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The Latest "Yo Gabba Gabba!", "Backyardigans," and "Kai-lan" DVDs from Nickelodeon

Nickelodeon has just released three more DVDs of their popular pre-school programming. The results won’t surprise anybody keeping track of Nick’s pre-school programming (or my reviews of them): Yo Gabba Gabba! is awesome, The Backyardigans is a surprisingly fun pleasure, and Ni Hao, Kai-lan is a pleasant variation on Dora the Explorer.

YO GABBA GABBA! “MEET MY FAMILY”
Yo Gabba Gabba Meet My FamilyNickelodeon’s best pre-school show (at least for the grown-ups in the audience) continues to dominate nearly all its competitors with this latest collection of four episodes, two from season 1 and two from season 2. The headline episode, “Family,” centers on a visit by Muno’s family, with a surprise appearance by a family member of another cast regular. Most of the other segments in the show will involve families in one way or another—the dancing kids are now siblings, and the “Cool Tricks” segment features two brothers and a sister who play two harps and a violin together. I’m amused by the fact that the Super Music Friends Show guests are the Roots, whose album listings on the iTunes store are covered in “Explicit” labels, but who also turn in a wonderfully catchy and sweet song called “Lovely, Love My Family”.

The remaining three episodes are much like the older ones, with socialization lessons tempered by genial musical silliness and a shot of the bizarre. This is most apparent in the rightfully famed “Don’t Bite Your Friends” musical number in “Together,” which kids and adults end up enjoying for entirely different reasons. This is also the first Gabba DVD I can remember that includes a few basic literacy numbers, and I think it’s pretty awesome to teach kids how count to ten with a surfer who’s “hanging ten” on his board. Sadly, there’s only one “Super Martian Robot Girl” short on this DVD, but there is also a wonderful short in the “Family” episode that seems to take its artistic cues from the old UPA studio shorts, and “Bayou Boat Race” in “Games” is a whole lot of fun as well.

THE BACKYARDIGANS “ROBOT REPAIRMAN”
Backyardigans Robot RepairmanWhile most Nickelodeon pre-school shows at least make a pretense of being educational, The Backyardigans seems entirely dedicated to being entertaining. It helps that the show succeeds at being entertaining for kids and adults alike, with a few sly winks and throwaway gags for the grown-ups tossed in among the delightfully creative songs and adorable antics of its CGI animal cast. “Robot Repairman” is a double-length special episode that sets futuristic mayhem to roller disco music, starting right from the funky remix of the series theme song in the opening credits. Austin plays a robot repairman in the futuristic Mega City, normally bored out of his mind because “robots never break,” but puzzled by the increasing number of robot malfunctions he’s called out to fix. Before long, the episode has managed to involve an evil scientist, an army of quasi-malevolent roller-skating disco robots, and a ragtag team of would-be heroes in hilariously bad disguises.

Of the remaining two episodes, “Catch That Train!” is much more enjoyable, although it’s a bit odd to use ragtime music in a story set in Tsarist Russia. “Attack of the 50 Foot Worman” is fine, but surprisingly unmemorable for a Backyardigans episode, mostly because the music doesn’t seem as distinctive in as the other two episodes. Nevertheless, all the episodes are done with the show’s usual playfulness and charm, with perils that are quite benign.

NI HAO, KAI-LAN “KAI-LAN’S CARNIVAL”
Ni Hao, Kai-lan CarnivalI fully support Ni Hao, Kai-lan in principle, but the show itself has worn thin on me. This shouldn’t be surprising, since Kai-lan is clearly modeled after Dora the Explorer, and thus has never made much of an attempt to appeal to the adults in the room the way that Yo Gabba Gabba! and The Backyardigans do. However, the show is a bona fide hit for Nickelodeon, so the little ones must be enjoying it, and I’m seeing a growing amount of Kai-lan merchandise in stores and, more importantly, in the hands of little ones. They must be doing something right.

This latest DVD has four more episodes of the show, with Kai-lan and her animal friends learning more lessons on how to get along and manage the small crises that regularly afflict a pint-sized world. The title episode is quite charming, as Kai-lan and friends visit a brightly noisy neighborhood carnival. The appeal of the episode may come mostly from the presence of Stompy the elephant, who has a cute character model and some surprisingly effective acting in the episode. Kai-lan had a nasty tendency to inadvertently teach kids that being a loud brat throwing a massive temper tantrum is the best way to get your friends to bend over backwards to make you happy, and while the last DVD managed to mostly avoid this, “Roller Rintoo” comes rather a bit too close to repeating bad old habits.

Like all of Nickelodeon’s previous pre-school DVD releases, each of these discs are pretty stripped down. The shows are all presented full-screen in Dolby Digital stereo. There are still no chapter stops within episodes to allow you to skip the credits sequences, and an auto-play feature that starts playback automatically if you leave the DVD idle for too long. The latter can be a little annoying, but it’s still better than Disney’s oxymoronic “FastPlay” feature. Yo Gabba Gabba! and The Backyardigans have no special features other than trailers, but Ni Hao, Kai-lan gets a DVD game and a clip from Olivia.

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