Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Little Einsteins

Of the many shows I have been made aware of while sitting around in my sister's living room, there are a couple that I have  significantly more knowledge of. Sometimes it's because the show's time slot coincides with when I'm visiting Sister every day, but more often it's because it has, for whatever reason, earned an honored place on Zackary's list of "favorites," and so is played with greater frequency during his quiet time (otherwise known as his "Zacky watches TV for about two hours so Mommy can pass out on the couch" time.) Among the more unfortunate of these favorites is Little Einsteins.

Please don't get me wrong, this is a show that I really want to like. It's all about trying to expose kids to the world of music and fine art, which is an idea I can totally get behind. It's important for kids to experience culture, but dragging a kid to an art museum or symphony for a dose of it is a nightmare in hi-def for both parent and child. I think we ALL remember whining, fidgeting, and dragging our feet every time our parents made us go on a cultural outing  (heck, I remember being told constantly to sit up straight and get my feet off the pew by my exasperated father when my parents dragged me to a choir concert back in the day…"the day"  in question being sometime last month.) Little Einsteins was invented to recreate the cultural experience sans the hellfire. So yes, I'm pretty sold on the show's concept. And also the theme song. The theme song is awesome. And they have a rocket that is alive just like the Magic Schoolbus. That's just rad. Should be a solid show, yes?
…Do I even need to answer that question at this point? Of course not; as usual, the show manages to fall just short of the mark in its application.

    Perhaps I'm being harsh. Little Einsteins makes the mark, it's just weird. Not to mention the "no duh" factor that unintentionally makes the characters look like idiots.

    So basically these four kids, Annie, June, Quincy, and Leo live in a world of randomly placed instruments and sentient… everything… And not like in Pee Wee's playhouse or Blue's Clues where everything can talk; it's all just alive, and the four kids are the only ones who actually speak. Despite this, the kids still seem to understand the (usually very odd) desires of things like butterflies and trains, and they go to great lengths to help them reach said desires. Note that the object (or creature) in question usually isn't ever shown informing the kids of the problem, instead, one of the kids will just sort of come out and make a really bizarre assumption like "we need to help the train find his lost balloon!"  Then they will jump into their rocketship and go to do that thing that they're going to go do… In the most convoluted, roundabout, and stupid way possible. Though it's a fifty-fifty chance that they'll actually take the rocket… In any situation where the power of speed or flight could be of use to them, they seem to forget they have a rocket at all. "Of course we can't use our high-speed flying machine to help this fashionable scarf get to his sister's soccer game on time! Instead we're going to walk slowly with him the whole way and get lost in the trombone forest!"

    Now, each of the kids has a singular defining characteristic, aside from their appearance, that makes them an apparently useful member of the team. June dances, Quincy plays every instrument ever, Annie sings, and Leo… conducts? I guess… Anyway, these talents DO seem to come in handy in solving the bewildering set of problems these kids face, but I can't help but notice that not all of the kids are actually GOOD at the "skill" they claim to possess. I'm going to leave Leo alone because I actually have no idea what he does, so I don't know if he's any good at it. Annie, however, the alleged "singer" of the group, has absolutely no sense of pitch or rhythm. In fact, she's the only one of the four who CAN'T carry a tune. The others have perfectly lovely voices. The show likes to ignore this, of course, and leaves most of the singing to Annie. The result is that most of the songs in the show (set to the tunes of classical music pieces,) end up as awkward stumbling messes. I don't know about you, but I think that this could be easily fixed by getting a little girl who can actually sing to voice Annie, cause I'm pretty sure that the point of using the classical music tunes in the first place is completely lost if the viewers can't actually hear the tune.

A couple more points and then I'll leave it alone:
There are a lot of famous paintings that are integrated into the world of the show. This is all well and good when it's just a landscape or something, and it actually looks pretty cool. The painting should not, however, be allowed to be part of the animation in any way. Reason for this being that when the subjects of paintings such as, say "Old Man With a Pipe" by Van Gogh move on hinges like they were animated by a 5th grader in Flash and play random classical music when they open their mouths like they swallowed a record player, it is really really weird.
You can only imagine...

Continuing on that note, perhaps I'm just missing the deep meaning woven intricately through the themes of Little Einsteins, but I've noticed that the plot of the episodes somehow manages to dance off without me a LOT. In one particular example, the episode began with one of the girls reading a fairy tale about a golden goose and a giant to the other kids. Then I tuned out for a second, and when I looked back up they were suddenly going off to save the golden goose -- the one from the fairy tale that began "once upon a time" that they were just reading from a storybook -- from the giant, played, confusingly, by the man from the painting I mentioned above. Maybe the plot made sense after that, but all I remember is the painting giant swinging his arms and stomping like an angry old hick, and yelling Beethoven's 5th (since he apparently speaks fluent… orchestra.) I'm not really sure what he was yelling about, but if I were to make an educated guess, I'd say he wanted them to get off his lawn. His cloud lawn. Like I said, I got lost after the first three minutes, so I couldn't tell you. In fact, MOST of the episodes I've seen have taken off on a magical mystery tour and left me behind like that. This is a problem that probably needs to be fixed… Maaaybe try to invite the viewers along on you plot journey before you take off, guys.

Wait, what?

I will put an end to my rant now, because I tend to lose the will to live when my diatribes about shows intended for 5 year olds run too long. I will say that, for what it is, Little Einsteins is okay. It sort of accomplishes what it set out to, albeit strangely and off-key, and at least the writers try to educate kids instead of throwing their hands in the air and saying "Y'know what? Kids are idiots. Let's just paste some new characters and oboes over an episode of Dora and call it a day."
There IS actual visible effort in this show, however misguided, so I think that we can at least be thankful for that.
And also for the theme song. Cause seriously, dudes, it rocks.

9 comments:

BethSam said...

I can see forever. 0_o Cool theme song! But I totally get all the stuff you pointed out. Love the little black kid's voice... Anyways. WV: cings? Ironic...

Meg said...

I think you might be taking this too seriously. Also, I kinda like how stuff's language is music (usually the song of the episode, I think). And Annie isn't that terrible a singer...(and she's the youngest, isn't she? Little kids often aren't fantastic singers). Also, yes, Leo conducts. Conductors are very important.

WV: expeada

The Erin said...

I dunno. Legend has it that I could carry a tune by age three.
At any rate, I come from a family of vocalists, so I'm extra snooty about such things. Don't mind me ;)

Sarah said...

I've never seen the show, but thanks to you, I just watched the theme song 5 times. In 5 different languages. And now it is stuck in my head.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Rf_Q2XqtC4&feature=related

Grabbergirl101 said...

It is weird. The episode where the Cello has off spring really got to me.

Kadi McKinley said...

I seriously can't watch the episodes that focus on Annie. It makes me so angry. Come on Disney...you could have your pick of any kid in America to do this voice over. Whhhhyyyyy did you choose this child! No rhythm....no pitch. Why not make her be the voice of June? This is a show that focuses on the arts. My mother is a music teacher and a TON of her work revolves around teaching children to sing and play instruments on pitch and in tune with each other. If kids are supposed to think Annie is actually talented at singing, Disney is doing them a great disservice.

Kadi McKinley said...

I seriously can't watch the episodes that focus on Annie. It makes me so angry. Come on Disney...you could have your pick of any kid in America to do this voice over. Whhhhyyyyy did you choose this child! No rhythm....no pitch. Why not make her be the voice of June? This is a show that focuses on the arts. My mother is a music teacher and a TON of her work revolves around teaching children to sing and play instruments on pitch and in tune with each other. If kids are supposed to think Annie is actually talented at singing, Disney is doing them a great disservice.

Michelle said...

i disagree. disney cranks out a ton of shit with christina aguilera wanna be 7 yr old singers. its nice to see them debut a kid singer who, you know, sounds like a kid. i think its funny how bad she is and i have had my years of vocal study so i do have pretty high standards for the quality of singing.that said, how are kids supposed to sing along if their role models are always screeching vibrato or sing in the cardboard cutout barney kid voices? annie isnt supposed to be a good singer, even though there are times when her brother, Leo will say, "great singing, Annie!" but isnt that the kind of encouragement you want your kid exposed to? she isnt perfect but she still gets told good job. how many times does your kid do something totally awful and you say, wow, this is great! besides, she isnt performing for your child, shes trying to encourage them to participate and the way to do so is by sounding more like them, not someone theyre supposed to idolize. im for it. i think it makes the show endearing and encourages participation.

Michelle said...

Also, yeah the show is supposed to be teaching classical music. thats why they play the music clip of the day over and over and over and over,using both instruments and Annie. She isnt the only medium for teaching the piece to your kid. She just sings it in a way that is accessible to their ears. Seriously, the way you hear it isnt the way your child hears it. You might hear Beethoven's 5th, while your kid hears "scary booming" song. Plenty of adults I know can't pick out single instruments in a piece and if i say, man listen to the cello right there! they are like, "wtf are you talking about this is just fancy noise music to me." i think its incredibly beneficial to reduce complex pieces to a single vocal line, even if it is represented a little crookedly. I believe that my kid as well as yours definitely benefit from it.