Nickelodeon // 2009 // 98 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Erich Asperschlager // April 6th, 2009
"New friends put a smile on my face / I'm so very happy that you're visiting my place!"
I watched a lot of Nickelodeon when I was a kid, but I don't remember anything as surreal as Yo Gabba Gabba! If you've never seen the show, each episode begins with an orange spandex-clad guy named DJ Lance Rock walking across a vast expanse of white, carrying something that looks like a boom box but is actually a toy case. He opens the case and takes out five cartoony action figures, placing each in their own section of a tabletop diorama called "Gabbaland." He opens his hands, yells "Yo Gabba Gabba!" and they come to life and sing, dance, and learn life lessons for about 22 minutes.
Yo Gabba Gabba!: New Friends! is my first experience with the Nick, Jr. kids show and, as freaky as the whole thing is, it's also pretty awesome. This DVD has four episodes, including the new title episode with guest star Jack Black.
In "New Friends," special guest Black runs out of gas and has to land his flying minibike in Gabbaland. At first, he's afraid of the strange surroundings, but then he meets inhabitants Muno, Foofa, Brobee, Toodee, and Plex, and learns all about making new friends.
The Gabba gang learns about looking more closely at the world around them in "Find." Toodee and Brobee sing a song about fish, the gang plays hide-and-peekaboo, and Mark Mothersbaugh teaches the audience how to draw a truck.
"Greetings" is all about being polite. Saying "hello," "goodbye," "please," "thank you," and "excuse me." Super Martian Robot Girl solves the mystery of a monster who has been accidentally scaring everyone.
DJ Lance brings toys for everyone and they have to learn how to "Share." Biz Markie teaches the audience to beat box, and Cornelius plays a song on the Super Music Friends Show.
Once you get past the mindfreakiness of Yo Gabba Gabba!, it's hard not to be impressed with the talent of everyone involved. Although the sets are sparse and the characters are simple, they're all carefully designed. Muno, Brobee, and the rest of the gang would all be cool toys even without the show -- the kind of things you'd expect to see in high-end hipster boutiques alongside the clothes based on the characters that the kids who populate the interstitial segments wear.
Yo Gabba Gabba! was created by indie musician Scottie Schultz, which explains why music plays such a huge part in the show. Unlike most kids' music, though, these songs don't suck. Most of the songs have an early New Wave synth feel, with catchy beats, melodies, and lyrics. Yo Gabba Gabba!'s music falls in line with the recent trend of legitimate artists making hip music for kids. Thanks to Gabba and bands like They Might Be Giants, I might never have to subject my children to Raffi or The Wiggles.
When Schultz developed the show, he asked fellow musician Lance Robertson to play the show's host, DJ Lance. Robertson might look ridiculous in his fuzzy orange hat and Buddy Holly glasses, but man does he sell it. His enthusiasm is CDC-level contagious, and he provides a bridge between the show's human audience and Gabbaland's cuddly residents. He leads them in dances, gives them the latest issues of the Super Martian Robot Girl comic book, teaches them right from wrong, and leads them in a song-and-dance end medley of everything they did during the episode.
The list of special guests who have appeared on Yo Gabba Gabba! is as bizarre and cool as the series itself, including Elijah Wood, Melora Hardin, Rachel Dratch, and bands like The Shins, Jimmy Eat World, and The Free Design. From Devo frontman Mark Mothersbaugh's "learn to draw" segment to Biz Markie's "beat of the day," it's obvious Schultz wants to make a new kind of kids' show, and that a lot of talented people share his vision. New Friends! has cameo appearances by Jack McBrayer, Paul Scheer, and rappers Rahzel and Sean Kingston -- and features guest star Jack Black. Black, who is as cartoonish as his new friends, is a good sport, singing and dancing with gusto, and even donning a form-fitting orange jumpsuit like DJ Lance's. His episode is a gem, and a reason to pick this up for your kids. Although the other episodes on the disc are good too, they're all from 2007; it's too bad they didn't add anything more recent.
The presentation is a pretty basic full screen picture with stereo sound, but it works. The only thing more disappointing than not getting to hear the song "Peek-a-boo" in 5.1 surround is that the disc doesn't have any extras.
I won't kid you. Yo Gabba Gabba! is weird. It makes Pee-Wee's Playhouse look like Mr. Roger's Neighborhood. But it's also a sunny, happy place of unconditional positive reinforcement, ruled by talented people who are more interested in fostering creativity than targeting a demographic. It's not for all children (and definitely not for all parents), but if you want an alternative to the usual kids' fare, you can't get more alternative than this.
Not gabba guilty!
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated