Shaun the Sheep (TV series)

screen-shot-2017-02-19-at-11-45-41-amShaun the Sheep is a stop-motion animated TV series from Aardman Animation, starring the eponymous Shaun, who first appeared as a character in the Wallace and Gromit short A Close Shave. These 7-minute episodes are wordless and quite delightful, and mostly involve the sheep getting themselves into and out of a variety of humorous scrapes. The show is a bit more boisterous than we usually want our kids to see: it’s better as a Saturday morning show than for watching before bed. (The spin-off show Timmy Time, intended for toddlers, is even more chaotic, so we are avoiding that one entirely). On the negative side, I find the theme music a bit repetitive, and it tends to get stuck in the head.

Age: 4+
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 8/10
Running time: 7 minute episodes
Available: CBBC, Google Play, and Youtube

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

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 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

All Aboard! The Sleigh Ride

BR All Aboard! The Sleigh RideIf you are looking for an extremely slow-paced, meditative film for a wintery or Christmasy night, this is it. All Aboard! The Sleigh Ride consists of nothing but two hours of footage of Sami reindeer herders following an ancient postal route through the taiga forest of Northern Norway, beautifully filmed by BBC Four. The soundtrack is simply a recording of the journey, with no music or voiceover. Occasional written texts provide some contextual information. M. was entranced for the first hour, which is really quite a long time for a toddler to watch nothing but a couple people and a couple reindeer moving through the snow. Then he was ready to move on to something else (though he continued to ask questions about reindeer for several days afterwards).

Age: 0+
Child rating: 8/10
Adult rating: 8/10
Running time: 2 hours
Available for free on the BBC Four website

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

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