Judge Jim Thomas eagerly awaits the episode when the featured music is "Rocket Man" by William Shatner.
Our reviews of Little Einsteins: Rocket's Firebird Rescue (published August 29th, 2007), Little Einsteins: The Legend Of The Golden Pyramid (published March 7th, 2007), Little Einsteins: Fire Truck Rocket's Blastoff (published October 7th, 2009), Little Einsteins: Race For Space (published February 20th, 2008), and Little Einsteins: The Christmas Wish (published October 27th, 2008) are also available.
"Follow the Fairies to a World of Fun!"
Now there's a tagline that demonstrates the importance of context.
If imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, then Nickelodeon should feel flattered indeed. In the wake of the success of Dora the Explorer—both in the ratings, and, more importantly, as a merchandising cash cow—Disney chimed in with their take on audience participation for kids too young for the Rocky Horror Picture Show. The show has already spawned several DVDs; the most recent being Flight of the Instrument Fairies.
Facts of the Case
Little Einsteins features four ethnically diverse kids: Leo, June, Quincy, and Annie. Each has a musical talent—singing, playing, dancing, conducting, etc; their talents contribute to completing their mission. That's right, mission. Each episode features the team having to accomplish some kind of mission—rescuing, returning someone home, etc. Their mode of transportation is Rocket, a sentient rocket who flies them wherever they need to go, and who can transform into other useful modes of transport, such as a submarine. In addition, Rocket has no carbon footprint, as it's powered by patting and clapping. Al Gore would be so proud.
Like Dora, the show is aimed directly at the preschool age group, and features a lot of audience participation. Unlike Dora, each episode features a work of art and a piece of music, both of which are incorporated into the storyline.
The disc has four episodes:
• Flight of the Instrument Fairies—The team travels to Alaska to save the instrument fairies in the Arctic. Art: Ancient Roman mosaics; Music: Violin Concerto in E Minor major, by Felix Mendelssohn
• The Puppet Princess—The team has to help a group of puppets save the puppet princess because The (Puppet) Show Must Go On. Art: drawings by Leonardo Da Vinci; Music: Funeral March of the Marionettes by Gounod
• The Glass Slipper Ball—The team races to the Glass Slipper Ball so that June can try on the glass slipper, which will only fit a truly great dancer. Art: Fish, by Andy Warhol Music; The Blue Danube, by Richard Strauss
• Little Red Rockethood—Rocket takes some rocket soup to his (its?) ailing Grandma Rocket, but the Big Bad Jet disguises himself as grandma and steals the soup. The team must recover the soup. It's when summarizing plots like this that I wonder if the editor ever considers asking for a drug test. Art: Landscape Near Murnau, by Wassily Kandinsky; Music: Marcia/Ballabile from Aida, by Verdi
The show is well-designed for the target audience—bright colors, simple plots, and the opportunity to play along. My two year-old watches raptly, joining in when prompted. The plots are somewhat nonsensical—for example, it seems pointless to carefully walk through the Sticky Forest when you can simply fly over it in your ROCKET, an issue raised to new levels of absurdity by having Rocket walk through the forest with everyone else. OK, so it doesn't teach any lessons about problem solving. That's not really the point, though. There's enough visual variety to keep little kids' attention—many times, backgrounds from the show's art is used as scene backgrounds, giving each episode a distinct look and feel.
Video is a little sharper than you might expect, partly because of the need to reproduce details from the artwork; the audio is fairly clear as well—for similar reasons. The disc also has a music mix-up game.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I'm not entirely sold on the show as a means of introducing kids to music and art. It certainly exposes them to it, but in most cases, the art is presented as out of context as the artwork used by Terry Gilliam in his Monty Python work, so I'm not sure how much appreciation is going on. For example, in "The Glass Slipper Ball," Rocket—in submarine mode—follows one of the fish from Warhol's painting down the river to the ball; you can barely recognize them as Warhol. Similarly, music is frequently stripped down to only the main melody, and on occasion one of the team will put cutesy mission-oriented lyrics to the music. I've got no problem with someone adapting music—after all, "What's Opera, Doc?" is one of the greatest cartoons ever made—but the Little Einsteins' musical endeavors are not nearly as inspired or clever as Warner Brothers'.
I'll give Disney the benefit of the doubt, but the cynic in me can't help but wonder if the music and art aren't there primarily as a lure to parents—"See! We're bringing culture to your children. That'll be $19.99 for the sippy set."
One of the benefits/curses of having small children is that you rapidly become acquainted with children's programming. Barney, Elmo, The Doodlebops…been there, done that. Little Einsteins: The Flight of the Instrument Fairies is a decent enough disc for kids aged 2-4. But parents, beware—the disc holds little attraction for anyone outside the target audience.
My two year-old loves it. That's an innocent, I guess.
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