BBC Video // 2005 // 156 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Mike Pinsky (Retired) // November 13th, 2006
"I have this little sister, Lola. She is small and very funny." -- Charlie Sonner, introducing each story
Charlie Sonner is seven years old. He is well-mannered, playful, and always up for a laugh. His little sister Lola is four. Charlie narrates tales of his sister's antics. She likes to color, to pretend she is a doctor or a waitress, to chase after dogs and butterflies. She always believes she is right, even though sometimes she must discreetly ask Charlie for help in solving impossible problems -- like say, getting rid of a spider or shopping for a birthday present.
As I was in the middle of writing the above paragraph, my daughter, almost four as of this writing, came in the room and offered to share her chewing gum. When I politely declined, she said it was okay, then launched into a long shaggy dog story about chewing gum, then left the room. Ten seconds later she came back in to tell me she was finished with her gum, offered it to me again, then agreed to throw it away. I predict that within an hour, she will tell me yet another story about chewing gum -- and probably remind me out of the blue (as if I did not know) that her one-year-old brother cannot have any chewing gum, and that if I want my own piece she will be glad to share one from her stash in the other room, and maybe there -- well, you get the picture. If you have small children, you know this is how they behave. A tiny event becomes the focus of their world, spinning at the center of a world of stories and activities, until the next tiny event overtakes it and becomes the most important thing. They are small...and very funny.
Based on the work of children's author Lauren Child, Charlie and Lola was created for British television, but airs here in the United States on Disney's morning cable block, Playhouse Disney, where it is squeezed in between much higher-profile marketing juggernauts as The Wiggles and Little Einsteins. Its 12-minute segments can be easily overlooked amid noisier children's fare.
In the spirit of many stories set in the world of childhood play, we never see any adults. Indeed, many stories switch freely between the real world and Lola's imagination as if -- in the spirit of a small child -- the two are virtually indistinguishable sometimes. The only other regular characters are Charlie's best friend Marv and Lola's best friend Lotta, plus occasional appearances by Marv's dog Sizzles and Lola's imaginary friend Soren Lorensen.
It is difficult to pin down exactly why I find Charlie and Lola so engaging. Perhaps Lola reminds me too much of my own precocious daughter, constantly busying herself with new entertainments borne from an imagination that is two steps ahead of her constant efforts to explain herself. Perhaps it is the art design, which looks as if Charlie and Lola grabbed a handful of crayons and drew it themselves. The character movement and occasional use of cut-outs suggest lumage (but all done inexpensively on computers).
The situations are fairly mundane in each episode, but they provide plenty of opportunities for amusing dialogue. The usual "lessons" are downplayed, and even though it is nice to see two siblings so supportive of one another, their relationship is not overly saccharine. The vocal performances (by Jethro Lundie-Brown and Maisie Cowell as the Sonner siblings on these first-season episodes) come from real children, rather than adult actors trying to sound like children (and sentimentalizing childhood). When you hear Lola's singsong cadences as she rattles off every tiny thought that crosses her mind, you cannot help but find this enormously charming. The dialogue is quite British, making much of Lola's polite, often roundabout insistence on making herself understood and her absolute certainty that she is right about pretty much everything -- except when she desperately and immediately needs help from her big brother. Even repeating her dialogue here -- like when she announces something is "my favorite and my best" -- cannot capture the pauses, lifts in her tone, and careful enunciations that make her dialogue so funny. Even when nothing of consequence is happening in a story and the dialogue is just throwaway, I find myself smiling all the way through it. And that theme song gets stuck in my head for days.
Volume 1 includes seven episodes:
* "I will ever never eat a tomato" -- Lola is a picky eater and refuses to eat, well, a remarkably long list of foods. Typical five-year-old. So Charlie comes up with clever ways to talk her into eating her dinner. Peas are "green drops from Greenland," and mashed potatoes are "cloud fluff" floating over Mount Fuji.
* "We do promise honestly we can look after your dog" -- Lola and her best friend Lotta are definitely sure that Marv's dog Sizzles is capable of amazing stunts (including tightrope walking and speaking English). But Sizzles is not very good at following directions at all.
* "I'm far too extremely busy" -- Lola has to write a letter and take it to the mermaids to mail, then run a café, clean Soren Lorensen's teeth in her dental office, and -- well, you can see that she just doesn't have time to play a silly game with Charlie.
* "It's a secret..." -- Lola has a hard time keeping the secret of Charlie's birthday present. Ever know a four-year-old try to not tell somebody something?
* "I love going to Granny and Grandpa's it's just that..." -- Lola usually loves going to her grandparent's seaside house for vacation, where she can ride ponies and eat apple pie with ice cream. But she is also worried about missing Soren Lorensen while she is away.
* "I'm just not keen on spiders" -- Lola isn't really afraid of spiders, but "they just make me feel all yucky." Fortunately, Charlie is there to help out.
* "I'm really ever so not well" -- Lola is so sick from her cold that she cannot enjoy singing or pink milk. What can Charlie do to cheer her up and still get to his football game with Marv?
There is a jigsaw puzzle game suitable for toddlers that provides clips as rewards. There are two Easter eggs: a brief montage of Lola playing dress-up in various episodes and an adorable audio clip (animated in the show's style) of Maisie Cowell chatting with the voice director between recording takes. Extras on Volume 2 include a hide-and-seek game that includes a lot of giggling, a tribute to Sizzles, and an outtake from a recording session with Ryan Harris (Marv). Both discs are presented in anamorphic widescreen, and because these seem to be transferred directly from their digital source (as computer animation), the image is apparently flawless.
Volume 2 runs a little shorter and contains the following
* "I am not sleepy and I will not go to bed" -- Lola tries to stay up late by bouncing, coloring, and chattering, chattering, chattering. "I will probably still be perky at midnight and a half," she promises Charlie, who is stuck by his parents with the job of sending her off to bed. Who can sleep anyway, when there are whales in the bathtub and a lion has stolen Lola's toothbrush?
* "But that is my book" -- Is there ever a better book than Beetles, Bugs, and Butterflies? Lola doesn't think so. And she is very upset to learn somebody else has checked it out.
* "Boo! Made you jump!" -- Lola is easily startled -- and giggles every time she jumps. Can she figure out how to do the same to her big brother?
* "I want to play music too" -- Marv and Charlie practice some outer-space music for a school assembly. If only they could get Sun Ra to sit in, instead of a chattering Lola.
* "The most wonderfullest picnic in the whole wide world" -- Lola plans a picnic for her brother, Marv, and Lotta. "The thing you need to know about picnic food," she admonishes Lotta, "is that you can only eat it outside." She wants tons of food, while Charlie insists that games (especially "swirly tennis") are more important.
* "You won't like this present as much as I do" -- Lola has some money from Dad to buy a birthday present for Lotta. Is it enough to buy a live pony? How about some wings? Charlie offers the helpful advice that a present should be both useful and actually exist. And, um, don't unwrap it and play with it before the party.
The sort of "lessons" you hear in this last episode are typical of Charlie and Lola. Adventures are mostly imaginary, situations are altogether real, and the children behave believably. And what they say is quite funny, perhaps even more to parents than to kids.
In fact, I wonder if Charlie and Lola might appeal more to parents than to children, since it captures the light wonder of a child's playtime so well that kids (who might be looking to television for wilder escapism) may find it just too much like their world already. Still, I find Charlie and Lola one of my favorite programs on Playhouse Disney, and I cannot help but recommend these discs for parents of kids who are around Charlie and Lola's age. Check the show out first on the Disney Channel, and if you find it brings a smile to your children's faces, pick up these DVDs. This is one of the few recent kid shows that does not wear thin on a single viewing. Pour yourself a glass of pink milk, share a plate of cookies with your child, and enjoy.
Review content copyright © 2006 Mike Pinsky; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 156 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site
* Playhouse Disney: Charlie and Lola
* Lauren Child Official Site