Amazon Studios has released its latest batch of pilot episodes for the 2016 season, with a half-dozen new offerings aimed at kids, five of which are animated and one of which is a remake of a classic puppet-driven TV series from the 1970’s. How do they measure up?
Reviewed in the order that the pilot episodes arrived on our press screening materials:
Unfortunately, the most succinct description I have for The Curious Kitty & Friends is that it’s Amazon’s own Tumble Leaf but with far more conventional sensibilities. The series centers on the colorful cat Komaneko and her assorted adventures as she wanders through her forested stop-motion world. Her favorite activity seems to be making videos of her travels, often incorporating her friends Radibo and Yeti and her dolls Wink and Ink. The 11-minute pilot episode is a serviceable bit of pre-school programming, where Komaneko meets a very shy newcomer to the forest and tries to lure her out of her shell. There’s nothing overtly wrong with The Curious Kitty & Friends, but Tumble Leaf consistently manages to find creative ways to surprise and delight in ways that won’t be scary or disorienting to its pre-school audience. The Curious Kitty & Friends just feels too pedestrian in comparison.
You would have to screw up galactically for me not to like a show with a title like Jazz Duck, and fortunately this fun and quirky show does not screw up galactically. Jazz Duck follows the title character as he explores his home town of Big City, paying special attention to the varied soundscape. Jazz Duck feels as loose and improvisational as the musical genre that inspires it, and I can totally get behind the idea of finding interesting ways to make music out of everything that’s around you.
If I do have a quibble about the show, it’s in the design of the title character, who is part duck and part saxophone. His bill forms what would be the mouthpiece of the sax, and he only “speaks” in musical notes (provided by saxophonist Ross Hughes). There’s no polite way to say that this makes Jazz Duck look like he’s farting out all his dialogue. While this turns out to be quite funny, it’s also somewhat distracting, especially since I’m not sure that it was entirely intentional. And good luck getting the pre-school target audience to stop laughing long enough to watch the show once they figure out that Jazz Duck is literally talking out of his butt.
It turns out that among this crop of animated pilots, the most entertaining ones are also the ones with the vaguest descriptions. Little Big Awesome sounds like a silly buddy comedy, but it is a total winner for being wildly, insanely outlandish and very, very funny. The odd couple driving the show are Lennon, a little purple guy in a fuzzy hat, and Gluko, a pink jelly giant. Gluko alone could easily drive all the comedy in the show, with his jiggling body driving a half-dozen amusing bits of comedy in this pilot episode. However, the show redlines the Weird-Stuff-O-Meter through its variety of animation styles and good old fashioned weirdzo random strangeness. I guess the pilot episode really gets going when Lennon and Gluko are blackmailed by Gluko’s grandmother’s cats to go get special Kitty Nom-Noms treats, but there’s no way for me to keep going without spoiling the entire show and/or sounding like I’m stoned out of my mind. This really means that Little Big Awesome is the kind of show that has to be experienced. If you’re not the type that likes strange randomness, well, I don’t think we can be friends any more, but I also don’t think you’ll like this show all that much. For those who like an occasional slice of the bizarre, Little Big Awesome offers up a perfectly prepared heaping helping of it.
Think of Morris and the Cow as something like Nickelodeon’s Sanjay and Craig but with about 80% of the sugar-rush intensity removed. Sanjay is a suburban kid who wants to have adventures, Morris is an urban one who wants to be a cowboy; Craig is a talking snake, Florence is the titular talking cow. Together, they have (mis)adventures. This shouldn’t be much of a surprise, since co-creator Andreas Trolf was also a co-creator of Sanjay and Craig, but Morris and the Cow seems like a show I’ll be able to take in larger doses without getting completely exhausted.
The pilot story of Morris and the Cow probably won’t win any awards for originality, as the pair visit a rodeo for a chance to meet Morris’ cowboy movie star hero and they learn a lesson in not being judgmental when the hero turns out to be a clod and the rodeo clowns turn out to be heroes. However, the execution of the story is delightful, injecting just enough mayhem to keep things lively without tipping over into fast-cut animated madness. I also appreciate the way that Morris is very matter-of-factly black in the same way that Sanjay is very matter-of-factly of South Asian descent; both characters stand out from the usual white lead characters and neither show makes a very big deal of their lead character’s race (which is exactly why it is kind of a big deal).
In the modern media landscape, everything old is new again and remakes of older properties are the order of the day. Fortunately, many of those remakes are being made by fans of the originals, who are often quoted as saying that they’re making the show that they remember rather than the show that they actually watched. But this remake of Sid & Marty Krofft’s Sigmund and the Sea Monsters? It’s still the same show I actually watched as a kid in the 1970’s, which was never a favorite and which doesn’t do much for me now. Brothers Johnny and Scott are pre-teens spending the summer with their Aunt Maxine and cousin Robyn in a beachfront resort town that soaks the tourists with a sea monster theme. While cleaning off the beach, the brothers discover Sigmund, a friendly sea monster with a penchant for turning junk into cooler stuff. The brothers and their cousin soon find themselves hiding Sigmund from Aunt Max and from the monster-obsessed Captain Barnabas, while Sigmund’s bumbling brothers Slurp and Blurp wreak havoc of their own trying to find their little brother.
This pilot episode was directed by a veteran of Nickelodeon teen sitcoms The Thundermans and School of Rock, and it suffers from the same on-the-nose plotting and child stars mugging for the camera (younger brother Scotty is especially insufferable in that regard). Aunt Max’s cluelessness, especially in her unrequited obsession over Captain Barnabas, also feels like a character element from the 1970’s that would have been better left in that decade. Call me if they redo Land of the Lost, but I won’t be heartbroken if Sigmund stays under the waves.
If Little Big Awesome is a bit too weird for your tastes, then perhaps Toasty Tales will be more to your liking. This buddy comedy centers on three Marshmallow friends named Waffle, Burger, and Pants, and their silly adventures in Move-Along National Park. The pilot episode centers on an epic quest to find a secret ingredient for making the greatest pancakes in the world. Like Little Big Awesome, the plot isn’t as important as the execution, which is endearingly, creatively lunatic. The animation style is more consistent than the mixed-media of Little Big Awesome, and it feels a lot like older SpongeBob SquarePants in the way it can be gleefully, unapologetically random.
Amazon’s pilot episodes are available now for streaming via Amazon Prime.