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TV review: Vivo, Encanto, Moana, Luca, Wallace and Grommit, Shaun the Sheep, You vs Wild Bear, Making Fun, and Bluey

19 April 2024

Netflix

In You vs Wild (Netflix), Bear Grylls pits himself against the wilderness for some worthy purpose

In You vs Wild (Netflix), Bear Grylls pits himself against the wilderness for some worthy purpose

“UNLESS you become like little children, you will never enter television heaven” (the Gospel According to Valerie Singleton). Last week, to enable their parents to cavort abroad, we assumed care of our grandchildren (five, eight, and ten), thereby changing utterly my TV diet from its normal hard-hitting documentaries, adult-themed dramas, and misery-inducing Nordic crime thrillers.

So, bringing you news from a far-off, strange land, this week’s article considers the fresh windows that our grandchildren opened. First, technique: children are far better at manipulating TV controls than I; they can find channels that I didn’t realise we could receive; they take a global view of material and genre. The headline news is that TV aimed at children is very, very bad — and also very good indeed.

Huge technical resources are poured into disgraceful franchises deriving from and building up ranges of toys, each episode encouraging exponential online purchases. Aggression and fighting are assumed to be normal — but the extreme violence never actually wounds or kills; sentimentality and cringe-making moral platitude crowd out true virtue. Yet, for example, Disney’s feature-length computer-generated animations such as Vivo, Encanto, Moana, or Luca (all Netflix) celebrate the underdog and wide diversity with charm and wondrous beauty.

Nothing quite matches the lunatic invention of Wallace and Grommit and its offshoot Shaun the Sheep, the Plasticine figures promoting the northern UK more successfully than any political levelling-up; all ages delight in their broad slapstick humour, while degrees in cinematographics and literature can help the viewer to unlock the true sophistication of their cultural parody.

Celebrating extreme real life and the natural world, in You vs Wild (Netflix), Bear Grylls pits himself against the wilderness for some worthy purpose (e.g. delivering a vaccine to a patient). He offers viewers constant choices: shall I jump or swim across the ravine? Pressing the control’s appropriate button determines the next sequence, revealing its success or failure.

Such interaction assures highest levels of attention, and teaches by stealth (how to make a bivouac, or trap your dinner). Although light years away from Blue Peter, making and inventing are still staples. In Making Fun (Netflix), huge, bearded US engineers employ every skill and workshop technique available to realise children’s own bizarre designs, such as a 12-foot T-Rex that delivers a stream of tacos.

Perhaps best of all is the Australian cartoon series Bluey (Disney+ and BBC iPlayer). This family of “blue heeler” dogs establishes a unique moral universe in which parents enter into and enhance the youngsters’ every game. Harsh realities — loneliness, jealousy, and anxiety — are confronted but overcome with attention, care, and madcap, giggling dance, celebrating those neglected divine virtues of creativity and sheer fun.

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