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

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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

Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

screen-shot-2016-12-26-at-11-47-25-pmThough I had the book, I somehow never saw this animated, musical version from 1966 when I was a kid. I’ve enjoyed discovering this classic with M. The animations are bright, lively, and true to Dr. Seuss’s illustrations, and the music is good. There’s a nice anti-consumerist message, in a format that is easy to discuss with a 4 year old. M. was scared the first time through (worried that the Grinch would prevent Christmas from coming), but has since requested to watch it many times.

Age: 4+
Child rating: 9/10
Adult rating: 9/10
Running time: 22 minutes
Available: for purchase on Google Play, or, in sections, for free on Youtube

Lines Horizontal

BR Lines HorizontalThis is another collaboration between Norman McLaren and Evelyn Lambart, with a soundtrack composed and performed by Pete Seeger. As the name suggests, the visuals consist almost entirely of horizontal lines (and a handful of slightly vertical ones), moving up and down in different configurations and speeds. The visual effect is mesmerizing, and it’s great hearing a slightly more experimental side of Pete Seeger’s music.

Age: 2+
Child rating: 8/10
Adult rating: 9/10
Running time: 6 minutes
Available free on the Nation Film Board of Canada website

Mary Poppins

BR Mary PoppinsM. has really been enjoying songs recently, and Mary Poppins seemed like a good first musical to try. M. loved it. He said his favourite parts were the one-man-band, the penguins, and the tea party in the air. There are a few parts, especially towards the beginning, where adults are shouting at each other – if I were more organized, I might skip over them. The overall message is good — do fun things with your family, instead of trying to earn as much money as possible. The songs, by the Sherman Brothers, are enjoyable, though a bit ear-wormish. We watched it a week ago, and I’m still trying to get them out of my head! (Update: we watched this almost three weeks ago, and I still have Let’s Go Fly a Kite stuck in my head!)

Age: 3+
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 10/10
Running time: 139 minutes

David Attenborough (various)

Only watch the episodes about smaller gentler animals – avoid the ones about large predators! When M. was a baby, we watched various Attenborough episodes, and they would sooth him to sleep. One of his first words was “A-bu-wa”! We haven’t tried them since he was older, but I’m sure he’d love them now too.

Age: 0+
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 10/10
Running time: usually an hour
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

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

This is a great US show: 895 episodes were made from the late 1960’s through 2000. I think most American and Canadian kids who grew up in the 70’s, 80’s or 90’s watched it, but we’ve just moved to Scotland, and we’ve been surprised to find that no one here has heard of it! Most episodes consist of some very honest, gentle discussion of things young children might be thinking about, a visit somewhere (a fire station, an orange grove, a string quartet, etc.), and the Land of Make Believe, where characters work through more complex emotions and story lines. It’s a bit slow-paced for parents, but provides lots of good material for discussion with your kid afterwards. Mr. Rogers has a real gift talking to children about things that matter to them, but without talking down to them. M. found the Land of Make-Believe a bit intense at first, so we used to have to skip that part. Fred Rogers was also trained as a musician, and wrote all the music. In addition to the regular episodes, there are 8 mini-operas, with well-composed, serious music, and storylines that young kids find very engaging.

Age: 2+
Child rating: 10/10
Parent rating: 7/10 for watching enjoyment, 10/10 for values imparted and post-show discussion with kids
Running time: 30-minute episodes
Some episodes available free on Youtube