Tumble Leaf is a very charming stop-motion animation series about a blue fox living on a shipwreck and his adventures with other animals.
The animation quality is impressively good. The tone is gentle and sweet.
If you have any interest in animation or storytelling, the Tumble Leaf page is a fascinating look at how a top-rated stop-motion animation show for children gets made.
Who is it for
The target audience is pre-schoolers. There’s a lot to look at so even kids as young as two would get something out of it. Six might be the maximum age.
What Kids Like
The animation is very rich with lots of detail, and kids can watch episodes multiple times and see new things. The whimsy and charm of the premise (each day a crab pulls some flotsam from the beach and puts it in the ‘finding box’ on a shipwreck) is captivating.
What Parents Like
There is no violence or harsh language or tense situations, but at the same time it’s not dull. The characters engage in creative projects, and although there is no overt education, the show promotes the values of creative problem-solving and discovery.
Storybots is a series of 100+ educational music videos featuring animated and/or puppet robots. They cover subjects such as the planets, dinosaurs, the alphabet, and more. The production quality is very high and the videos are very entertaining.
Who is it for
Kids of all ages can get something from the StoryBots videos. They are highly entertaining, so even if a child doesn’t understand the subject matter being covered, they can still enjoy the music and the silly antics of the characters: Beep (green), Bo (purple), Bang (blue), Bing (yellow), Boop (red), and Hap, their manager (olive)
What Kids Like
The music is great, with very catchy melodies and the characters are silly and entertaining.
The premise of the show is that the robots live inside our digital devices and are constantly trying to learn about the human world by asking questions such as “Why is the sky blue?” – questions that children also wonder about.
What Parents Like
The education is snuck in painlessly and kids can’t help but learn. The language is totally G-rated with no violence so it’s easy to leave the screen on without having to worry about what the kids are watching.
I like the music and, as a fan of animation, love the fact that the characters are sometimes presented in 3d animation, 2d animation, hand-drawn style, puppets, or claymation. I can’t think of any other project that presented its characters in such a variety of mediums.
What the Critics Think
StoryBots has won a Winner of Teachers’ Choice Awards, a Tech Edvocate Award, an Emmy, and has been nominated for an Annie and a Peabody award. So in a nutshell, it is highly regarded by critics.
It’s just great. I can’t think of any criticisms.
Who Made it
StoryBots is produced by JibJab, who you may remember as the creators of animated political satire during the 2004 presidential election.
The Fixies is a Russian cartoon series about a family of tiny (1cm tall) fairy-like creatures who repair everyday items, and in the process teach about physics, electronics, and other useful DiY knowledge.
Who is it for
The show is a big hit with our 4-year-old but a lot of the content is sophisticated enough for much older kids as well.
What Kids like
The characters are fun, with the kids getting into and out of trouble and the parents offering guidance when necessary. The animation is bright and engaging. The theme song is catchy and the show makes good use of music.
What Parents like
I like the fact that it’s Russian. It’s nice to have a reference to Russian culture that has nothing to do with politics. And I like having influences from other countries. Geronimo Stilton is from Italy, P.J. Masks from France, many (most?) PBS Kids shows are from Canada, and lots of the more cutesy cartoons are from Korea and Japan. Although each cartoon has basically the same formula (a group of young people work together to solve problems) each one has a slightly different feel to it that is representative of its country of origin.
In the case of The Fixies, the subject matter is significantly more in-depth in terms of engineering/STEM topics. For example, one episode had a bit on pipe fabrication, how pipes can be made by rolling and welding a sheet of metal (which results in a seam) vs. extruding a solid block to make a seamless pipe. I can’t imagine any American show covering that level of detail.
Each episode includes a 40-second bit on how things work, in a fun and educational way.
There is also a typically Russian attitude toward toughness and responsibility. While most American and Canadian cartoons seem to value self-affirmation over anything else, The Fixes put that value below those of being responsible and getting the job done. One episode had the children try to do a quick fix in order to earn a prize and at the end the father gives them a cheap, flimsy award to reflect the quality of work they did.
But really, the Russian-ness is not obvious. I wouldn’t have noticed or guessed. if I hadn’t looked it up. (The one big clue is the catchphrase the characters use when they’ve fixed something, “tideesh”, which sounds very slavic to my ears.)
Another quality of the show, that may have something to do with it being Russian, is that there is a strong message about the importance of fixing what you have as opposed to throwing something away just because it’s broken.
What the critics think
I haven’t seen any reviews of the show. They have a sparse IMDB page and nothing on Wikipedia despite having several hundred episodes (~140 dubbed into English) and a feature movie. The show was nominated for an APKiT award, which is, as far as I can tell, a Russian equivalent to the Oscars.
I found no flaws with the show itself, but it seems to be available only via YouTube and has multiple ads to skip in each 12-minute episode.
Who made it
The show is made by Aeroplane Productions in Moscow
IMDB and other review sites don’t seem to like this movie much, but the kids and adults in our family thought it was great, exciting, well-paced, and very entertaining. It was made by a Korean company, and has a slightly different feel to it compared with Japanese animations, and certainly different from American or European ones.
The story is of a little penguin and his animal friends racing and overcoming obstacles such as bullies as well as physical obstacles.
Not much to say about it really. It is just a kids’ movie, but we liked it a lot and have frequently sought it out again, but haven’t been able to find it streaming anywhere.
This is a movie that flew under the radar (at least my radar) and I hadn’t heard of it until we stumbled upon it on Netflix while searching in vain for a Miyazaki movie. Of course, since having kids my culture and media radar is essentially non-operational and I know next to nothing about new TV shows, bands, or movies.
The movie starts out pretty dark and there is enough violence that I came close to turning it off a few times, but our kids never seemed to mind it and we finished it and the next day they wanted to watch it again. I guess violence isn’t so scary when it’s done to and by little puppets. It’s an intense movie and worth watching even if there aren’t kids around.
Kubo was made by Laika, best-known for Coraline, and uses the same stop-motion style. We adults loved Coraline when that came out (10 years ago! geez) but it was spooky and scary enough that I’m not ready to share that one with the kids.
Imagine a Star Trek plot with Power Rangers characters, scored by a hodge-podge of John Williams sound-alikes and late ’60s sounds influenced by bands such as Procol Harum, and voiced by Casey Kasem?
The answer is Battle of the Planets
My son asked me what were my favorite shows when I was his age. There were so few options compared to now, but I recalled Sesame Street, The Electric Company, Crusader Cat and Minute Mouse, Zoom, 321 Contact, Bugs Bunny and the other Looney Tunes shows, Rocky and Bullwinkle, Kroft Superstars (Land of the Lost and the other ones), The Banana Splits, The New Zoo Revue.
When I was older I loved Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers, The Greatest American Hero, the A-Team.
But the show I was absolutely obsessed with when I was his age was “Battle of the Planets”. I even wrote and drew what would now be called fan fiction in my own comic book version of the show that I called “Battle of the Stars”.
The show had Japanese animation and was a mishmash of Star Wars, Star Trek, and Japanese shows such as Power Rangers and Voltron.
A drawback to the show is the odd addition of the robot making oddly romantic comments about the one girl character. I think they go over the heads of my kids, but it’s jarring.
The plots and themes are complex, as though originally written for a different show and then shoehorned into a kids show. Or maybe the bar was higher for kids in the 70s.
DVDs are hard to find. But they’re all on YouTube.
A lot of cartoons aimed at kids are not very good. They are either insipid, appealing only to toddlers, or have too much adult humor, or are essentially long advertisements. So I sometimes look for older cartoons, hoping that they will transcend, but boy oh boy are they violent. We tried watching Heckle and Jeckle, and the kids thought they were a riot, but they were so brutally violent that they are no longer allowed.
So, it was a pleasant surprise when I stumbled across episodes of the old Star Trek cartoon. I hadn’t realized (or forgotten) that the show was ever made. It was aired in 1973 and 1974 and was voiced by the original actors, lending some credibility to the show. The animation is pretty crummy, in the same cheap style as the old Spider-Man cartoons from the same era. But the animation quality doesn’t matter to kids so much.
What was appealing to me was the stories of adventure and working together and the importance of following rules and the idea of ‘conquering’ space by cataloging its peoples and planets rather than by defeating them. And the kids love space adventure stories with weird aliens and spaceships and the occasional threat of photon cannons, although problems tend to get resolved by talking it out, not by fighting.
We try to restrict ‘screen time’ to weekends and when we do let the kids use our phones or the iPad we try to limit video usage to PBS Kids, Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime. YouTube is a special case because of the quantity of ads, but also because of the content of the ads, which often is not appropriate. Further, YouTube, with its vast store of content, is a rabbit hole of discovery that can lead to inappropriate videos. An innocent search for ‘batman’, for example, can turn up raunchy spoofs that a 5-year-old should not see.
There are some (many, really) exceptions however, and we try to make sure we are around to supervise in order to prevent wandering into the YouTube equivalent of the wrong side of the tracks.
One of these exceptions is the set of ~200 videos from the unmemorably-named KidsTV123 which has had over 3 billion views since 2009.
My kids have many favorites, but the ones we adults sometimes catch ourselves humming aloud are
Many of the songs are true earworms, and the songwriter is a master of melody. The animation is very simple – the kind of thing that would never get distributed by a commercial network, but the kids don’t seem to care. In fact, the simplicity is part of the appeal.
The singer (and presumably also the songwriter and guitarist) is a bit of a mystery. His FAQ is not generous with details. The Week tried to profile him but came up short. But that anonymity adds to the allure and helps separate the music from the creator.
This movie is from Bob the Builder’s “middle period”, when the animation was done using CGI but meant to look like the original stop-motion style, but before the change to a more human-like look for the characters. This older look is more popular in our family. We seldom watch the new one, even though it is freely available on PBS Kids.
The structure of the story is that of a scavenger hunt, with each discovery leading to a new clue, ultimately resulting in the finding of the golden hammer. The tone is gentle and fun and the kids like the pacing. It’s like a mystery thriller for kids. There is lots of reinforcement about what has happened, what the characters have done and seen, so it’s not confusing for little ones, but it doesn’t get bogged down in repetition so is not boring for older ones.
It’s available as a DVD and also streaming on Netflix and Amazon prime.
“Golden hammer” is the embodiment of The Law of the Instrument, the idea that your most familiar or available resource becomes the only one you rely on. In other words, “when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. I don’t know if the writers were making a point or not, but when I’m watching children’s cartoons, I find them more entertaining when I deconstruct them ad absurdum.
I remember seeing “A Grand Day Out” at an animation festival around 1990, and then seeing “The Wrong Trousers” and “A Close Shave” a few years later. I was so thrilled by them (not least by the incredible chase scenes toward the end of ‘Trousers’ and ‘Shave’) that I seriously considered animation as a career.
Our kids love these, in particular the first one, “A Grand day Out” in which Wallace and Gromit build a rocket to visit the Moon. We’ve tried to show them more recent Wallace and Gromit adventures such as “A Matter of Loaf and Death” and “Curse of the Were-Rabbit” but they found them to be a bit too scary.
The themes are very much G-rated and are hilarious for both kids and adults.