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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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

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

Royal Ballet – Beatrix Potter Tales

BR Royal Ballet Beatrix PotterThis is the film version of a ballet version of the Tales of Beatrix Potter, performed by members of the Royal Ballet. The tales are told wordlessly, with lavish scenery and costumes, lush music, and colorful, characterful choreography by Frederick Ashton. We all enjoyed this, and M. laughed out loud a number of times. Our favourite so far is The Tale of Two Bad Mice (perhaps not to be watched if your kid is in the mood to copy what he or she sees on the screen).

Age: 0+
Child rating: 9/10
Adult rating: 9/10
Running time: multiple stories, mostly in the 5-10 minute range
Available for free on Youtube in the UK. (Possibly not elsewhere?)

The Story of Christmas

Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 10.05.52 PMThis is a bright and cheerful version of the Christmas story, with luminously painted zinc foil cutout animation against a black background by Evelyn Lambart. The story is told wordlessly with a celebratory renaissance-style soundtrack by Karl Duplessis.

Age: 1+
Adult rating: 9/10
Child Rating: 9/10
Running time: 8 minutes
Available free on the National Film Board of Canada website

The Lion and the Mouse

BR The Lion and the MouseThis is a beautiful and sweet animated version of Aesop’s fable “The Lion and the Mouse,” by Canadian animator Evelyn Lambart (1914-1999). Lambart was initially best known for her collaborations with Norman MacLaren, but later in life developed her own unique and visually arresting style of animation using brightly coloured paper cutouts against a black background, which looks a bit like Russian folk painting. There is no verbal dialogue, but the soundtrack by Maurice Blackburn tells the story in a conversational, semi-improvisatory style. Some children might find the lion a little bit scary, but nothing bad happens, and the mouse and the lion become friends at the end.

(Do be careful if you decided to go on from here to “The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse.” It starts out very gently, but the country mouse takes a gun when he goes to the city. M. doesn’t yet know about guns, so we stopped the video when we got to that point!)

Age: 3+
Adult rating: 9/10
Child Rating: 9/10
Running time: 4 minutes
Available free on the National Film Board of Canada website

Synchromy

BR SynchromyThis is M.’s first abstract film, and despite his protests that he didn’t want to watch something abstract, he actually quite enjoyed it. Both the animation and the music are by Scottish/Canadian filmmaker Norman McLaren, with the music directly derived from the shapes on the film. M. kept saying: “It’s magic! It’s magic!” I asked him if the shapes made him think of anything, and he said the teeth on the shovel of a backhoe digger – though he’s particularly prone to thinking of backhoe diggers these days, so it may remind you and/or your child of something else! I’m suggesting this for ages 3+ because it is fairly fast-paced, but some people might enjoy it for younger kids too.

Age: 3+
Child rating: 8/10
Adult rating: 8/10
Running time: 7 minutes
Available free on the National Film Board of Canada website

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

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