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Toonzone Reviews "Yo Gabba Gabba: Let's Visit the Doctor" & "Max & Ruby: BunnyTales"

The rugrat loves Yo Gabba Gabba and that's A-OK with me and the missusIf you want to watch a kids’ show with your child, and want it to be the kind of show you’ll enjoy (rather than simply tolerate or endure through gritted teeth), check to see if lots of celebrity-parents are popping up on it. More and more frequently, the high Q-rating set are appearing on kids’ shows because they like what they see when they watch with their kids. Nickelodeon’s Yo Gabba Gabba! has had unusual guest stars from the start, with a parade of quirky guest stars popping up for “Dancey Dance” segments, but as the show got more popular, big-name celebrites began appearing more and more frequently, culminating in the Jack Black-centric episode “New Friends.” More of this anecdotal evidence for the show’s cross-generational appeal comes courtesy of the newest Yo Gabba Gabba! DVD Release, Let’s Visit the Doctor!, which contains four more episodes of the brightly colored, insanely fun, and terribly hip show.

The ongoing plot of the first episode, “Doctor,” has Toodee getting sick, so her friends have to convince her to get some rest and then overcome her fears of seeing the doctor. The doc that shows up turns out to be celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, who’s declared his love for the show on several occasions. Unfortunately, his guest spot isn’t one of the show’s better moments and just comes off as awkward and uncomfortable and far too self-aware. Bourdain is paid to talk to the camera in his TV show No Reservations, so it’s not much of a surprise that he just talks to the camera here as well, but his manner comes off as detached or condescending, especially when compared to the natural enthusiasm of show host DJ Lance Rock. The good news is that the episode also comes with the animated music video “New Day,” which mates a terrific song to Yo Gabba Gabba’s trademark psychedelic imagery. Another video “Food/Not Food” is dryly hilarious. A far better guest spot is Amy Sedaris’ turn as the Tooth Fairy in “Teeth,” where her loopy delivery and offbeat sensibilities fit in perfectly in Gabbaland. The episode also has a fun animated music video “Brush Brush Brush” and an amusing fairy tale on the origins of toothbrushes. “Clean” is probably the best single episode on the disc, with Rachel Dratch bringing a slightly manic, borderline ADHD-tinge to her Dancey Dance segment; two members of the Roots playing the drums in a genuinely Cool Trick; and Chromeo’s thoroughly awesome “Nice N Clean” video for the Super Music Friends Show. “Car” comes from the first season of the show, and probably has the best cartoon on the set with “Naughty Gordie.” While I wasn’t as entertained by Tony Bourdain’s guest spot, the only real disappointment on this disc is that there’s no “Super Martian Robot Girl” segment anywhere to be found.

However, not even the rugrat could sit through a whole episode of Max and RubyWhile Yo Gabba Gabba! is the kind of show parents willingly watch with their kids, Max and Ruby tends to fall more into the “tolerate it” category. The new DVD BunnyTales has four more episodes of the show based on the children’s books by Rosemary Wells. I can fully get behind the show in theory, with its central theme of children learning to get along and support each other rather than bickering and fighting. In practice, the show tends to be a bit too formulaic, with each episode putting the young, pre-verbal Max and his older sister Ruby at odds with each other until they discover how they can work together to achieve both of their goals. Or, more accurately, until Ruby discovers that her plans suck and that Max could have helped her get what she wanted much earlier if only she’d really paid attention to him. Two of the four episodes on this disc have fairy-tale themes, and a third skates in with the excuse that Ruby is obsessed with being a princess (it seems that even Max and Ruby isn’t immune to the whole Princess thing). All this leads to some slightly fractured fairy tales as Ruby retells some familiar stories for her own purposes. The most accurate is probably the very first one on the disc, “The Princess and the Marbles,” which revamps Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Princess and the Pea.” I would be more miffed at the complete missing-of-the-point of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” in “Emperor Max’s New Suit” except for the opportunity it provides to hoist Ruby on her own petard at the end.

Honestly, the rest of episodes all start to blend in with each other after a while; I still find it rather easy to be distracted while watching Max and Ruby, and almost none of the rest of the episodes really stuck out as being terribly good or egregiously bad. As always, the best parts of any episode are usually the bits when Max shoots Ruby a look that speaks volumes more than the single word he usually repeats throughout a story. The only standout is the very last story on the disc, “Super Max’s Cape,” where Ruby has to cope with behavior from an infant that will draw a sure chuckle of recognition from any parent or babysitter.

Both DVDs are in full-screen with stereo soundtracks. They look fine and will satisfy any youngster watching. Like most of Nickelodeon’s pre-school DVDs, they will both start up in “Play All” mode automatically on their own (after getting through the usual array of ads for other Nick pre-school DVDs). As with earlier releases, the chapter stop strategy manages to frustrate: Yo Gabba Gabba!: Let’s Visit the Doctor comes with none at all within episodes, and Max and Ruby: BunnyTales has them but won’t let you skip the opening credits sequence without skipping the entire first story of an episode. Neither disc comes with any extras.

Anecdotally, numerous parents have gone to Yo Gabba Gabba! concert tour gigs without taking the kids, and the show has earned its staying power with parents thanks to its quirky attitude and terrific music. Nobody’s ever said anything even vaguely similar about Max and Ruby. These latest DVDs just continue to add more evidence about the relative appeal of both shows.

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