Will success spoil Nate the Great?
November 30, 2008 5:48 PM   Subscribe

It happened to Clifford. It happened to Little Bear. It happened to Harold and his Purple Crayon, and Curious George. Now, Moe Greene productions presents, Nate the Great. I don't want to begrudge my favorite children's book authors a fat paycheck, BUT...

Is it about the product, or is it about the kids? The classic books remain, but is the brand enriched or is it watered down by "merch?" Whatever happened to teaching kids to read? Some people have their own ideas.
posted by rikschell (32 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It must be Nate the Great day on Metafilter.
posted by etc. at 5:52 PM on November 30, 2008 [3 favorites]

Have some pancakes to celebrate.
posted by rikschell at 5:57 PM on November 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Moe Greene Productions? Wow, the "Moe Greene Special" episode is really going to scar some kids for life.
posted by scody at 6:03 PM on November 30, 2008 [3 favorites]

Clifford was always big.
posted by stresstwig at 6:29 PM on November 30, 2008 [3 favorites]

The Clifford show sucks, but then so do the books. At least each show has some kind of lesson (however treacly) rather than being an extended, but lame...well, I hesitate to say "shaggy dog story"...highlighting the basic theme of the series: Clifford Is Large.

I don't know anything about Little Bear in either format or any Harold TV show.

The Curious George show is at least 50x better than the books. It is genuinely funny across multiple age groups and educational being preachy (mainly because they focus on science and math for preschoolers, rather than Life Lessons).

Note that both the net positives I mention are from PBS. I believe this is not an accident. Nate the Great could well be very good.
posted by DU at 6:34 PM on November 30, 2008 [2 favorites]

educational WITHOUT being preachy
posted by DU at 6:49 PM on November 30, 2008

Man, Clifford really does suck, although I get a kick out of the one character who is always, always a total bitch and yet the other "nice" kids are too...well, simple, really, to ever just call her on it. When the main characters are that cloying, the nasty ones are always going to be more interesting. And of course, no one ever speaks about what they do with Clifford's giant turds; that island would be a Superfund site in a week.
posted by emjaybee at 6:52 PM on November 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Jetta. I know, right? I've often wondered if Jetta has like an alcoholic mother or something. The "nice" kids could use a spell in a sweatshop. Burn off a little of that energy.
posted by DU at 7:08 PM on November 30, 2008

The Little Bear show is actually quite good. Very true to the stories with lovely Sendak inspired art. It's a nice, quiet, gentle change from the usual frenetic kids' fare.

As for Nate the Great, I hope they can stick with the hard-boiled tone of the books. For a series aimed at early readers the books have a surprisingly strong narrative voice.

Clifford is just bad. Or was just bad. I think they stopped making them when John Ritter died.
posted by Biblio at 7:31 PM on November 30, 2008

my name is nate
posted by Baby_Balrog at 8:20 PM on November 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Dude, have you seen the Curious George movie? It's adorable. The first five minutes alone are guaranteed to cheer anyone out of any bad mood. Some adaptations suck, but don't begrude your favourite a new life and new audience.
posted by yellowbinder at 8:25 PM on November 30, 2008

Why all the hate for Clifford in here? First we're whipping the ghost of Charles Schulz for not being progressive enough about racial issues as portrayed in his comic strip, and now we're going to beat on the big red dog for not being particularly clever? Give Clifford some love, people, come on.

Spare your rage instead for that "Sam" character from Green Eggs and Ham. What an obnoxious little twit. "Try them! Try them! You will see! Eat them! EAT THEM! EAT THE GREEN EGGS AND HAM! NOW! DO IT!"
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:30 PM on November 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

I opened this, thinking it was about Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight fame. We used to know him as NateThaGreat on my old poker stomping grounds. I was baffled by the links.
posted by Lame_username at 8:31 PM on November 30, 2008

Little Bear is just like the books: pretty gentle and sweet. Harold and the Purple Crayon won an Emmy!
posted by Solon and Thanks at 9:08 PM on November 30, 2008

I can't stand The Curious George Show because all that monkey does is cause trouble. Of course it all works out okay because of the hand of god the writers, but that monkey is nothing but trouble.

No mention of Clifford's Puppy Days? It takes place when Clifford was a small puppy and he was living in an apartment. That show is just as bad as Clifford: The Big Red Dog. I want to know what happened to Daffodil between Puppy Days and The Big Red Dog.

And there's also Martha Speaks which is not as good is better than the Cliffords or Curious George. Instead of teaching a lesson, the show is focused on building vocabulary which allows it to be funnier and have different types of plots.

And what about Arthur and Postcards from Buster? Those shows are both usually really good.
posted by nooneyouknow at 9:10 PM on November 30, 2008

I don't mind the Curious George show. It is far more tolerable than most kids shows. Also, it is incredibly cute that my son calls the show, "Ooo oo."
posted by popechunk at 9:39 PM on November 30, 2008

Overall - shows on PBS without 3 minutes of commercials every 7 minutes for the latest Barbie's love-nest-crackhouse-playset-with-couch-for-Ken-who-won't-look-for-a-damn-job-and-borrows-the-frickin'-pink-Corvette-without-telling-Barbie shite immediately place these shows head and shoulders above 90% of kids TV.

Good and I Can Watch: Arthur, Curious George (cool monkey sounds! William H. Macy narrates! The Man In The Yellow Hat is funny!)

Good But Drives Me Batty: Dora and various spinoffs (Diego), Little Bear

Bad: Clifford (at least Jetta gets a comeuppence here and there, the stick up Emily Elizabeth's ass is only a few inches shorter than she is).

Bad and I Want To Hurt People After I See It: Caillou
posted by jalexei at 10:16 PM on November 30, 2008 [3 favorites]

Are there any adaptations worse than the corpse-raping of Dr Seuss' work over the past few years?
posted by rodgerd at 11:21 PM on November 30, 2008

Oh god, Caillou.... I watched that show with my son when he was younger, and I always wondered (and hated myself for wondering), "Is...is Caillou supposed to be a cancer kid? Is that why he's bald and everyone is so freaking nice to him even though he's clearly spoiled and insufferable? And what the hell is his mother wearing? That blouse looks like an Olive Oyl-inspired maternity tarp. And what's with the chuckling, the constant mirthless chuckling from the adults? Do they laugh to keep from sobbing?"
posted by maryh at 11:23 PM on November 30, 2008 [4 favorites]

Are there any adaptations worse than the corpse-raping of Dr Seuss' work over the past few years?

That's really astute. I hadn't really thought about it, but Grinch was wincingly unwatchable. When I heard the words "Mike Meyers as The Cat in the Hat", I knew I didn't have to bother. What's next, The Lorax, starring Helen Hunt and Alan Alda?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:36 AM on December 1, 2008

What's next, The Lorax, starring Helen Hunt and Alan Alda?

This summer, Jerry McConnell and John C. Reilly are:

posted by Shepherd at 1:58 AM on December 1, 2008 [3 favorites]

I think Caillou is supposed to prevent child abuse or something. Because you can always sigh to yourself "at least my kid is nowhere near as spoiled and annoying as Caillou".

jalexei's ratings nail it, but I have a few others

Good and I Can Watch: Peep and the Big Wide World (science for the very young), CyberChase (a lot of "cyber" talk but usually pretty well presented math stuff)

Good But Drives Me Batty: Max & Ruby, Maisy (I can watch a couple eps of each of these, but eventually a coma develops)
posted by DU at 3:03 AM on December 1, 2008

My nineteen-year-old son well remembers the cloying awfulness of Caillou and can readily rehash his appalled indignation (redundant?) at his baby brother (now ten, then three) being exposed to such pap/crap. We allowed our youngest that half hour of unsettling weirdness only because it was on at 6:30 a.m., selfish parents that we are. Just for the record, eldest son conveniently forgets his own interest in--guess what?--Barney!

As far as the picture book/comic strip conversion to tv/film, it does seem that once out of the hands of the original authors/illustrators the dumbing down, watering down, whatevering down begins.
Dr. Seuss, like Charles Shulz controlled his material in the animated versions of his work. And I will always love the original Grinch and Lorax. All children deserve to hear Boris Karloff sometime or other.
posted by emhutchinson at 5:02 AM on December 1, 2008

I guess it comes down to this for me: I was watching John Stewart on hulu the other night and saw a PSA for Reading: It Will Take You To Another World, or something like that. The video was from one of the new Narnia movies, I guess. So they're advertising reading by showing you part of a movie. That seems insufferably stupid to me. PBS's party line seems to be, if you adapt kids books you will get the kids reading. I doubt that's true. Perhaps inside they just believe, these kids are gonna watch hours and hours of tv anyway, so let's just give them something better than He-Man. But did it never occur to them to create something new? If some of these shows are sweet and entertaining, okay, I guess that's better than them being terrible. But it seems like such a waste when you could just GO TO THE LIBRARY. Now get off my lawn.
posted by rikschell at 5:15 AM on December 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Little Bear is great. That is all.
posted by zeoslap at 6:02 AM on December 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

...if you adapt kids books you will get the kids reading. I doubt that's true.

Unscientific sample of one, but my 4.5 year old will exclaim loudly when she spots books of shows she watches* at the library, and enthusiastically check out a pile of them for bedtime reading. Conversely, she'll want to watch shows she knows originally through books, so there's clearly some cross-seeding, at least in our house.

*Just so we don't lose our Parents of the Decade medals, I must note she's allowed one "episode" (about 15 minutes) of a show in the morning, and one before bed, so disregarding all the baseball, EPL, F1 and college football that might be playing in the background on a weekend, we try and keep her at about a half-hour a day.
posted by jalexei at 7:13 AM on December 1, 2008

I generally like children's programming but I feel very lost when watching Caillou.
posted by anniecat at 8:32 AM on December 1, 2008

The plural of anecdote isn't data, but our son, who will be 4 in February, ranks his animation/show favorites thus:
  1. Anything by Pixar. Anything.
  2. The Upside Down Show (the performers for which do some more, uh, adult, and NSFW work as The Umbilical Brothers).
  3. MythBusters (tied for 2nd, really).
  4. Sesame Street.
  5. Little Bear.
Every so often, I recreationally try to figure out what the common threads are of these shows, and my working theory is that they all share:
  • The primacy of character and story over gimmick: every single one of his favorite shows features a clearly defined story or theme, around which the narrative is organized. The quick-cut, multiple-storyline, fragmented narrative stuff? Leaves him cold. For example, the truly horrific "Lazytown": he actually leaves the room if it comes on accidentally.
  • A general resistance to "talking down" to the audience. All of his favorite watching treats the audience like thinking beings: there's some translation to deal with developmental psychology, but it's by and large straightforward conversation.
  • A straightforward acceptance of the imagination as reality, and of absurdity and sometimes outright surreality as "normal". This squares with my memories of my childhood, and with the stories he tells us. It's perfectly normal for people to fly and wear onions as a hat, in his world. Hell, doesn't everyone have a pet nose? There's no negative penalty in his favorite shows for strangeness, but, more importantly, the baseline strangeness is codified, so that while it's strange, it's also consistent. I mean, you can have an onion hat, and garlic shoes, but that means a garlic hat and onion shoes would be weird.
  • An absolute gimlet eye for what kids think is fun, versus what adults think kids think is fun. The Upside Down Show and Little Bear are particularly deft at this: it's like they have kids on their writing staff, because they somehow just get how kids think and what they find funny.
posted by scrump at 9:20 AM on December 1, 2008

Dora and Diego wouldn't be quite so bad if they would just stop SHOUTING ALL THE DAMN TIME!!

My favorite is the doorman on Curious George. I love the way he says "saaaaaay" in that 40's movie/Hudsucker Proxy style.
posted by schoolgirl report at 9:44 AM on December 1, 2008

Have to give a shout-out to my current favorite kid show "The Big Comfy Couch". Everyone is a clown. My almost 2 year old doesn't like it yet, but I hold out hope. I also think Bob the Builder is not bad - but as always - Sesame Street rocks. At my house the whole show is referred to as "Elmo" - who it turns out is not as annoying as I once thought.
posted by AuntLisa at 11:53 AM on December 1, 2008

A friend of mine who used to work for PBS first voiced this this idea that has morbidly haunted me since I heard it: What if Clifford went berserk one day? His penchant for digging was put to good use when he saved the library, but what if he became rabid and went on a tear? Birdwell Island would be no more.
posted by frecklefaerie at 1:45 PM on December 1, 2008

Had to pop into this thread to say how much I love Little Bear. Never read the books but the show is one of the few shows that I feel okay watching with a preschooler.
posted by sondrialiac at 9:31 AM on December 2, 2008

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