13 December 2005 | Tubular_Bell
A must-watch for anyone interested on what preschool TV should be
And here's more proof that you don't need to make shows dumb, repetitive and grating just because they are for young kids. The Backyardigans is one of the biggest landmarks in terms of entertainment for children, and not for just a few reasons. Basically every aspect of the show is well thought-out and well executed to the point that you can think of it just as a sum of its parts: music, characters, writing, animation and everything else form a much bigger whole that's bound to captivate you and entertain you and your kids without trying to hypnotise you with repetition.
What gets my attention right away in the series is the characters. And not because they're cute, have fun voices or anything: unlike in many shows, the characters are neither designed according to stereotypes, nor designed to be "loved". The characters are like most normal kids, with their flaws and strengths. Each character reveals a world of complexity when you look closer at him, but yet, you're able to sit back and just enjoy the roles he takes in the many stories the five friends make up. But it's that mixture of simplicity and complexity that makes the whole thing work: the characters are just kids, and nothing more. Some more impatient watchers might get annoyed at Tasha's attitude and temper, at times, but who never had a friend who acted like her, at times? If Pablo, Uniqua, Austin and Tyrone are able to be her friends even when she acts moody and bossy, the watchers certainly should be able to forgive her occasional misbehaviour.
The very basic premise of the show isn't innovative: it stimulates imagination. But it does so by showing the five friends' wonderful adventures (they've got the whole wide world in their yard to explore!) as what they are: child's play. The writing in the series is fantastic, revealing intelligent stories with unique twists, like the "Snow Fort" episode and the misunderstanding at the end, or the clever set-up of "Riding The Range". Sometimes the stories are simple, but still rich, warm and deliciously entertaining, and it invites children (and adults!) into the kids' fertile minds and shows that, when you're a kid, everything is possible. What's also noteworthy is the subtle jokes and lines the writers drop, like recurring comments like "You can say that again!" (which is, sometimes, interpreted literally) or Tyrone's strategic, hilarious "That certainly is convenient" when something looks slightly contrived. That's only helped by the actors' fantastic job, and also because they are all actual children. Those brilliant child actors can give a special flavour to the show that adult actors just can't give, no matter how good they are. And a show like The Backyardigans greatly benefits from that.
Last, but not least, the show features some of the most stunningly brilliant music ever seen on children's shows. As you might have seen already, The Backyardigans is a musical, but the musical acts are so spontaneous, colourful and brilliant, you'll hardly notice it. There are four new songs per episode, one of them always being a parody of a well-known song. But the biggest feature, in my opinion, is that each episode features a different musical genre, such as Argentinean Tango, Reggae, Big Band, Hip Hop, Disco, Gilbert & Sullivan, Bossa Nova and Rock 'n' Roll. And we're talking about professional, catchy and gorgeous music here - and even the most demanding musical geeks shall be surprised by the music presented here.
The animation is superb, easy-on-the-eyes and captivating, keeping that "cartoony" spirit to it, and still presenting gorgeous and palpable landscapes to the viewers. But if I start talking to deep into aspects like animation, I'd go on and on about a huge number of other things. Suffice to say, this is absolutely safe, but still clever, stimulating, humane and unforgettable stuff for everyone. If you're feeling particularly tired of malicious, dumbed-down entertainment that takes you for granted, The Backyardigans is bound to be the ideal alternative. And be sure to grab the songs, too: they've got a CD released, with some of their best tunes. They're going to grow on you before you realise it.