a sweet, wordless animation by Gennady Sokolsky, which tells of a year in the life of a little field mouse, and contains lush imagery of the natural world. There are a few brief moments which some younger kids may find scary – when the mouse is chased by a boy, some sea birds, and an owl – but everything turns out ok.

Age: 0+
Child rating: 9/10
Adult rating: 9/10
Running time: 17’30”
Available: Available free on Youtube

A Little Silver Hoof

imagesI’m just discovering that there is a wealth of beautifully animated Russian fairy tales made from the 1940s through the 1970s. Many are more suitable for older kids, but here’s one I’ve found that’s suitable for preschoolers, a lovely 1977 animation by Gennady Sokolsky based on a fairy tale from the Urals. A kindly old man takes in an orphaned girl and her cat, and together they win the favour of a magical deer (or goat), which stomps its foot and bestows a rainbow of beautiful gems upon them. (Apparently the region the story comes from is famed for its plentiful gemstones). I love the pacing of this animation — more like a book than like TV. I’m used to Russian animations with lavish orchestral scores, and was a bit surprised to hear this one accompanied with 70s electronic music. The soundtrack is in Russian, but there are English subtitles. Though this isn’t a Christmas tale per se, it’s certainly good for winter holiday watching – but could be enjoyed at any time of year.

Age: 3+
Child rating: 9/10
Adult rating: 9/10
Running time: 9’30”
Available: There’s a version on Dailymotion with English subtitles

Pingwings

screen-shot-2017-02-16-at-8-06-43-pmIf you’re in the mood for penguins, but find Pingu a bit too boisterous and March of the Penguins a bit too dramatic, then Pingwings might be just what you’re looking for. It’s a sweet, gentle, and gently humorous show, which tells of the adventures of a family of hand-knit penguin-like creatures living on a farm, with mixed stop motion animation and live action. It’s one of the earlier shows by Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin’s company Smallfilms (best known for Bagpuss and the Clangers). The original Pingwings were knit by Peter’s wife Joan. You can knit your own following this pattern from The Dragons’ Friendly Society.

Age: 0+
Child rating: 8
Adult rating: 8
Running time: 10 minute episodes
Available: a few episodes are available on Youtube, or you can order the whole series from The Dragons’ Friendly Society

The Wind in the Willows (1983)

br-wind-in-the-willowsThis is a very nicely done stop-motion animated version, which sticks closely to the book. We watched about half an hour of it, and then M. (4 years old) complained that it was “boring.” I tried to convince him that there’s no such thing as boring, that this was a very nice film, and that he should give it a chance. And then I burst out laughing because I realized that I had always found The Wind in the Willows (whether as a book or a movie) boring too. I include this here because it is good, and I wish we liked it – but we just do not seem to be a Wind in the Willows family. (It’s not that we’re immune to the charms of early 20th century anthropomorphic British animals – we just seem to prefer the Beatrix Potter tales!)

Age: 1+
Child rating: N/A (we’re not the right ones to judge)
Adult rating: N/A
Running time: 79 minutes
Available: there are various free versions online

Vinni Pukh (Winnie-the-Pooh)

screen-shot-2017-01-22-at-8-11-19-pmThis is a fascinating Russian version of Winnie-the-Pooh, with beautiful illustrations and animation by Fyodor Khitruk and a colourful orchestral score by Mieczysław Weinberg. The characters are more animal-like, the scenery more wild, the pacing a bit slower, and the dialogue more enigmatic – interesting to adults as well as kids – than in the Disney animated version most of us are probably familiar with. Khitruk left Christopher Robin out of his telling of these tales so the animals would all be on equal footing as the central characters. There are three 10-minute episodes, available in Russian with English subtitles. I can usually get the kids to just watch without me having to read them out loud!

Age: 3+
Child rating: 8/10
Adult rating: 10/10
Running time: 10 minute per episode
Available: for free on Youtube