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"Celebrate with Kai-lan:" Dora in Chinese, Minus Some of the Formula

by on January 11, 2009

The dragon head/orange fight that ensued was not prettyDora the Explorer is a genuine phenomenon among the kid-vid set, and its runaway success virtually guaranteed imitators and spin-offs. The first of Nickelodeon’s spin-offs, Go Diego Go!, kept Dora’s bilingual English-Spanish vocabulary, but moved the setting from a fairy-tale world to real-world jungles, deserts, and other wild environments. The second spin-off, Ni Hao, Kai-lan, changes the second language to Chinese while keeping the quasi-fantasy world where the title character’s friends are all talking animals. The show has been successful enough to warrant a second season, as well as a second Kai-lan DVD, Celebrate with Kai-lan, which includes four more episodes of the show.

Kai-lan is an adorable little girl who spends time with her friends, including Rintoo the tiger, Tolee the koala, Hoho the monkey, Lulu the hippo, and her grandfather, Yeye. Even though each episode of Ni Hao, Kai-lan centers on one of the cast members learning a lesson about things like sharing and teamwork, the show isn’t quite as rigidly formulaic as Dora the Explorer. Instead of the clockwork predictability of the magic camera, the map, and Swiper the fox, Ni Hao, Kai-lan manages to come up with a new scenario for every show. Admittedly, none of these scenarios are terribly complex, with the episodes on this DVD including a Chinese New Year’s celebration, a safari with their new friend Stompy the elephant (not to be confused with The Simpsons‘ Stampy the elephant, of course), a camping sleepover, and a big music show. There are also some elements repeated in each episode, such as Kai-lan’s “We Gotta Gotta Try” song or the way she replays key portions of the episode in a thought bubble. As with Dora, each episode also mixes in key Chinese words and phrases that the audience is invited to repeat, along with a few other words and phrases sprinkled in for color.

H-O-H-O are the letters of his name/Cutting and scratching are the aspects of his gameThe animation for the show is also just a hair better than Dora or Go Diego Go! Characters are distinctive and adorable, and the show uses a vibrant color palette and a flattened sense of space seemingly lifted from Asian art. While Dora and Diego look like little puffy stickers come to life, Kai-lan and her friends end up looking like paper dolls. Kai-lan is enthusiastically voiced by Jade-Lianna Peters (a girl adopted from China), and she is joined by an equally enthusiastic cast of children actors (plus Clem Cheung and Ben Wang as Yeye), most of whom are also Chinese. Kai-lan’s friends have much more personality than Dora’s companions, and their traits drive the plot of an episode rather than just pushing it along. Kai-lan’s show includes a few little humorous bits that don’t seem to make their way into Dora, such as the way Hoho parachutes in on DJ turntables when Kai-lan is looking for instruments for the school music show.

Like most Nick Jr. DVDs, Celebrate with Kai-lan comes with few amenities and no extras. The show is presented full-screen with a stereo soundtrack, but episodes have no chapter stops, so there is no skipping the title sequence. The only extras are trailers for more Nick Jr. DVDs that you have to forward through to get to the DVD menu. I suppose the budget price ensures more parents will buy these DVDs, but you get what you pay for.

If you or your kids already watch Ni Hao, Kai-lan, the DVD might be able to keep the little ones happy if the show isn’t on TV or on-demand. About the only thing to complain about is the complete lack of Hula Ducks.

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