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

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

The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends

BR World of Peter RabbitThis is a series of nine beautifully animated versions of stories by Beatrix Potter, first shown on the BBC in the 90s. Each begins with a short live action vignette of Beatrix Potter at her home, followed by the story itself. Each episode sticks closely to the original, both in illustrations and in wording, though some episodes intertwine two books. Anytime I’ve noticed a detail that is not in the published version of books, it turns out to be something from an earlier, unpublished version. The music is well-composed (by Colin Towns) and well-performed.

So far M. has watched three of the episodes, many times each. We have not grown tired of any of them, and we’ve enjoyed watching the creative play that has grown out of M.’s engagement with the characters. I’ve included The Tailor of Gloucester episode as a separate entry on this blog, since it’s great as a Christmas movie.

Age: 3+
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 10/10
Running time: 26 minutes per episode

The Tailor of Gloucester (from The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends)

BR Tailor of GloucesterThis is one episode from a series of nine beautifully animated versions of stories by Beatrix Potter, first shown on the BBC in the 90s. The whole series is reviewed here, but I’ve included this one as a separate entry because it takes place at Christmas time, and makes a great Christmas or winter movie. There are a few parts of this that are not in the published version of the book, but it turns out they were in an earlier unpublished version. I love all the meticulous research into the folksongs sung at the various animals’ Christmas parties (all mentioned in the unpublished version).

M. has watched this about 50 times in the past 3 months, and has developed a fascination with yellow taffeta and red silk twist thread, and is spending all his time drawing “waistcoats for mice!” We still enjoy it too.

Age: 3+
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 10/10
Running time: 26 minutes
Available free on Youtube

Katie Morag

BR Katie MoragMost of our favourite TV shows are from the 70s but here, finally, is a current show that I can wholeheartedly recommend! If you are Scottish, you probably already know Katie Morag from the series of books of the same name by Scottish author Mairi Hedderwick. For those of you who are not yet familiar with Katie Morag, I’d say she falls into the same general category of kind-hearted, adventure-loving, small-town-dwelling, red-headed heroine as Anne of Green Gables, though the stories are geared towards a slightly younger audience. Katie lives on the fictional island of Struay (based in part on the real life island of Coll, and filmed on the Isle of Lewis) with her baby sister Flora Ann, toddler brother Liam, and parents. Her two grannies, Grannie Island and Grannie Mainland, with their differing values and areas of knowledge, also figure prominently in the stories.

The stories are sweet, gentle and humorous, and the acting is good. The enjoyable soundtrack is by Scottish traditional musician Donald Shaw (a founding member of the band Capercaillie). And there are a number of small details that pleased me – making presents by hand, scenes which include the baby breastfeeding, music-making etc. This series is probably intended for children more in the 5 to 8 year old range, but so far everything we have seen has been fine for a 3 year old too, and M. has really enjoyed it.

Age: 3+
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 10/10
Running time: 14 minutes per episode
Some episodes available free on the CBeebies website

Kipper

BR KipperKipper is an animated TV series which ran from 1997-2000, based on books of the same name by British author Michael Inkpen. M. and I had previously read a few Kipper books, and decided to watch our first couple episodes of the TV show last night. M. loved it, while my feelings were slightly more mixed.

The animation is based on the illustrations, and is simple, cute, and fairly slow moving – a nice contrast with the frenetic pace of so many children’s cartoons. The stories are sweet and gently humorous. And the characters are all really nice and helpful to each other, which is great, especially since young kids are so prone to imitating the behaviours they see.

I was initially annoyed that almost all of the characters are male, but I’ve since come to see it as a sweet tale of  caring and gentle male friendship, in a world that too often portrays male characters as solitary or rivals or needing female characters to provide the emotional connection. Also: M. always put up such a fuss about brushing his teeth until he saw Kipper brush his teeth!

Age: 3+
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 7/10
Running time: 8 minute episodes
Some episodes available free on Youtube

Mr Benn

BR Mr BennWe enjoyed our first two episodes of Mr Benn last night, Mr Benn Zookeeper and Mr Benn Cook. There are several episodes we’ll have to postpone (Red Knight, Gladiator, Hunter, etc.) because we’re trying to keep M. from knowledge of swords and guns for as long as possible!

The character of Mr Benn was created by the English author David McKee (also of Elmer the Patchwork Elephant fame), and first appeared in four books. The books were turned into TV episodes (by McKee) in the early 1970s, and then more TV episodes were created which were later turned into books. The visuals are book-illustration style, with pleasingly minimalist cut-out animation, and the music is cheerful and well-composed.

Each episode takes a similar format, in which Mr Benn goes to a costume shop, tries on a costume, and has an adventure as whatever he is dressed as. The two episodes we saw were an interesting mix of subversive and maintaining the status quo. In Mr Benn Zookeeper, he gets the people to build larger cages for the animals (but doesn’t, for example, let all the animals go). In Mr Benn Cook, he gets the royal family to host a feast for poor children once a week (but doesn’t, for example, overthrow the monarchy!) I’ll be curious to see if there is a similar subversive/status quo balance in all of the episodes.

There are a few product-of-its-time-and-place elements: there’s an “Indian” costume in the costume shop, and so far it seems like most of the characters who do anything are men. This could be an interesting starting point for discussion for slightly older kids.

Age: 3+
Child rating: 9/10
Adult rating: 9/10
Running time: 15-minute episodes
Available free on Youtube

Ivor the Engine

If your child likes trains, and you’re trying to keep Thomas the Tank Engine out of the house, I’d highly recommend Ivor the Engine instead! This is another great Oliver Postgate/Peter Firmin production from the 70’, set in Wales. It features lots of sweet stories of village life. The music, by Vernon Elliot, is pleasant and well-composed, and features bassoon.

Age: 2 1/2+
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 10/10
Running time: 1950s episodes are 10 minutes, 1970s episodes are 5 minutes
Some episodes available free on Youtube

The Friendly Giant

This is a well-loved Canadian show, which ran from 1958 to 1985. Usually I want to watch anything M. watches with him, so I will know if there’s anything it would be good to discuss afterwards, but this is so gentle and calming that I don’t mind leaving him alone to watch it. Each episode consists of The Friendly Giant (Bob Homme) playing recorder and talking with his friends, a giraffe and a rooster, and reading a story or hosting a musical guest. It’s perfect for a cold winter day that’s too stormy to go out, or a kid that’s home sick and needs some warm, comforting entertainment.

Age: 0+
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 6/10 for adult enjoyment, 10/10 for feeling good about your kid watching it
Running time: 15-minute episodes
Some episodes available free on Youtune

Daniel Tiger

Daniel Tiger is produced by the Fred Rogers company (after Fred Rogers passed away in 2003). Each episode deals with a very specific problem (separation anxiety, safety, going to school, etc.) in a way that toddlers really relate to. And each episode has a little song about the issue, which can be helpful to sing to your kid. M. loves it, but unfortunately I find the cartooning overly cutesy and lacking in artistic merit, the pacing unnecessarily frenetic, and the music annoying. (I suspect Mr. Rogers would have felt the same thing). We only watch it when there is a particular issue we want to address, and it has been very helpful for that. For example, when M. was about 28 months, he suddenly started feeling really upset when we went out to work (after 2 years of having no problem with it.) We watched the episode about “Grown-ups Come Back” about 8 times, and within two days he was back to not feeling upset when we went out.

Age: 2+
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 10/10 for helping your kid deal with specific issues, 3/10 for aesthetics
Running time: Each topic has two 15-minute back-to-back episodes