"Max and Ruby: Everybunny Loves Winter!" – Sweet Bunnies on the Nick
A parent I know described Max and Ruby as, “Ruby and Her Ongoing Abuse of Her Retarded Younger Brother Max,” often inserting a few colorful, unprintable descriptive terms for Ruby for good measure. The few earlier episodes that I had watched in passing on a Nickelodeon channel didn’t seem to flat-out contradict this assessment, but it seems that time has softened the show a bit. The collection of fourth-season episodes collected on the newly released Max and Ruby: Everybunny Loves Winter DVD may not have the on-the-button adorableness of Charlie and Lola, but it’s considerably less abrasive than the above description, or even early episodes of Nickelodeon’s Olivia.
Max is a 3-year-old bunny rabbit and Ruby is his 7-year-old sister. Any given episode of Max and Ruby is divided into three segments, each of which usually gives its title characters goals at cross-purposes. The show gets its fun from Ruby insistently pushing Max away from his goal and towards hers, until everyone finally realizes that those goals aren’t usually so different after all. The first two episodes on this DVD involve wintertime, with Ruby wanting to build a snowman while Max wants to go sledding, or with Max having some fun at his sister’s expense while she tries to clean up the Christmas decorations. That post-Christmas episode is followed by one where the kids try to stay up with Grandma for New Year’s Eve (three guesses which of them manages it), which would seem to make this disc a natural to release closer to Christmas than Halloween, but I don’t make the release schedules. The title conceit is also abandoned for the latter two episodes, which involve activities in seemingly every season except winter.
While earlier episodes of Max and Ruby painted Ruby in a rather unflattering light, in these episodes she just comes off as being well-meaning and a little fussy. If anything, the fact that she never recognizes how she and Max can both get further ahead by doing what Max wants makes her seem slightly dim, although one might interpret it as the stubbornly lower regard an older sibling will often have towards a younger one. In contrast to the verbose Ruby, Max communicates in one-word sentences (“Sled!” “Kick!” “Scary!”) and through entertainingly expressive facial expressions that usually communicate volumes about his annoyance at his sister. However, at least with these episodes, the affection that they have for each other is never in doubt and the show does a satisfactory job at its goal of exhibiting a supportive sibling relationship.
The show’s animation is simple but quite attractive. Like many recent shows based on children’s books, Max and Ruby uses CGI or Flash in interesting ways to bring the original artists’ style to life on the small screen. Max and Ruby is similar to The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That! in that its Flash animation makes the show look a little like paper-cutouts from the books moving around on screen. Voice acting is quite good all around, with what sound like child actors sounding like children rather than Kids Show Kids (or, worse, what adults think kids on kids shows should sound like).
As a DVD, Everybunny Loves Winter breaks the mold of other Nickelodeon DVDs by including a good selection of episodes (four, versus the usual three on many other Nickelodeon DVDs) bringing the total running time of 99 minutes. The episodes are bright and colorful with a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo soundtrack. For once, Nickelodeon has also released a DVD with chapter stops within episodes. I’ve harped on that absence in the past, so the inclusion of chapter stops makes me happy, but it also makes me feel a bit ungrateful to complain that the first chapter stop includes the opening credits and the first segment of an episode. Just one more between those two chunks would be perfect.
Max and Ruby falls pretty solidly into Ed’s Second Grade of kids’ shows, which a supervising adult will be happy to watch with a child but isn’t quite cool enough to seek out without a kid around. Still, that puts it a good deal above than some other shows I could mention. The episodes on Everybunny Loves Winter are good enough that maybe they’ll even get that grumpy parent I know to change her mind.