Scott Neumyer is the author of Jimmy Stone's Ghost Town. He's a publicist for Click Communications as well as a writer and photographer. You can reach him on Twitter and at www.scottwrites.com. He lives in New Jersey with his wife and daughter. You can read his Raising a Cinephile column every other Thursday.
If you have a toddler, there's about a ninety percent chance that you know these six names: Muno, Foofa, Brobee, Toodee, Plex, and DJ Lance Rock. Sounds like some hippie craziness straight out of Woodstock, right? Well, it's definitely some trippy craziness, but it's certainly not out of Woodstock. Nope. Those six names have become synonymous with the half-hour of awesomeness known as Yo Gabba Gabba.
If you're not familiar with the show already (and you're currently shaking your head at those wacky space-alien names), think of it as this generation's H.R.Pufnstuf. If SpongeBob SquarePants is the trippy it's-funnier-when-you're-high show for the kindergarten through college set, Yo Gabba Gabba is that very show...only it's for toddlers.
Created in part by members of the zany Ska band The Aquabats, Yo Gabba Gabba's characters are instantly likeable. From Muno's tall, red, pimpled body and cycloptic eye to Brobee's short, stumpy body and flailing arms, each one of the YGG crew has their own little perks and characteristics. It's a hell of a motley crew, and one that's headed up by the dancing guy in orange, DJ Lance Rock.
The show itself is often a collection of short live-action skits that find the characters learning something important and, in turn, teaching your kiddos these very same lessons. What sets Yo Gabba Gabba apart from other shows, however, are the absurdity of some of these lessons. "Don't Bite Your Friends," for instance, is a song that not only shows the little ones that it's (obviously) wrong to bite your friends, but also gives them an instantly addicting song to sing. It's so absolutely ridiculous that it crosses over from absurdity to brilliance. The lesson is so obvious that practically every other show intended for toddlers would just skip right over it, but Yo Gabba Gabba makes it fun, educational, and downright hilarious.
And if that's not enough for you, in between the skits you get young YGG fans showing you "Cool Tricks," animated segments that resemble retro eight-bit videogames, musical performances by some of the coolest bands around (seriously, they've had guest performances by everyone from The Ting Tings to Weezer), and occassionaly Biz Markie beatboxing in a segment called "Biz's Beat of the Day." I'm not kidding.
Ok ok. You may be wondering what all this has to do with creating the world's tiniest cinephile. Well, aside from just being a really entertaining and educational ride through Gabbaland, they've also managed to snag some of the biggest, brightest, and hippest movie and TV stars to appear, dance with the gang, and sing. All in a matter of just a few short years of existence (the show premiered in 2008). It actually reminds me of the early years of The Muppet Show when they had some of the most amazingly creative guest stars you'd ever find on a TV variety show (especially one manned entirely by Muppets).
There's an episode, for instance, where Anthony Bourdain plays a doctor making a house call for the ailing Toodee. Then there's Elijah Wood showing off his "Dancey Dance" - a segment which has featured the likes of Andy Samberg, Sarah Silverman, and Jack Black among others. Speaking of Jack Black, the man actually guest-hosted an entire episode (one which inexplicably scares the hell out of The Wiggle Bear) and even donned DJ Lance Rock's orange suit and hat to lead the Gabba crew. Not cool enough for you? Here's a shortlist of some of the other stars the show has managed to snag as guests: Mos Def, Jack McBrayer, Amy Sedaris, and Angela Kinsey. And that's not even counting the list of bands they've featured: The Roots, The Killers, The Shins, Jimmy Eat World, and Sugarland, just to name a few.
The great thing about Yo Gabba Gabba is that it brings enough cachet and appeal to keep even the adults watching for a few hours. I've caught myself singing Weezer's rendition of "All My Friends Are Insects" more than a couple times while cleaning up around the house or driving in the car. It's just that catchy.
And if guest stars or bands aren't your thing, there are plenty of awesome series regulars to enjoy. People like Mark Mothersbaugh (co-founder of the band Devo and most recently created the score for the excellent film Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs), the previously-mentioned Biz Markie (rapper of the classic hit "Just A Friend"), and of course, the Yo Gabba Gabba cast of characters themselves. Muno, Foofa, Brobee, Toodee, Plex, and DJ Lance Rock know how to have fun and do a great job of getting both you and your toddler out of your seat, dancing, and moving.
So these awesome guest stars, bands, and hip regulars aren't reciting lines from The Godfather. That's not the point here. What's important for those of us striving to get our toddlers primed for cinephilia is simply getting these creative and talented people in front of our little ones. Just get them to see their faces, become familiar with them, and fall in love with them now. When it's time for your kiddo to start watching feature length movies that don't include purple dinosaurs or furry red monsters, who's face do you think they'll gravitate to? That's right! They'll want to watch the people they already know are funny and talented. If you've played your cards right, and had them watch their Yo Gabba Gabba, they should be right on target to start watching some of the best films and TV around.
In just a few weeks, we'll be heading over to our state theatre to see Yo Gabba Gabba Live. Having successfully transitioned from being a character onstage with The Aquabats, to a hit TV show, and now a huge hit as a live touring show, Muno, Brobee, and the rest of the Yo Gabba Gabba gang have become a household name. (If you didn't already realize it, Muno even appeared in a Super Bowl commercial for Kia a few years ago).
Yo Gabba Gabba is using its oddball brand of humor to give kids everywhere a lot of fun, a bunch of education, and a whole lot of cinephile prep. I, personally, can't wait to rock out and sing along with Muno, Foofa, Brobee, Toodee, Plex, and DJ Lance Rock. Word is that Biz Markie should be there as well. I can only hope I'm so lucky.