High Fives for "Yo Gabba Gabba! The Dancey Dance Bunch!"
For an adult, watching any new children’s title can trigger an involuntary twinge of fear. In the best cases the show is enjoyable for viewers of all ages, even if the older viewers are enjoying the show for entirely different reasons than the younger ones. Most people who can count past 10 and tie their own shoes will settle for a show that’s at least watchable. The worst-case shows can drive an adult right out of the room with manic, repetitive, childish crap.
I am happy to report that Nickelodeon’s Yo Gabba Gabba! falls solidly in the first and best category. Produced by the Magic Store and W!ldbrain, it is an appealingly noisy mash-up of puppetry, animation, singing, dancing, and nonsense that is completely entertaining for both kids and supervising adults. It manages to be tremendously energetic without ever slipping into attention-deficit-disordered, fast-cutting incoherence. If the eccentric and eclectic show reminds me of anything, it’s classic Sesame Street, which is about the highest compliment I can give to any pre-schooler show.
Yo Gabba Gabba! is a half-hour show of skits hosted by the extremely orange DJ Lance Rock. He is joined by a cast of five giant monsters: Muno, Foofa, Brobee, Toodee, and Plex. DJ Lance oversees mayhem that attempts to teach the usual kindergarten life-lessons like sharing, not smacking other people when you’re dancing around, and trying new foods because you may like them. Simple lessons, to be sure, and easily found in lots of other pre-school TV shows, but they are rarely presented with this much energy. The first DVD, “The Dancey Dance Bunch!” contains the first four episodes of the show, and the show quickly finds solid footing by the start of the second episode.
The skits with DJ Lance and his monster friends are interspersed with random cartoons and semi-recurring bits. “Cool Tricks” features someone doing something cool, with the highlights on this disc being a fantastic tap-dancing pair and a fellow making music by waving his hands in the air over a weird L-shaped contraption called a Theremin. “Dancey Dance Time” features a random celebrity teaching the audience some wacky dance—it’s a bit surprising to see Elijah Wood popping up in a bright yellow T-shirt having a grand time teaching viewers how to do the Puppetmaster, but there he is. “The Super Music Friends Show” is a kid-friendly music video, and if this disc has only one example, it’s also one of the most popular: the bright, musically addictive “I’m So Happy I Can Dance” by the Canadian pop band the Salteens. (Don’t believe me? Check it out for yourself in streaming video on the Yo Gabba Gabba! website.)
The cartoons on for the show seem to be done entirely in Flash. They may not flashy or terribly ornate, but they are consistently fast, fun, and entertaining. An entertaining little whimsy in episode 4 about a boy flying a kite with his dog is one of the best on the disc, as is the quirky recurring superhero show “Super Martian Robot Girl” (designed by Space Ghost: Coast to Coast and Welcome to Eltingville‘s Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer). These animated segments also remind me powerfully of the best Sesame Street cartoons, and it’s not too much to hope that this generation’s Bud Luckey is toiling away on this show somewhere at W!ldbrain.
I hesitate to make a big deal of this, since the show seems to go out of its way not to, but it’s worth pointing out the matter-of-fact ethnic diversity of the people on-screen. The show opts to gives its overt lessons about tolerating people who look different from you by using the five monster characters or comparable non-human things in animated segments, but it very nicely leads by example by placing diverse skin colors and facial features on camera. It is also rather like Sesame Street in this regard, although perhaps without the foreign language elements.
Like most Nickelodeon DVDs, this disc is a no-frills affair, presenting the show in full-frame format with a stereo soundtrack with no chapter stops. The only bonus feature is a little sequence introducing the five monster cast members. Trailers for other Nick preschool programs begin when you insert the disk. These trailers are skippable using the “forward” button on your DVD player, which makes them marginally less annoying than the unskippable variety, but it is a little bit upsetting to notice how very many of them there are on a pre-schooler DVD. The DVD also seems to have a feature that begins the “Play All” option if the menu is left alone for too long, which is perhaps an acknowledgment that a supervising adult might drop the disc in the DVD player and run without starting the disc for the kids.
For Yo Gabba Gabba!, that would be a real mistake. Pre-schooler TV always has to balance on a knife edge between entertainment and education, with a lot of shows falling too far on one side or the other (and, occasionally, falling straight into the pit of “entertaining only if you’re under age 6″). Yo Gabba Gabba! may lean a bit more on the “entertaining” side of that continuum, but it is so thoroughly entertaining that you probably won’t care all that much. Hey, people think you’re weird already for watching cartoons at your age. Why not add a pre-school show if it’s one this entertaining?