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.
"Raising a Cinephile" is a new recurring column about preparing your child to be knowledgable and interested in high-quality cinema and television as they grow. In it, Scott breaks down the movies, television, and cartoons he's showing his two-year-old daughter now to help her appreciate the finer side of film as she reaches the age where she can choose her own entertainment in hopes that all his preparation will allow her to make the best decisions possible. Plus, it gives him a good excuse to revisit some really nostalgic movies. Bonus!
When my wife first told me that she was pregnant, I didn’t immediately envision mornings filled with marathon viewings of Disney HD. I always assumed I’d avoid it like the plague, whip out some DVDs, and show The Wiggle Bear all the classics. We’d go through the entire Disney feature film catalog from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to Bolt (she was born in January 2009, so Toy Story 3, Tangled, and Up didn’t exist yet). And, yes, that meant all the live action films as well (at least the ones that were appropriate). My kid was going to grow up knowing every single word to The Watcher in the Woods and The Moon-Spinners, damn it! I was determined. I didn’t need some new-fangled cartoon shows and updated CGI Mickey. Hrmph!
Then Wiggles was born and it included a ton of sleepless nights and sleep-deprived days and the constant (but pleasant) droning of classical music from a horde of Baby Einstein DVDs. Those eventually turned into a slow hum of the theme song to Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Handy Manny, and Chuggington. It wasn’t long before I was singing along with Mickey and wondering when we’d next hear Wilmer Valderrama teach us about his anthropomorphic tools. Disney Junior (which was actually Playhouse Disney when The Wiggle Bear was born) was slowly growing on me.
You see, what I failed to realize when I had my widely ambitious dream about all those classic Disney films was that little kiddos (especially those younger than five) have a very short attention span. Painfully short at times. And the chance of sitting through a ninety-minute movie with a toddler is about as good as the chance of them cleaning up all their toys when they’re done playing. Sadly, it just ain’t gonna happen.
So I adjusted. I popped on a quick Handy Manny episode and started digging the animated CGI adventures of Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, and the rest of the Clubhouse crew. It was fun, Wiggles loved it, and it definitely taught her a thing or two. Sure, it wasn’t the classic Disney cartoons I loved as a kid (my personal favorite is “Donald’s Snow Fight” from 1942), but it was passable entertainment.
I was being lured into The Disney Channel just like probably every kid with cable TV in the past few decades. It was like hypnosis and I was powerless against the pulls of bright, cheery cartoon images.
But then I started paying attention to that several-hours-long programming block. I mean, really paying attention. And, before long, I found a show that I could wholeheartedly get behind, as it understands exactly what I’m trying to do with this column. It looks to the past, entertains in the present, and lays the proper cinephile groundwork for my little one’s future.
Meet Special Agent OSO, the unique stuffed bear
He’s on a special assignment, to help a kid somewhere
And with help from you, there’s nothing he can do
He’s oh so special (Hurry Special Agent OSO)
Oh so special (Sounds like a plan)
When he’s on the scene, he’ll do all he can
Learning brand new skills, facing danger and thrills
It’s all part of the plan
He’s OSO special (Hurry OSO)
OSO special (Way to go)
Special Agent (special agent) OSO!
That, right there, is the fantastic little theme song to the Ford Riley created Special Agent OSO; easily one of the freshest and most fun shows in the Disney Junior block. The lyrics pretty much paint the picture for you, but if you couldn’t figure it out already, Special Agent OSO is a cartoon about a stuffed yellow bear that just happens to also be a special agent. I’m talking James Bond special agent. Replace 007 with OSO and you’ve got this quirky 15-minute blast of awesomeness.
Voiced by Sean Astin (The Goonies, The Lord of the Rings), OSO is the star of the show, but for cinephiles like me, it’s the way the show plays off the James Bond mythos that not only keeps my eyes peeled, but actually makes me an active watcher that looks beneath the bright, shiny surface of the cartoon for clues to its 007 roots.
Take, for instance, these episode titles and descriptions:
“Thunderbasket” – OSO helps David learn to shoot a basketball.
“License to Order” – OSO helps Elizabeth order a healthy meal.
“Goldscooter” – OSO helps Camilla learn to ride a scooter.
“A View to a Book” – OSO helps Joe check out a library book.
“Live and Let Dry” – OSO helps Logan wash and dry dishes.
“Octo-Puzzle” – OSO helps Jack put together a jigsaw puzzle.
“Tie Another Day” – OSO helps Tara tie her shoes.
“For Your Ice Only” – OSO helps Carina learn how to skate.
“Dr. Go” – OSO helps Emily race her brother’s remote-control car.
“Colors Royale” – OSO helps Nicholas mix yellow and blue paint to make green.
“Cleanfingers” – OSO helps Charlie wash his hands before eating.
You get the idea. Every single episode title is a take on a classic James Bond film. Every single episode sees Special Agent OSO working on a “training exercise” to sharpen his special agent skills, when he’s called away by a special alert from his boss “Mr. Dos” (get it? Yeah, you do). The message comes through on OSO’s little computerized assistant (“Paw Pilot”) with details about just what he needs to do to help the child in need. It’s pretty damn ingenious.
Even more ingenious, however, are the little touches throughout the show that speak to the parents watching along with their kids. OSO has tons of cool gadgets just like Bond, he has Special Agent buddies who help him (one who speaks in Italian), and a French-speaking, Chihuahua-shaped train named R.R. Rapide. Pretty clever, huh?
Pay attention because there are little Bond references all throughout the show that might go unnoticed if you’re not watching closely.Special Agent OSO is exactly the type of show I want The Wiggle Bear watching. It keeps her entertained, teaches her a lot of basic skills, and pays homage to one of the greatest cinematic franchises of all time. It’s the show that ultimately converted me to a Disney Junior lover and gave me a greater appreciation for the people behind these cartoons. They’re not just quietly creating silly content for kids to gaze at, but they’re giving parents a little something to chew on as well.
Disney Junior recently introduced another show called Jake and the Never Land Pirates that strikes a fine balance between reverence for its cinematic roots (clearly Peter Pan) and shiny pop entertainment for the pre-school set. I’ll talk about the show in-depth in a future column, but suffice to say that it’s done a great job of laying the groundwork for The Wiggle Bear becoming a huge Peter Pan fan. She knows Hook and Mr. Smee by name (and actually recognizes Smee by voice alone), she loves Pirate Rock (performed by the awesome duo Sharky and Bones), and I’m convinced she learned what a crocodile is from this show alone. It’s well worth watching.
The only thing I wish, in my finally coming around to the wonders of Disney Junior, is that I’d found Special Agent OSO earlier, so I could record all the early episodes on our DVR. The yellow bear itself is adorable and I’m sad to see him so under-represented in the Disney store. While Jake and the Never Land Pirates is getting a DVD release in September, Special Agent OSO is still nowhere to be found on DVD and has literally no presence in our local Disney Store. For such a great character (and show) that’s a shame. You can find toys in stores and online, but we still want some DVDs and plushies.
Hmmm… maybe that’s a good assignment for OSO himself. Special Alert! Special Alert! Special Assignment: “Plushies Are Forever!” Sounds like a plan