Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger thinks that Caillou's bald look would go great with a nose ring and leather jacket.
No, not that kind of family fun…
Children's programming comes in an array of tones and styles. On one end of the spectrum is bling-bling mental junk food, with bland plots, garish colors, high-pitched screeching, and lots of toy promotion tie-ins. Caillou's Family Fun is pretty close to the other end of the spectrum. Like the French Canadian answer to Sesame Street, Caillou intersperses animated stories with puppet shows and live-action shots of dancing kids. Finding the right kid's DVD is all about fit; one family's screech is another's siren song. If those other shows are Dodge caravans with backseat video game systems, then Caillou is a Volkswagen Beetle with a Britax car seat in the back and some carob snacks in a little tray.
My litmus test for kids DVDs is my three-year-old son. The proof is not in the initial viewing, but in the next morning. He'll usually either ask to watch it again, or tell me why it was scary/funny/silly, or even tell me why he did not like that video. In the case of Caillou's Family Fun, he did none of those things. He simply moved on. But he does like the show a lot on PBS kids, so I don't know if this lack of comment means anything. Thus, I must do the unthinkable and review Caillou's Family Fun for myself.
The show borders on being a whiny tantrum tornado. Caillou's Family Fun is subdued in contrast, with a mellow tone. In fact, it is so mellow as to make me wonder if the plot is even comment worthy. Rather, Caillou's Family Fun presents typical 4-year-old events in as realistic a way as possible. Caillou gets worried, or runs around to play, or picks strawberries, or even sneezes because of his cat's flea collar. There are no supernatural events, wild chases through the jungle, superpowers, or other falsehoods. Caillou's Family Fun is firmly centered on abstracting real life to the level a toddler can comprehend. This means it is not for you or me, but for the kids.
The fantasy element comes from puppet shows of Caillou's toys. His cat, teddy bear, and dinosaur come to life and talk about him behind his back. This is a clever bit of imaginative play woven into an otherwise real show. The moral point of each episode gets a little discussion in this pet theater, which helps reinforce the overall theme of the show. There is also dancing, which comes out of left field and leaves the same way.
Personally, I found Caillou's Family Fun nondescript in comparison to its contemporaries. I like media stimulation, wild adventures, and blinking light shows. Nevertheless, I can see how Caillou might have just the soothing touch to reach a child. The DVD comes with brief character bios, a color matching game, and some advice for parents, none of which struck me as "must have" special features. The DVD is technically sound, with fine audio-visual quality. The bottom line is whether or not your child responds to it. If so, Caillou's Family Fun is non-objectionable, and mercifully free from marketing tie-ins to sugared cereals.
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