One of the most important things in children's programming is that it be enjoyable (or at the very least, inoffensive) for adults. One of the great failings of much children's programming is that the adult watching it with the child (and I am certainly a proponent of the adult being well aware of the entirety of the content that a young child is watching) wants to scratch their eyes out and stick their fingers in their ears they hate it so much. At that point, it doesn't matter how enjoyable the program is for the child, most adults will be sure that it does not air in their house.
The recently released to DVD Handy Manny – Manny's Pet Roundup, may not be the most enjoyable show for an adult, but it certainly isn't offensive. There are six 13-minute-long (or so) episodes included on the DVD are mostly ones that have aired on television and all feature standard Handy Manny tales. Manny, a handyman, who has a set of talking, extremely anthropomorphized tools goes to various jobs fixing things and along the way teaches his tools worldly lessons. They learn about responsibility, keeping promises, the difficulty of having pets, etc. They also always manage to succeed in their various fix-it tasks (it wouldn't be a children's show if Manny were incapable of fixing huge plaster spinning pretzels).
The tools, while very child-like, are amusing enough, as are the songs that they sing (the same ones every episode). My daughter was certainly pleased to sit and watch episodes, and I was quite thrilled that she identified the screwdrivers (flat and Phillips) as the ones that help with “lefty loosey, righty tighty.” So clearly, despite their having huge eyes and being able to talk, they are still identifiable as tools.
As the title indicates, the vast majority of the tales included on the disc involving pets or animals of some kind. There doesn't seem to be any particular reason for that, at least any more than the producers of the series having enough pet episodes (almost) that could be packed on to a single DVD (one of them did not air on TV previously).
The same basic notion has also just been used in packaging a series of Little Einsteins episodes for DVD as well. Entitled, Little Einsteins – Flight of the Instrument Fairies, the DVD and series as a whole does not work quite as well for adults as it does for children.
Little Einsteins represents an extension of the Baby Einsteins brand which, depending on how you see it, is either a way to hook your infant on television watching or help educate them (I subscribe to an in-between theory of the series, own many of the DVDs, and allowed my little one to watch them on a regular basis). Little Einsteins features four characters who, over the course of a 24-minute-long (approximately) episode (four are included on the disc) perform various missions, from rescuing instruments who happen to be fairies to delivering soup to their rocket ship's ailing grandmother. Each episode contains a different piece of classical music as well as a classic work of art. Refrains from the musical pieces are repeated throughout the episode, while the art is used as a background in a scene or two.
The episodes feature animated characters and a combination of animated and live backgrounds. Between classic art pieces in the background, actual live-action backgrounds, and animated ones along with animated characters, the show appears as a hodge-podge of disparate styles and keeps the adult viewer slightly off-balance. Additionally, the chipper nature of the four main characters is vaguely off-putting.
The show is also one of the terribly popular call-and-response animated shows, which ask the viewer to “actively” participate in the program. In Little Einsteins this means that the characters ask the viewers to pat their knees, belly, and shoulders in order to help their rocket, named Rocket, fly “superfast.” Viewers are also encouraged to point at things on the TV screen and respond to the characters' questions.
I'm not against such programs in general, but the things that children are asked to do in this one is, more often than not, simply annoying. Mostly this is attributable to the obnoxiousness of the characters as they ask for help.
All of this being said, while I did not enjoy Little Einsteins in the least, if given the choice, my daughter would, without a doubt, choose to watch Little Einsteins over Handy Manny. However, that is not a choice I will be giving her.
Both Handy Manny – Manny's Pet Roundup and Little Einsteins – Flight of the Instrument Fairies are currently available on DVD.