Judge Mike Pinsky longs for a live-action feature film of this show, with Russell Crowe and Yahoo Serious as the kind and helpful marsupial brothers.
"We're here to help!"—Frank and Buster Koala
In a one-horse town so small that it doesn't even have a horse—or a name—a collection of friendly talking animals live out their days skipping rope and playing by the watering hole. Frank and Buster, the Koala Brothers, dutifully fly their airplane between their homestead and the town, looking for people to help. Other than this, the brothers appear to have no jobs, nor any visible means of support. But that is not a problem, because when anybody needs some help, the Koala Brothers will be there.
I used to like watching Playhouse Disney with my daughter, back when the musical antics of The Wiggles and the inventive whimsy of Rolie Polie Olie were still fresh. But gradually, the morning lineup has become increasingly insufferable, as shows like the annoying Higglytown Heroes and (ugh!) Doodlebops have taken over. The first sign of this downhill slide was The Koala Brothers. It has one key theme and plays that theme like an endless didgeridoo note: helping is good. It is a nice lesson for children, and I try to teach my daughter to help. But that is the only lesson taught by The Koala Brothers. Every show is the same. First, Frank and Buster fly around while the narrator introduces the supporting cast, then announces the character whom the brothers will help in that particular cartoon. Then Frank and Buster help out that character. The pattern is repeated: same introduction, then another story. Finally, the characters all gather to sing "The Helping Song." Exactly. The. Same. Thing. Every. Time.
Kids like repetition, but there is a numbing quality to The Koala Brothers that renders the show as lifeless as the flat expanse of desert surrounding the heroes' little town. Just watch either of the two DVD releases from Lions Gate, Meet the Koala Brothers and We're Here to Help. Each disc contains four episodes (eight stories total) from the show. Watch the brothers help little Ned the wombat fulfill his dream of becoming a sea captain—in the middle of the Australian outback. In another episode, they help Ned fulfill his dream of being a cop. Both solutions involve having the right hat for the job. The brothers—and even after watching this show many times with my daughter on television, I still cannot figure out which one is Frank and which one Buster—help Josie the kangaroo learn how to skip rope. They help Archie the British crocodile with a loose tooth. They help Mitzi the possum (who evidently lives with them, which is a subject you don't want to get into with your kids) get odd jobs so she can buy a toy carousel. The lesson of each episode is always the same. Always try to help. Helping is good. We like helping out. It makes you want to throw an Ayn Rand novel at the producers and tell them you've had enough of altruism.
The art design for the show is just as simple as its premise. The plasticine figures have no texture; the Koala Brothers' ears are even drawn in rather than shaped. The outback setting means that background props are kept to a minimum, and earth tones rule the color spectrum. Besides the long repeated introduction, each story tends to recycle footage (especially the same shots of the Koala Brothers launching their plane) to cut costs.
So how can you tell Meet the Koala Brothers from We're Here to Help? Well, one has a karaoke version of "The Helping Song" and a simple silhouette game, and the other one has a trivia game and overview of the characters. Does it really matter which is which? Each DVD has an autoplay feature, so you can use it to babysit your children, assuming you dislike them enough to anesthetize them with one of these discs.
My daughter watched the first disc with me. She is almost three years old now (the target age for the series, according to its website) and very, very opinionated. When I asked her whether she liked the show, she said yes, though without the enthusiasm she normally displays for something like, say, a Disney movie. When I asked her what she liked about it, she could not answer. When I asked her if other people would like to watch it, she could not answer. After the fourth or fifth story about the wonders of helping out, she was very fidgety and volunteered to go to bed.
I read somewhere, and I do not know if this is true, that real koala bears are bad-tempered little creatures that appear docile because they spend most of their time stoned on eucalyptus. Now that would make a much more entertaining children's show than The Koala Brothers.
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