Draw us a picture, Louie !

25 Aug


louie_signpostProduced and first broadcast in France between 2006 and 2008, the series "Draw us a picture, Louie" strikes at first with rather rough and simple, one-dimensional graphics. But the cuteness factor rapidly sets in. Louie is a little rabbit who encounters all kinds of adventures,  while playing outside with his loyal friend, Yoko, the ladybug. They meet different, often wild, animals and must find a solution to either help themselves or their new friends out of some sort of dilemma. to do so, Louie gets out his magic crayons and draws a (simple) picture which is then coloured by his loyal little friend, Yoko. didou-et-yoko         images (1)

Similar to Pocoyo, some off-voice children are included in the narrative giving the stories an interactive experience. The picture drawn in each episode is explained a second time in the end, and – I tried with some of them in the past – they are indeed easy to reproduce, at least for an attentive grown-up.

The message still lies in how these little friends find a creative solution to whatever fix they are in and how colourful our world can be with the help of a bag full of crayons and paint. My son, at almost 5 an aspiring artist, still likes to watch it, with a box of crayons and white paper in front of him.

In France, about 9 DVDs are on the market, with 78 episodes of about 7 min each,  but I think I have seen some in an Australian ABC shop as well. The only English clip I could find on youtube is of poor quality but still gives you an idea. didou
My rating : 3,5 out of 5 for a creative, cute program that can appeal to different ages and give parents or very gifted toddlers ideas and techniques for drawing fun. I just think that most children, and parents, will feel that they have outgrown it after a while.

Curious bonus information: 
Where it gets interesting is that I just figured out that the illustrator behind the books that gave impulse to the series, the rabbits name originally is "Didou", is a very well known French cartoonist, Yves Got, who, among others, created the famous and quite fabulous strip series "the Black Baron". The latter appeared from 1977-1980 daily in a French newspaper. It features the cynical observations of  a big bird of pray, the "Black Baron" (a vulture or eagle)and his interactions and conversations with a herd of sheep whom he prays on without remorse. Other animals will be ‘bystanders’ or ‘advisors’ of the powerful, scrupulous predator. Some have their own issues.  The fun of the series lies in its metaphors to society, of course, and it’s a classic for the cartoon crazy French. The books with the collection of the newspaper strips still sell.  



"Pan Tau" – an invisible, silent friend from Prague

25 Aug

Czech RepublicGermany

Pan Tau (wiki)
33 episodes from 1969 – 1978; 1 feature movie 1988
theme : invisible friend helps children in a fix
main character : Pan Tau (Otto Šimánek)


Pan Tau. Definitively one of my childhood favourites, I doubt it is internationally known (the short  Engl. wiki entry is a good indicator). German television for children – on both sides of the wall – was enriched in the 80s by a number of beautiful and imaginative Czech movies and series; some were produced in coproduction with West-German Channels. We loved them all, but Pan Tau stood out for its particular magic. The concept : When a child is in distress, the friendly, elegantly dressed Pan Tau appears and – without ever speaking a word – helps and assists the child discretely and invisible to grown-ups until, with a magical movement of his hand and a touch to his bowler hat, he imaogesvanishes again. Pan Tau can fly with the help of an umbrella he always carries with him, disappear at a snip of his fingers and he can also transform himself into a puppet that is approximately the size of a Barbie Doll (but so much more classy!). The puppet then acts in stop-motion, the children can carry it around easily without exposing Pan Tau to the grown ups, who are often depicted in a comic, caricatured way. Many scenes _wsb_643x1000_Pan Tauhave a slapstick quality to them while there is a lot of truth in the behaviour mocked and observed. Pan Tau also appeared for and saved animals, like setting free dogs from a shelter and giving them to the children for Christmas. 

The appeal of the concept for children obviously lies in our  dream of an invisible friend who, like "Harvey" in the beautiful movie with James Stewart,  will be on our side when the world of grownups and parents becomes complicated. A similar concept has been explored by Wim Wenders’ "The Wings of Desire" (Der Himmel über Berlin) of 1987 where melancholic angels observe and assist people in distress, visible only to children (great movie!).


It only occurred to me now, that the British series "Grandpa in my pocket" is somewhat close to the main characteristics of Pan Tau. Jason’s Grandpa "disappears for a nap" when in reality, he uses his special ‘shrinking cap’ to become a pocketsize, very adventurous version of himself. In time, I will review this modern version too,  my son quite likes it.

It is the performance of the Czech actor Otto Šimánek with his friendly face and smooth pantomime moves that made Pan Tau so unique, and I am sure  anyone who was a child in Germany at the time (and probably all Eastern neighbours) will sigh in sweet bliss with memories of this series. How we would try to imitate that elegant motion of his hand at the brim of the hat before a trick or a disappearance… 

From today’s point of view, the whole idea of an elderly stranger secretly approaching your child would probably freak out many parents, especially in anglo-saxon countries. I personally would be more alarmed if a gruff bohemian character in a long coat like Gerard Depardieu’s "Bogus" would introduce himself into my child’s life, let alone a giant rabbit but let’s not get silly.
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I could not find much on youtube, but here is a trailer for a DVD release (with pantau_nenasinglethe typical music and some scenes) and the video to Nena‘s (yeah, baloon Nena) video for Du Bist Überall ("You Are Everywhere"), one of Simaneks last appearances on screen. Although Nena is a good 10 years older than me, the video shows lovingly the affection of a whole generation with the one and only Pan Tau. Discover and enjoy!

My rating : 5 out of 5 ! plus 1 for the bliss-factor !
Will not hesitate to smack anyone who dares saying there is anything creepy about it.

"Barney’s Barrier Reef" – fun facts for fish friends

24 Aug

CC_poster Back under the sea with an excellent British series shot at the Great Barrier Reef (wikilink) off the shores of Eastern Australia. The two BBC presenters, Barney Harwood and Gemma Hunt, take us for  20 episodes on a journey under the sea where we laugh and learn about the extraordinary, sometimes surprising characteristics of the inhabitants of the underwater world – and how they are connected with each other, meaning what different solutions they find for the eternal circle of life, hunting, mating, hiding, protecting etc.. r473524_2379457

You don’t have to be into marine aquariums (like our family!) to applaud a concept that allows kids at an early age to learn more about some of the characters that amused and touched us  all in “Finding Nemo”. Environmental conservation starts with information. And information for kids should always be fun !  Humorously commented and explained with quirky graphics, the show never gets boring. A ‘reef-cap’ recapitulates briefly some facts for a better learning experience.

From shell-smashing shrimps to trash-eating tiger sharks, over delicately swaying soft corals and bizarrely camouflaged fish, many species are explored, and their behaviour illustrated with great footage and understandable graphics. A baby will be fascinated by the colourful world of the reef species while older children – and their parents! – are guaranteed to learn things they never suspected to happen in the world of eternal blue and silence.  Only Grandma might be a tad stressed by the tempo and the modern language of the presenters, or the not so marine sound effects and ‘voices’ of the creatures.

The series was produced in 2008, but I just read that the makers are planning to do something similar “Barney’s Latin-America” – can’t wait.

As a bonus, here is a list of some of the fish shown in “Finding Nemo” with the corresponding common and Latin names of the species:

Marlin – Clown fish – Amphiprion ocellaris
Nemo – Clown fish – Amphiprion ocellaris
Dory – Hippo tang, blue tang, regal tang, etc – Paracanthurus hepatus
Coral – Clown fish – Amphiprion ocellaris finding_nemo_characters
Gill – Morish Idol – Zanclus canescens
Bloat – Porcupine Fish, Puffer Fish – Diodon holacanthus Caribbean
Gurgle – Royal Gramma – Gramma loreto
Deb – Humbug Damselfish – Dascyllus melanurus
Bubbles – Yellow Tang – Zebrasoma flavescens
Jacques – Scarlet Cleaner Shrimp – Lysmata amboinensis
source : Matt G (yahoo answers)

Closeup of a stomatopod crustacean (mantis shr...My rating : 4,5 out of 5 – Protect the oceans or a giant Mantis Shrimp will sort you out some day!

"Pocoyo" – lovely little boy blue

23 Aug

pocoyo-734311I was thrilled when  the first season of  the 2005 Spanish Animation series"Pocoyo" (link to wiki with all the facts)  started to broadcast on ABC kids Australia sometimes in 2007.  The ubercute main character is a boy of about 4 who doesn’t seem to  talk a lot yet, set in a white background with sparse but brightly coloured decor. The 104 episodes so far show his daily adventures with his animal friends, Pato the duck, Ellie the pink elephant, Loula the dog and finally ‘Sleepy Bird’ (to name only the main characters); it has the magic of simplicity with excellent animation techniques and cleverness in the concept of "learning through laughter".  The makers of the series clearly show a lot of imagination to make this series appealing to both, kids and their parents.

imappesAll essential issues of early childhood are touched in a playful, fun way, such as ‘bedtime’, ‘getting dirty’ and the many joys and mishaps of friendship as we follow Pocoyo and his friends through the eyes of an invisible adult observer, in the English version lovingly interpreted by the fantastic Mr Stephen Fry. The smooth integration of a cool ‘soundtrack’  (many episodes deal with music of all kinds too) adds a dynamic to the stories that is rare for a preschooler program.

While my boy now has outgrown some of his early fav’s, he still loves Pocoyo, and so do I. The second season was produced in 2007, but I am keep hoping that a third season or a maybe a long feature movie will come out.

There are entire episodes on youtube, some of my favourites is probably  "Twinkle Twinkle" and  "Musical Blocks" from the first season, but the trailer for the second season is an absolute must-see. Enjoy!

My rating :
5 out of 5 – if you love Pocoyo, you can’t be a bad person.

Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?- “SpongeBob Squarepants!”

22 Aug

SpongeBob-SquarePants-p34 I think an introduction is not necessary, but oddly enough, I had not even watched a single episode of “SpongeBob Squarepants“, (link to wiki) when the discussion about his alleged homosexuality swept through the media. “What the..?” I thought. Nobody had ever questioned the relationship of Sesame Streets’ Ernie and Bert who were after all, although sleeping in separate beds, displaying all kinds of stereotypical characteristics of a gay couple… (A fact that was satirized brilliantly by the latenight German spoof series ‘Bernie & Ert’ and the ‘Popoclub’ (translated maybe “the bumbum club”).

Only in about 2007, when recovering from my jetlag in front of cable tv in the Netherlands, I discovered the delightful world of the dainty SpongeBob and his friends at Bikini Bottom. Now while I don’t much care if the naive yellow hero of the series and his pink, somewhat slow starfish friend Patrick, are actually a gay couple (the makers of the series say this never actually crossed their mind but even if it had – what harm would there be really ?), the series certainly stands out from what usually is created to charm the little ones. And it is very entertaining for adults – unless you have a migraine or are otherwise unwell.

imag55es Spongebob__Imagination_by_kssael

I just learned that the creator of the series is also an actual marine biologist (who else would have even thought of such an unlikely hero), and that Metallica released a tee-shirt featuring themselves (cartoonized) playing with the Spongebob crew. I still have not seen many episodes yet, but to me, some of the finest moments of the series are the almost psychedelic dream or fainting sequences Spongebob goes through. High on underwater toxins from sea anemones ? In any case, it’s fun for the whole family.

The innuendos that are clearly meant for adult humour, the sometimes old-school eye-popping, tongue-to-the-floor slapstick  behaviour of the characters and the absurd situations and adventures of the young sponge are fun to watch with your offspring who will be rolling on the floor with laughter by the sheer force of the rapid imagery and the richness of sounds of the series (herein lies the danger of overexposure for a tired or overhung grown-up).

It’s clear to me that the critics of the series needs to get a life, and preferably get down to the beach for some serious snorkelling. spongebob1

My rating :
4,5 out of 5, only because on some days, i wish it was a bit more quiet on the bottom of the sea.