Judge Dave Packard ponders whether we should encourage voyeurism in our young.
I spy! You spy! Let's all play I SPY!
The I SPY cable television series is based on Scholastic's award-winning series of books and other forms of entertainment for children. In each segment, Spyler (a peppy little guy in spite of being saddled with an eraser for a body, a tennis ball for a head, and dreadlocks made of red pipe cleaners) and his eager dog, CeCe (a canine of wooden blocks), are faced with a challenge. Within moments, the mysteriously-named Duck (a duck on wheels) zooms in and poses a solution to the challenge in the form of a rhyming riddle:
I spy a spoon, a tambourine, a whistle, and a triangle block painted green!
With a yell of "Spy ya later!," Duck zooms off again, leaving Spyler and CeCe to set out on a quest for the four objects they need to solve their challenge.
If you're familiar with the interactivity of Blue's Clues or Dora the Explorer, you have a pretty good idea of how I SPY works. Kids assist in finding the objects as the story moves along, and repetitive song-and-dance numbers abound (I SPY certainly breaks no new ground in this regard.) However, the challenge factor in this series is increased because all sorts of small toys (and other items usually found in a household junk drawer) make up Spyler's world. This usually makes the items in question a bit harder to spot amidst the blocks, jacks, billiard balls, and other knick-knacks littering each scene. All of this is presented via rough stop-motion animation that makes you feel like you're watching a Rankin/Bass holiday special of yesteryear. Don't expect the slicker polish or higher budget of other popular children's offerings.
Like any good show for the wee ones, there's a small cast of supporting characters. The previously-mentioned Duck gets the party started, Wheeler (the "happy red truck" in the show's opening music) rushes in to carry the larger objects once they are found, and a quartet of plastic knight figures wielding bottle cap shields and horrible French accents pop up frequently. The Mumble Monster is another friendly acquaintance, despite looking like Cousin It after a three-day bender.
A nice touch to each segment is something called the "Super Challenge." During the segment's title credits, a special object and quantity is highlighted (for example, you may be asked to find four bowling pins). It will then be up to the viewer to find the four bowling pins hidden throughout the segment. Neither Spyler nor CeCe make any reference to the special challenge item, so kids must ignore the story and focus on finding the special items. This feature certainly adds value to repeat viewings and is great for older kids who find the traditional scavenger hunt too simple or boring.
To keep things fresh and moving right along, two separate segments make up one half-hour episode. Sandwiched between the two segments is another find-the-four-items challenge, but Spyler, his friends, and story are jettisoned. Viewers must identify each of the items amidst a large mix of objects displayed on a simple white background.
So is it all happy faces and fuzzy blankies in Spyler's world? Not quite. CeCe has to chime in with a joke or two every segment that grinds the story to a halt, and makes you want to gnaw off your own fingers then ask for seconds. Yes, silly rabbit, the jokes are for kids, but CeCe's incessant need to explain the punch line ("Get it? Get it?!?") grate on adult nerves.
Occasionally an object is hidden a little too well because the camera doesn't zoom in close enough to make the item identifiable. I might not have noticed this if it weren't for my four year old son becoming visibly flustered when he couldn't identify an object because it was too far away.
As you can probably expect, this isn't a title you'll be using to show off your home theater's video and audio prowess. The video is in its original full-frame aspect ratio and is largely dirt-free. The nature of the stop-motion animation technique yields subtle shifts in lighting here and there that will be noticed by few adults and no children. Sound is presented in a simple Dolby Digital 2.0 mix and will not rattle sconces from your walls or make the neighbors head for the hills. Overall, the video and audio are perfectly acceptable for a title of this genre.
In summary, the series is good, solid fun. To my chagrin, my son never seemed to tire of helping Spyler and his mutt find their junk. Hearing "Whoop, we found it! Whoop, we found it! Whoop, we found it! How about you?" eight times in 30 minutes is a bit trying, but there's no denying the appeal of the series. With color oozing out of every scene, toddler-friendly characters, adult-annoying jingles, and "Super Challenge" opportunities for the older set, the I SPY series warrants a good look by any parent hoping to both entertain and educate his or her child.
This particular title, I SPY: A Thing That Flings and Other Stories, features a compilation of three episodes:
• "A Thing That Flings" and "Seashells by the
• "Home Run Fun" and "A Race in a High-flying
• "A Mumble Monster Mid-Day Snack" and "A
Polka-dot Puppet Princess"
The "A Message for Parents" featurette is, frankly, a joke. Don't expect those behind the show to tell you anything of value; instead, you get a self-serving promo with folks gushing how great and unique I SPY is.
Other than the iffy video in "Seashells by the Seashore," there's not much here with which to find fault. I hereby find I SPY: A Thing That Flings and Other Stories not guilty, although the court orders CeCe muzzled until further notice.
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Scales of Justice
• "A Message for Parents" featurette
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