Puss in Book

One of the characters in the movie Shrek was Puss in Boots, a character that dates back to 16th-century Italy. Puss got his own spin-off movie, and then a few more, and now Netflix has launched a novel format of choose-your-own adventure-style storytelling. A clip of the video plays and then the character asks the viewer whether to (e.g.) follow the princess or challenge the villain. The viewer clicks the answer they want and the story proceeds.

If a choice ends badly for the hero (the cat), the story bumps back to the previous choice and the view can try again without any of the frustration that sometimes comes with interactive fiction.

I wasn’t a big fan of Shrek, but I found the Puss in Boots character appealing – a dashing, cocky rogue who actually isn’t all that strong or able is a good metaphor for many children – and we all were laughing out loud at some of the dialogue in Puss in Book. And my kids really liked the format of choosing how the story changed. ‘Agency’ is one of those themes we parents frequently discuss, and being able to direct the story is fun for kids, especially those who can’t read yet.

This kind of format is not entirely new (remember ‘Clue’ from the ’80s?) but watching videos on the tablet, like we do, makes this format much more practical.

I hope Netflix does more with this medium.

Puss in Book on Netflix

Romper has a brief article about it

Octonauts

The Octonauts is a video series on Netflix and available on DVD. Some of the stories are also available as books and there are several toys out there of the characters. The look of the show is unique, a cross between kid-friendly 60s-era James Bond, ‘Sealab 2020’, and cutesy Japanese anime.

The show is not the creation of some corporate art department, but the work of a single design couple, who call themselves meomi.

They “live in Vancouver, Canada where we spend our days making up stories, drinking tea, and drawing strange characters. We love learning about underwater creatures and sharing our love for the ocean with kids (and grown-ups) around the world!”

Our kids like the characters, the pace of the storytelling, and the balance of adventure just at the edge of sometimes being a little scary but not quite. The videos are fun for adults as well. We find ourselves watching along with the kids to see where the story goes.

We like the educational aspect as well. Some of the episodes are just as informational as Wild Kratts or any other nature-themed cartoon. A lot of what I know of deep-sea creatures is from Octonauts. (Who knew vampire squid were real?)

It’s a unique show and worth watching.

Backyardigans

This is a Nick Jr. cartoon that was very popular with our kids. The music is particularly good.

5 animal friends play together with a different theme (Egypt, under-the-sea, space, cowboy, etc.) each episode. The friends take turns being the ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ and the overall tone is very kind and gentle.

It ran from 2004 to 2010 with a total of 80 episodes.

You can watch for free at NickJr.com if you have a cable tv account, and it’s available on amazon’s streaming video service as well. (And they’re all on YouTube too, although you may have to hunt for them.)

Dinosaur Train

This is a series run by Jim Henson’s daughter Lisa, who seems to be in charge of at least half of all children’s TV programming these days. You can watch the series for free at PBSKids.com or via the PBS Kids app (also free). Neither the site nor the app has ads either. Just make sure to support your local PBS station.

The show is light-hearted and full of factual information about dinosaurs and prehistoric times (assuming you can ignore the fact that the dinosaurs all speak English, ride in a time-traveling locomotive, and are not constantly trying to eat each other).

There are tons of episodes, available in DVD form. A good bet for any kid who’s really into dinosaurs.

Spiderman 1967 series

We watched a bunch of these on YouTube. They’re corny and dated but the kids loved them. And the old cartoons from the 60s seem so much less violent than those from other decades.

The animation style is pretty simple, so older kids probably won’t be into it. But it has that classic theme song:

“Spiderman, spiderman, does whatever a spider can.
Spins a web, any size, catches thieves, just like flies.
Look out. Here comes the spiderman.”