Appellate Judge Mike Pinsky orders you to clap with him to the beat. NOW! Clap, clap, clap, clap!
Our reviews of Little Einsteins: Rocket's Firebird Rescue (published August 29th, 2007), Little Einsteins: Fire Truck Rocket's Blastoff (published October 7th, 2009), Little Einsteins: Flight Of The Instrument Fairies (published August 6th, 2008), Little Einsteins: Race For Space (published February 20th, 2008), and Little Einsteins: The Christmas Wish (published October 27th, 2008) are also available.
"We're going a mission—start the countdown!"—Leo
Making the world safe for the cultural values of dead white guys everywhere, Little Einsteins is one of the more successful franchises to come out of the Disney Channel's preschool programming block. Ok, to be fair, they do occasionally feature stuff like Australian Aboriginal art or Katsushika Hokusai (you know, that Japanese guy who did the famous wave painting you had a poster of in your college dorm room). But for the most part, Little Einsteins is a celebration of traditional American cultural literacy. Mozart, Vivaldi, Grieg. Van Gogh, Gauguin, the Bayeux Tapestry. Don't get me wrong: Little Einsteins is a neat show, one of the few kiddie programs that doesn't seem embarrassed by its educational pretensions. Art and music are smoothly incorporated into problem-solving adventures animated in a clever blend of live action footage (usually showing off the geographical locale or spotlighted animal around which the episode is based) and CG characters that capture the primary-colored feel of the Baby Einstein products from which this is spun off.
I doubt Julie Clark, who sold Baby Einstein to Disney some years ago, had anything to do with this preschool update of her toddler video series. Little Einsteins should do her proud though. Although there are a few repetitious moments in the show (the takeoff sequence for Rocket, the curtain call that closes each show), there is far more original material per episode than many kiddie shows these days. The adventures are fast-paced—by kid standards at least—without sacrificing the educational content. Children are encouraged to participate by the characters, particularly the bossy Leo, who frequently asks your kids to clap or sing along. "Come on! Dance with us!" he might demand, pointing that baton in a vaguely threatening manner. Ok, so it really is not threatening at all.
The premise: four adventuring tots fly around the world in their multipurpose vehicle (named Rocket) having adventures which incorporate notable art and music. The leader is Leo, whose hobby is conducting with his baton cum remote control. His little sister, Annie, fancies herself a singer, though her lyrics could use some work (one example: "Open up, we want to come in! Open open open open open open up!"). Best friend Quincy (who is black) is the instrumentalist, with a particular interest in horns. Asian ballerina June handles the dancing (and given that she sits next to Leo aboard Rocket, probably has a thing going with the team leader too). So, there you are: all musically inclined and ethnically diverse. They have an underground base where they hang out with the apparently sentient Rocket (who speaks in musical tones and shakes a lot). No home life, no parents, no school.
Disney's Little Einsteins: The Legend of the Golden Pyramid includes three episodes, two of which have aired on the Disney Channel about thirty million times, by my estimation.
• "The Legend of the Golden Pyramid:" Leo and crew travel to Egypt to free a friendly melody imprisoned in a tomb by an ancient pharaoh. Along the way, they get a golden harp, escape from a crocodile along the Nile, enter a spooky tomb full of statues of Ramses II, then solve a puzzle to enter the Sphinx. Coming in the eventual director's cut: Leo finds a scorpion in his sleeping bag, while Quincy gets turned into a mummy and eats Annie. The art: hieroglyphics. The music: Brahms' "Hungarian Dance Number 5."
• "Dragon Kite:" June finds a beautiful kite in her yard, and—apparently having never been told by her absent parents not to talk to paper dragons—decides to lead the team to the Great Wall of China and other landmarks to gather the participants for a dragon kite parade. No word on the political repercussions of Rocket's egregious violation of Chinese airspace. The art: Chinese painters you have probably never heard of. The music: "In the Hall of the Mountain King" from Grieg's Peer Gynt, which you have almost certainly heard many, many times. My daughter obsessed over June's "super ballet leap" for weeks after first seeing this.
• "Annie and the Little Toy Plane:" In San Francisco, Annie helps Jimmy Stewart decipher the mystery of Madeline Elster's—-- um, wait, wrong notes. Oh, this has something to do with Annie and a toy plane. This episode has not yet aired on television; its remixed opening song and extended curtain call sequence peg it as a Season Two entry. The music: Mozart's Symphony Number 40. The art: Keith Haring, one of the few contemporary artists featured on the show.
The only extra feature is an interactive storybook in which Leo drags you along to solve that age-old puzzle, "Where's Froggy's Family?" Given how often your kids have probably seen two of the three episodes on this disc, Disney could have offered more enticement to shell out for this compilation.
Of the current crop of shows on Playhouse Disney, Little Einsteins is probably the best. Check it out with your kids, then see if picking up some of the DVDs (compilations and a couple of original direct-to-DVD films) suits you. There is a glut of bad, boring, and repetitive children's programming clogging the airwaves. Little Einsteins is a pleasant exception.
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