"Jake and the Never Land Pirates" – This DVD Marks the Spot for Fun Treasure
Pirates sure have been good to Disney of late. The Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise has raked in approximately umpty-gajillion dollars so far, and I’d find it a bit hard to believe that its success had nothing to do with the decision to greenlight Disney Junior’s new series Jake and the Never Land Pirates. In any event, it’s a good thing they did, since the show is a breezy, light-hearted bit of fun with a good deal more to offer the supervising adults watching than a whole lot of other pre-school shows. The first DVD of the series, Yo Ho, Mateys Away! is now available, and it’s a delightful little package of pirate-y goodness for kids of all ages.
The cast of Jake and the Never Land Pirates is an intrepid band of pirate kids: the irrepressible Jake and his friends Izzy and Cubby, along with their parrot Skully and the semi-sentient pirate ship Bucky. Their 11-minute adventures in Never Land are oriented around outwitting Peter Pan‘s Captain Hook and Smee, since Hook is always scheming to wreck whatever Jake and his friends are doing for fun. Hook’s machinations lead to a sequence of reasonably harmless problem solving challenges for the crew, after which they’re rewarded with gold doubloons for using teamwork. At the end of each episode, Jake and his friends triumph, Hook’s plans are foiled, and Hook himself is usually humiliated one last time. Add in a sonically infectious pirate rock soundtrack (by Loren Hoskins and Kevin Hendrickson of the band Captain Bogg & Salty), and you get a rather entertaining show.
Like most pre-schooler shows, Jake and the Never Land Pirates is pretty formulaic, and describing all 7 episodes of the show on this disc would be a bit silly. However, formula in a show for the younger kids isn’t such a bad thing, since they definitely don’t have the same issues with repetition that older viewers do. Even so, the show doesn’t feel as endlessly repetitive as something like Dora the Explorer or Caillou, mostly due to the fact that they can come up with some pretty creative scenarios for the characters to get into. The kids are also enormously appealing, with Jake’s boundless energy making him the natural leader while Izzy pulls off last-minute saves with her bag of pixie dust and Cubby serves as navigator with his map of Never Land. I do wonder why Jake’s trademark tool is a wooden sword, though, since he brandishes it at the start of each episode and then never uses it again. While Captain Hook’s menace has been replaced largely by buffoonery, it’s really not much of a stretch and the writing always stays true to the character. The illusion is also sustained by a marvelous performance by Corey Burton as Captain Hook and Jeff Bennett as Smee, both of whom channel the original performers beautifully. This isn’t the Hook that would send a time bomb to eliminate “those puny pirates” as he calls them, but he’s still played seriously enough that the kids really have to work at it to overcome the obstacles Hook places in their way.
The major thing that separates Jake and the Never Land Pirates from its competitors on Nickelodeon and PBS is that it’s not afraid to be funny. I’ve long thought that Peter Pan was the Disney animated feature most likely to appeal to those fans more attuned to Looney Tunes slapstick, and Jake has pratfalls aplenty in that vein, mostly by having comically horrible things happen to Hook. The show will happily send Captain Hook slamming into palm trees, flying off tall ledges into the ocean, face-planting into sandy beaches, or catapulting into giant belching volcanoes. The writers even seem to make the effort to use gags that are even funnier if you can see them coming. As one example, when Hook steals a “throw-y stick-y thing” from Jake and his friends, he doesn’t realize it’s a boomerang and gets frustrated when he can’t play catch with Smee. The second he says, “This stick is broken! I’m throwing it away!” you know exactly where that gag is going, but there’s still a big laugh waiting when the boomerang circles back and clocks him right in the back of the head. It almost reaches a point where you feel sorry for him, but the writing and Burton’s pompous performance always ensure that you feel he had it coming. Disney has stated that their approach to the channel was to be entertaining first and educational second, and with this show they’ve done a marvelous job at both. It actually shows up the humorlessness of a lot of other pre-schooler shows. There are no genuine laughs to be found in almost any of them, and I don’t think it’s an accident that the Nickelodeon pre-school shows that do have a comparable sense of humor to Jake (Yo Gabba Gabba and The Backyardigans) are also the ones I truly enjoy watching.
Jake and the Never Land Pirates gets a fine presentation on DVD. As mentioned, there are 7 full episodes (meaning 14 individual stories) packaged on the DVD, weighing in with a whopping 168 minute running time. I doubt that even the most determined kids will be able to sit through all 7 episodes on this DVD in a single sitting, but the total running time makes this a great value for the money. It looks and sounds terrific, with the anamorphic image and Dolby Digital stereo sound coming through bright and clear. I’m also quite impressed at the healthy number of chapter stops in an episode, even including one at each 11-minute segment’s halfway point. Bonus features include an “Are You Ready to be a Never Land Pirate?” short film (mostly Jake detailing the stuff a good pirate needs) and 7 sing-along music videos. These videos are really clean end-credit sequences, each of which features a song written and performed by Loren Hoskins and Kevin Hendrickson. The DVD also comes with a bonus CD of 7 songs from the Jake and the Never Land Pirates soundtrack and a pirate eye patch. Considering how few DVDs even come with paper inserts these days, Jake comes positively laden with extra stuff.
Any show that can lead viewers to discover the musical sub-genre of pirate rock is OK in my book, and there’s quite a bit to like about Jake and the Never Land Pirates. Reportedly, Jake is quite a popular figure among the kids visiting Disneyland, so I’m not alone in enjoying his antics. Yo Ho, Mateys Away! is a delight from start to finish and has plenty for pirates of all ages to enjoy.