Appellate Judge Mike Pinsky wishes all children were this cute and funny and looked like they were drawn with crayons.
Our reviews of Charlie And Lola: My Little Town (published February 14th, 2007), Charlie And Lola: It Is Absolutely Completely Not Messy (published July 11th, 2007), and Charlie And Lola: I Really Really Need Actual Ice Skates (published October 7th, 2010) are also available.
"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:
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
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.
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