Cartoons nowadays are a double edge sword. On the negative side, my kids have no idea about the power of Saturday morning, the subdual adult themes, or fun action shows. I mean really, there is no G.I. Joe, Thundercats, or He-Man type cartoons on anymore and it sucks.
On the positive side though my kids have access to cartoons 24/7, entertaining educational cartoons, and parents who enjoy the cartoons as much as they do. Growing up in my house we only had one TV and parents trumped kid every time when it came to TV time. I missed out on a few things, but no biggie. Today as a Dad, we still have only TV (no reason for more really at the moment) but we allow the kids to watch what shows they want during their allotted TV time.
Good thing for them (and us) that Mommy and Daddy love cartoons almost as much as them. So here’s a quick list of Cartoons we all enjoy as a family.
1. Blaze and the Monster Machines
A show that makes your kids yell “pump”, “shaft”, and “knob” at the TV is awesome in my book. Hey, not like that! Blaze and the Monster Machines is a show based on teaching S.T.E.M to children. S.T.E.M stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math for those of you without kids in elementary school.
First and foremost Blaze is a show about a group of monster trucks who live in a world a’la Pixar’s Cars. Seriously there are only two humans on the show and I’m convinced they are androids or something. Anyway, Blaze is the super positive leader of his friends and can turn into whatever machine they need, to get out of a jam. Hence yelling at the TV what parts he needs to make himself into a new machine, like a bulldozer, firetruck, or boat.
Another great aspect of the show is that it teaches things like the laws of movement and physics. It’s really awe inspiring to hear your four year old talking about things like centrifugal force, fulcrums, and momentum.
Some of the stuff I get a kick out of about this show is all the animal versions of vehicles and that the monster trucks move like a kid is playing with them. There are ramps all over the place and a simple jump is landed after a couple flips and spins. Just makes me envision my two year old son saying “vroom vroom” while they fly through the air. The whole show seems like a childs wish list of awesomeness with dinosaurs, ancient ruins, and Gasquatch…man I love this show. And if you need it spelled out, Gasquatch is a bigfoot Monster Machine…but not that Bigfoot.
2. Sofia the First
The one thing about Sofia that I as a 40 year old dork dude like is the fantasy elements. Sofia lives in a magical world where there are many regions with different shticks. They are mostly cultural like Asian, Norwegian, and Eastern European but there are also troll cities underground, mer-people cities underwater, and dragons living in mountain tops.
Now if you don’t know, Sofia (Modern Family’s, Ariel Winter) is the stepdaughter to a King and has twin stepsiblings, James and Amber. As a welcome to the family gift, Sofia’s stepfather gave her an amulet. Little did anybody know that the amulet gave Sofia the power to talk to animals and summon Disney Princesses whenever she needs help or guidance. Over time the amulet has granted new powers (like size alteration) and recently we have discovered that there is a princess trapped in the amulet (that now has her own show, Elena of Avalor).
Now don’t get me wrong, this show is so sickening sweet that the more harden of hearts may puke rainbows. Rainbows yes, but still puke nonetheless. Couple all of this fantasy and Disney magic together and you’re bound to get songs. and impressively there are good songs in every episode. I can’t imagine the crunch time the music writers must go through with pumping out more tunes than most bands but out in their whole careers. As far as the songs go, my wife and I bought our daughter two of the soundtracks and for six-months straight that was all we listened to in the car…and we had fun singing along.
3. Thomas and Friends
I’m very aware of the cultural impact of Thomas the Tank Engine. I remember seeing the model railway / stop motion hybrid a few times in the very early ’90s on Shiny Times Station and since then I heard the outcry of parents who were spending a fortune on the toys and wooden tracks. So when my daughter expressed interest in Thomas I was very resistant at first. I had a “NO THOMAS IN MY HOUSE” stance that held strong until this past summer.
While we were on vacation this past summer in North Carolina the condo we were staying at pulled a fast one and lowered their cable package some time in between our yearly stays. This left PBS as the only station with kids programming we could get, which in turn meant Thomas was full steam ahead into our kids hearts and fearfully into my wallet.
But I was glad to see times had changed for Thomas. Gone were the little creepy trains with molded faces and stuck in place people. Now Thomas was a shiny CGI animated show with a larger cast of trains and jaunty little songs. The Island of Sodor was now a place I wanted to visit with it’s beautiful seaside and hilltop castle. As a bonus we’ve also learned a lot of railway lingo that is sure to prepare us for railway adventures in the future.
Due to the popularity of Thomas the prices of the toys are way more reasonable and offer more than just wooden tracks a stuffy rail buildings. Hell, they even have a haunted glow-in-the-dark track set with ghosts I want…I mean my kids want. The only downside has been that when I need to bring down the law at home I become possessed by railway owner Sir Toppen Hat, and sprout things like “Be a useful engine” and “You’re causing confusion and delay”.
Imagine you have an unlimited omni-power to create anything you want. Like all great powers it has one drawback, whatever you create has to start with a certain letter or sound…and this letter or sound changes daily. So say you need to cross a river and your letter for the day is “J”, you could create a “jet ski” and speed across. Oh, and as a bonus to having this awesome magical power you are a troll.
This is the power that Wally Trollman has via his simple stick-like wand. Along with his friends Norbert the dragon, Ogre Doug, Gina Giant, Libby Light Sprite, Betty Yeti, and sometimes foil Bob Goblin, Wally gets into letter and word based adventures with other colorful, fantasy inspired characters.
I love how educational this show is without it being a total bore. It’s actually the opposite, it’s very entertaining and like Sofia it has fun and enjoyable music in every episode. Even now I have the song “My Friend The King” stuck in my head from the episode “Castle Caper”. The totally immersed fantasy setting is a major bonus, as is the way they pay homage to almost everything from comic books to zombie zucchini.
Over the shows two seasons of the show so far I have seen my four year old daughter go from just enjoying the colorful characters and music to actually leaning to spell, gotta love that. I hope Wallykazam goes on for many, many years. Even if my kids won’t need it anymore, I’ll still tune in to get more songs stuck in my head.
Of course a show about anthropomorphic animals would be on the list. The Octonauts is a show about a group of undersea adventurers that help protect the oceans of the world from humans (?) and from itself.The Octonauts help clean up pollution as well as save underwater communities from erupting volcanos. All while showcasing a new underwater creature every episode.
The Octonauts are made up of leader, Captain Barnacles the polar bear, medic, Peso the penguin, Cryptozoologist, Lieutenant Kwazii the cat, Oceanographer and founder, Professor Inkling the octopus, marine biologist, Shellington the sea otter, Engineer, Tweak the rabbit, information technology officer, Dashi the dog, and ship cook, Tunip the vegimal.
With a mix of very real marine biology and very farfetched technology, Octonauts is a very fun show that has a British spy movie crossed with Star Trek vibe to it. It has fun adventure elements that mix well with lessons on aquatic life and our responsibilities to the worlds oceans. Luckily these messages aren’t to heavy handed and seem to happen organically due to good writing and good use of the characters.
This is one of those shows that when you turn the TV on after putting the kids to bed and Disney Jr. still on, you leave it on and relax to the undersea adventures of the Octonauts. And maybe you’ll learn a thing or two about some of the more odd creatures living under the water.
So remember to find joy and entertainment in the simple things. It’ll keep you young and sometimes you may learn something.