Those of you who live in my house are already shaking your heads and rolling your eyes, but deep down you knew this post was coming.
Am I the only one who feels that the things of my childhood memories are sacrosanct and must remain as I remember them forever? It’s probably silly, but I think we all have a peculiar way of remembering the things of our early years, for better or for worse. And sometimes it can be the silliest thing, but when I find years later that it has been altered or adulterated in any way, I get quite in a huff about it. As a nerd, I am allowed to be overly enthusiastic about stuff like Doctor Who, music, and recently, Zoboomafoo.
Or rather, the complete absence of Zoboomafoo, talking lemur extraordinaire. This is going to take some explaining.
If you never watched Zoboomafoo during your childhood and are young enough that it was on at that time, you really missed out on some of the most entertaining and educational things television has to offer to small children. Allow Wikipedia to set the scene:
Zoboomafoo is an American children’s television series that aired from January 25, 1999 to April 28, 2001, and is still shown today in syndication depending on the area, and it is regularly shown on PBS Kids Sprout and TVO Kids in Canada. A total of 65 episodes were aired. A creation of the Kratt Brothers (Chris and Martin Kratt), it features a talking Coquerel’s Sifaka, a ring-tailed lemur, named Zoboomafoo, or Zoboo for short, and a collection of repeat animal guests. Every episode begins with the Kratt brothers in “Animal Junction”, a peculiar place in which the rules of nature change and wild animals come to visit and play.
So it’s a funny educational children’s show about two humans and a talking lemur puppet with freaky 80’s-style theme music. What could be more awesome than that?
“But,” you say, “I am a rational-minded person who does not subscribe to the belief that just because something is nostalgic or bizarre it is good. What makes it any better than Yo Gabba Gabba?”
I would have a few things to say to this hypothetical objector.
First, it is different from Yo Gabba Gabba mainly in that: A) it takes place in reality; B) it features an actual animal, which raises awareness of endangered species, instead of a sentient flowerpot and a Swedish Fish with one eye, among other freaks of nature; C) does not have stellar production values (one of the show’s cons); E) has two non-creepy although silly hosts instead of one very creepy host sporting an orange jumpsuit; F) teaches us that white-fronted capuchin monkeys eat nuts instead of that germs can sing and are visible with a magnifying glass.
In addition to differentiating it from the shows today’s toddlers are stuck with, these are all reasons it was one of the finest children’s programs of its day. (With the possible exception of the production values. But you can use it as a opportunity to teach your children that life isn’t always like it looks in the movies.)
So what is it I’m in a huff about?
Wild Kratts is an American educational children’s animated series created by Chris Kratt and Martin Kratt. The Kratt Brothers Company and 9 Story Entertainment produce the show, which is presented by PBS in the United States, and TVOntario, Tele-Quebec, and Knowledge Network in Canada. The show’s aim is to educate children about biology, zoology, and ecology, and teach kids small ways to make big impacts.
So what? I should be happy, right? The Kratt brothers are still in business! Yay!
No. *cue picture of Grumpy Cat*
It was a night like any other as my family was Netflix-surfing, but then the title “Wild Kratts” and the animated graphic of Chris and Martin on the front caught my attention. “What? Wait, go back. It’s the Kratt brothers.” Even after all these years, the name was still recognizable to me.
So Dad clicked it onto the flatscreen as I waited in fear that it would be an animated watered-down version of the Zoboomafoo I remembered. But it started out with a segment of Chris and Martin out on an adventure in some place wild. Until, that is, they said something along the lines of “Imagine if we could do such and such like this animal…” Then, hopping into a quazi-superhero stance, they cried in unison, “What if?” and an animated colored blur reminiscent of an alien tractor beam shot up, engulfed them, and a split second later they emerged, instantly young with huge eyes and crazy hair courtesy of computer animation.
So naturally I screamed, “NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!”
“I can’t watch this!” I called out over the theme song which taunted me from the living room. But every good blogger must do their research, so I brought myself to call up YouTube and see if I could find an episode. My denunciation of this abominable program must be complete.
I was surprised to discover that the production company itself posts full episodes to YouTube, which is very generous of them, but they only had sense enough to post it at 240p resolution. I grimaced through the theme song. It was freaky, but it wasn’t catchy nor melodic as Zoboomafoo’s was. And like most action-packed children’s show theme songs, the background images were frenetic. Maybe they think all kids have ADHD nowadays?
My first impression nearly five minutes in was that it wasn’t the worst children’s show I had seen. But it was proving to make use of many clichés. And that’s when I discovered that the Kratt brothers had supersuits that gave them the ability to grow wings and claws like a peregrine falcon, or resemble whatever other animal they wanted, I imagine.
The duo occasionally struggled to fit facts about bison and the prairie into the plot, but they didn’t get boring until 12 minutes in. I skipped to the ending, so, okay, I didn’t watch the whole thing. But I watched enough to see it has a good message, but the best parts of the show were the beginning and end when the Kratt brothers were in the real world. They’re much more engaging that way.
Compared to other children’s shows, it may be good, but it can’t hold a candle to the classics I watched like Little Bear and Franklin. I guess my real issue with it is that they took what wasn’t broke and tried to fix it. I think the show lacks so much just due to the fact that Zoboomafoo isn’t in it. He was one of the coolest talking animals ever, and probably the only quotable one. “Mangatsika!” “I can’t believe my mind!” And of course, “I was leaping along…”
So now that you’ve read over a thousand words of my rambles on the subject of a children’s show, how can I make it relevant to you? What can we take from this travesty? Well, there are a lot of established ideas in our world that have to be challenged, but let’s not destroy the past just because it’s the past. Those ideas exist for a reason; it would not be progress but regress if we destroy our previous advancements. To avoid that, we must consider everything carefully.
And for heaven’s sake, live in the present. Today will soon be gone. Cherish every moment. You never know when the things you remember will be modernized and animated.
And if you find things are no longer the same, don’t be afraid to ask, “Where’s the lemur?”
I leave you with three straight hours of Zoboomafoo.