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A Little Curious Is A Little Too Safe

Terrence Briggs reviews the new HBO Family show, A Little Curious, and reveals that while it isn't as imaginative as Sesame Street, parents could leave their children in the hands of much worse programming.

Pencil and Mr. String will entertain the youngest of the young. © HBO Family.

What is it with the media's idea of "family?" Take the lineup of the new HBO Family: Babar, The Neverending Story and Anthony Ant.. According to the press releases, all of the shows are for pre- and grade-schoolers. I can safely say that my family outgrew shows like those on HBO Family about 8 years ago. So the pre-schooler education concept behind A Little Curious (ALC) should serve as a disclaimer of sorts for mature-audience critics: Don't bother. Not that it's impossible to find entertainment value in such "educational" shows; for instance, Sesame Street has always held some interest with me throughout my life, and much of ABC's One Saturday Morning holds my attention as well.

The concept behind ALC is pretty much the same as Sesame Street: animated skits, and the occasional live-action bit, centered around a single topic. Whereas Sesame Street deals with letters and numbers, ALC deals with simple concepts like loud, soft and shake (the topics for the first episode). I can't imagine why only two of the three concepts complement each other, but I never was a pedagogue. Bob the Ball serves as the pre-school audience's childish vehicle through the concepts, and his conversations with more mature characters like Doris the Door and Mr. String aid in clearing things up. The occasional musical number helps to belabor the point for each concept. The animation gets check points for being colorful, but that's about where the visual imagination ends. The sketch format allows each episode to showcase its characters in all manner of animation styles, from CGI, to traditional, to a bit of Dr. Katz-ish "squigglevision." Since the purpose of the animation is to convey very basic concepts without confusing young ones, things aren't very lively. The Shoe Family skits essentially involve pairs of footwear confined to a small stage. The digital ink and paint bits involve two-frame animation and some distracting abstract backgrounds. However, in a CGI piece where characters Pad and Pencil share a dance number, the animation is somewhat more interesting, if for no other reason than the freedom of camera movement, which keeps things from being boring from the get-go. The final result is a show that's simple enough for young children to follow (they aren't too picky about animation), but not imaginative enough in its simplicity for anyone else. I suppose it's some comfort that unlike the shows in Saban's live-action bonehead block, the parents of ALC's viewers should feel comfortable leaving the room. Terrence Briggs, all-purpose animation fan, is more than happy to receive comments from readers on his work.