Jerry Beck finds that Tiny Planets teaches big concepts to pre-schoolers in a completely charming way.
Pre-school programming is quite wonderful these days. Rolie Polie Olie, Blues Clues and Oswald are but a few of the superior edu-tainment shows aimed at the younger ones, ages three through six. Now joining their ranks is the delightful Tiny Planets, a co-production of the U.S.'s Sesame Workshop and the U.K.'s Pepper's Ghost Productions.
This is a series of 65 five minute episodes designed to encourage children to be explorers. The basic premise has two space creatures, Bing and Bong, sent on a simple mission which requires them, and the viewer, to think. And each episode has a small message which invites children to solve problems on their own, stimulates a sense of self-discovery and encourages greater self-confidence.
The episodes themselves are charming. Pepper's Ghost has the opportunity to create new creatures and different worlds for each situation. The visuals are simple, alien, yet totally familiar to a child's view of the world. Bing and Bong travel to each planet via a fluffy white couch -- attached by a bungee cord to their home base.
Bing is the larger, older 'Abominable snowman' character who puts much thought into every situation. The younger and smaller Bong, who looks like a snowball with pipe cleaner legs, is an impulsive ball of energy. Both communicate through actions, in pantomime, without dialogue.
The only voice we hear is from Halley, an all-knowing young female who is always on the lookout for ways Bing and Bong can help the inhabitants of the Tiny Planet Universe. That universe is made up of seven unique worlds, each created with great imagination: The Planet of Nature, Planet of Technology, Planet of Self, Planet of Light & Color, Planet of Sound, Planet of Stuff and the Home Planet.
The simple educational premises give the animators plenty to work with. In "Patterns On Parade," Bing and Bong identify color patterns and shapes -- which leads to a pageant of space creatures (called "Flockers" on this show), who go into a delightful Busby Berkeley musical number. In "Night Light Sleep Tight," Bing & Bong go camping on a small asteroid. Afraid of the dark, Bong uses the glowing locals as a natural night light -- and encourages the kids at home to brave nighttime darkness.
An alien, yet child-like look at the world. Bing and Bong set out on their next adventure.
The episodes are short and sweet, gently driving home a point, book-ended by a nifty bubblegum pop theme song (by Kim Goody & Alan Coates). The series is supported by a dedicated Website (www.tinyplanets.com). It's a nice little project that should be enjoyed by all your little alien creatures.
Jerry Beck is an animation producer and cartoon historian who is simultaneously developing a show with MTV Animation and writing a book for Harry N. Abrams Publishers. He also has a cool Website at www.cartoonresearch.com.