Kidvid Roundup: "Yo Gabba Gabba!" Super Spies & There’s a Party in My City!; and "Bubble Guppies"
Super Spies is the latest Yo Gabba Gabba! DVD, putting out four more episodes of the candy-colored kids show for home video consumption. An as-yet unaired season 4 episode gives the DVD its title and guest stars Jason Bateman as a bad super spy who steals the Gabbaland friends’ balloon art for his own (not-really-so) nefarious purposes. Bateman turns out to be one of the most enjoyable guest stars the show has hosted, rivaling Weird Al Yankovic’s appearance in “Circus.” Like Weird Al, Bateman feels like someone fully immersed in the play-along and seems to be genuinely enjoying himself, while many of the other guests who have had episodes built around them feel like they’re just mugging for the camera. Like DJ Lance Rock, Bateman feels more committed to the playtime even when he’s hamming it up or talking to the audience through the camera. The rest of the episodes on the disc (which, for the record, are “Mystery,” “Space,” and “Big”) are solid but unremarkable, filled with brightly colored silliness, adorable kids, entertainingly offbeat animation, and the occasional Super Music Friends Show tune (although, sadly, no Dancey Dance Time or Super Martian Robot Girl segments). This still puts these three episodes a good cut above almost all other kids TV out there currently but none hit the memorable heights of episodes like “Family,” “Birthday,” or “Happy.” Like other Nickelodeon DVDs, this disc is in full-frame stereo with no extras and no chapter stops within an episode.
In between seasons, Yo Gabba Gabba! hit the road for a multi-city live stage show tour, and NCircle Entertainment has released a concert film of “There’s a Party in My City!” as performed at the Nokia L.A. Center. There is a prodigious amount energy and fun to be mined from the end result, even though one can tell that seeing the show on video is a poor, pale substitute for the live experience. I’m impressed at how much thought went into converting the TV show to a stage experience, from the simple tricks that make it look like DJ Lance Rock or Biz Markie leap out of the screen to the increased audience interaction that tosses beach balls into the crowd for the Aquabats’ “Pool Party” number or dumps hundreds of balloons on the audience when Brobee says that sharing balloons with his friends really makes him happy. As with the show, DJ Lance Rock is an indefatigable bundle of energy wrapped up in a bright orange track suit, and his experience as a DJ serves him well to work the crowd. It’s also fun to see how skilled the Gabbaland puppeteers are, all of whom seem to be the same performers as on the show. It’s one thing to see them dancing on TV, where they have the benefit of retakes in case of flubs, but it’s quite another to see Toodee or Muno throwing down with some serious fancy footwork live on stage without a safety net (let alone seeing Brobee really being hoisted 30 feet above the stage by a bunch of balloons). I’ve also always loved the fact that Yo Gabba Gabba! was a show that taught little kids how to human beat box, and one of the definite joys of the live show is seeing Biz Markie doing “Biz’s Beat of the Day” with a succession of little kids from the audience.
The DVD is in anamorphic widescreen stereo, though the video shows the limitations of the source material pretty severely. There are three surprisingly lengthy behind-the-scenes bonus featurettes that alternate between celebrity and musical guests (some of whom appear on stage), random silliness backstage, alternate takes for Dancey Dance Time or the Super Music Friends Show, and (for the third featurette) an amusing lift from This Is Spinal Tap starring the Aquabats. They’re all definitely worth sitting through. For the fans who have already seen the show, this DVD is probably best used to remind them of all the fun they had seeing their Gabbaland friends on stage in person (or in puppet, as the case may be). For those who haven’t seen the live show, “There’s a Party in My City!” turns out to be an exceptionally good ad for it. I know I sure want to see it now (fans who are interested in catching the show should keep an eye on the “There’s a Party in My City!” website for new tour dates).
Bubble Guppies is one of Nickelodeon’s newest pre-schooler shows, with a multi-cultural cast of mermaids (plus one mer-puppy) who have various harmless adventures at school. I think my favorable impression of the show’s first DVD is largely due to Wanda Sykes’ guest appearance as a wicked witch in “Fin-Tastic Fairy Tale,” the double-length episode that kicks off the disc. Unlike a lot of the token guest appearances in other Nickelodeon pre-schooler shows, Sykes gets a lot to do in this slightly fractured fairy tale and hams it up with gleeful abandon. There’s a tango musical number midway through called “I’m So Mean,” where she dances around her crab henchmen and happily cackles about how awesome it is to be evil, and it’s exactly as much fun as it sounds like it would be. The rest of the story is pretty standard Nickelodeon pre-schooler fare that doesn’t challenge its audience too much but is still surprisingly entertaining. The other two regular-length episodes on the disc don’t fare nearly as well as the longer one, although I’ll happily admit that the music is poppy and energetic and fun and the show doesn’t insist on insulting the intelligence of its audience the way so many other Nickelodeon shows can at times. I’m also a little curious about the technology behind the show, which seems to map hand-drawn facial expressions onto CGI models for a unique, hybrid look. I’d still rank the show just below The Backyardigans and above the likes of Dora or Go, Diego, Go! in terms of appeal to supervising adults, and but I’m going to guess that the kids will love it anyway. The DVD presents the episodes in full-frame with a 2.0 Dolby Digital soundtrack. (Unlike the Hub or Cartoon Network, apparently Nickelodeon isn’t springing for widescreen HD animation for their kids fare.) Bonus features include a pair of karaoke music videos, an interactive game, and quick-jump features to songs in the episodes on the disc.