Judge Eric Profancik doesn't like attention-deficit little brats.
"I want it now!"
Being a single adult male in my early thirties, I had never heard of the PBS show Caillou. When I received the title and saw the bald four-year-old boy on the cover, my first question was how to pronounce the kid's name: that would be "kai-you" (with "kai" rhyming with "sky"). My second thought was to ponder the origin of this French-sounding name. After a quick surf on Google, I discovered that the name is Irish in origin, meaning "Smile of the Sun." How sweet! Too bad Caillou isn't that sweet, but we'll get to that later.
It's very important for you, dear reader, to know that I have no children, I don't really think I have any inclination to have any children, I don't have any younger siblings, and my niece and nephew are 250 miles away so I don't see them that often. Keeping all this in mind, I don't have the first clue how to raise kids. I don't know what will entertain them, nor do I know what they like. As such, in this review, I'll use my adult intellect to make wild deductions about what a child might enjoy viewing. More importantly, I'll offer my thoughts on whether I think this disc is as educational and helpful as the PBS label might infer.
The basic premise of Caillou—which I always say as "Caillouuuuuuuuuu," dragging out that last vowel for a good second or two—is to follow a "realistic portrayal" of a four-year-old boy and his family. In this household, it's Mommy; Daddy; Caillou; his little sister, Rosie; their cat, Gilbert; and stuffed animal friends Teddy (a bear) and Rexy (a dinosaur). Also making appearances are Grandma, Grandpa, and many of Caillou's friends. On this disc are two themed episodes, "Caillou's Holiday" and "It's a Party." In the first episode, you watch as Caillou enjoys Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and various autumn and winter activities. The second episode shows Caillou going to his friend Leo's birthday party and wanting to become a magician, going to Grandma's house and putting on a clown party, going to another friend's party and learning about fiestas and piñatas, and finally learning about Chinese New Year from yet another friend. Caillou is exposed to many new and exciting adventures, and he overcomes his fears as he sees his family and friends having fun.
Each episode unfolds in the same fashion with quick skits of young children singing and dancing, clips of children engaged in activities related to the show's theme, and bits with Gilbert, Teddy, and Rex (as puppets) teaching a lesson surrounding each Caillou cartoon segment. It helps break up the monotony over the course of the approximately forty-minute episodes. The style for the cartoon is simple, with minimal attention to detail, further bolstered by backgrounds that are not completely filled in. (The effect is similar to looking at drawn pictures in a book.)
The chewy moral of these themed stories is to show how a four-year-old reacts to various situations. Caillou prides itself on making the boy "realistic," so the makers say that real children can better relate to Caillou. In turn, this will help your two- to six-year-old child build confidence, self-esteem, and a sense of independence and overcome problems. That's what creator Nicole Nadeau tells us in the bonus materials. And, again, who am I to argue with a trained psychologist?
Still, I do have to wonder a little bit about how Caillou is presented. On the one hand, he is somewhat realistic with his constant whining, complaining, and bipolar behavior. Maybe kids can relate better to things that are familiar. But, on the flip side, do you want to bolster this behavior in your children? Do you want them to see Caillou complain, say "he doesn't want to anymore," rarely finish anything he starts, and just be a somewhat bratty child? Wouldn't you rather have your children see a slightly better role model on television? A child who isn't quite as wishy-washy? Caillou, overall, is a sweet child, as his name implies, but he always has those moments where he just disappears, failing to finish what he started.
For those who will decide to purchase this disc, you will be pleased with what you get. In addition to two fairly interesting stories, the disc has a few bonus materials to augment the fun. For the kids, there are two interactive games, "Matching" and "Dress Rosie." In the first, children are shown an item and have to find its match in the four similar items on the side. In the second, they are shown the weather outside and have to decide which of three outfits is best for Rosie to wear. While cute, these games are incredibly short (though maybe for kids they're not so short). The matching game has ten items, and the Rosie game has six. If you play it again, it's the same game in the same order. I'm guessing even kids will bore of that. Next up is "Sing with Caillou," offering two karaoke choices, the "Caillou Theme Song" and "Gilbert My Cat." Rounding out the extras are biographies (for the major characters, animated, running thirty seconds each) and a "Parent's Corner" with some history and viewing suggestions.
I can see the pros and cons of Caillou, and I am not alone. I visited a board and found people vigorously debating each side. The bottom line is that it is up to parents to decide if they believe the show will benefit their children. In my humble opinion, I'm not so sure Caillou is the best choice, but I will admit I'll watch him over Barney any day!
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