Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Will the Real Bert and Ernie Raise Their Hands!

We’re all familiar with the adaptation of comic book characters into live-action films. The Batman franchise alone has given us numerous actors who “became” Batman. Some made (or continue to make) a mini-career of it; others were shown the secret door marked “exit” after one performance.

From left, an original comic; Michael Keaton; Val Kilmer; George Clooney; Christian Bale.

And the cartoon world has certainly seen its share of shows based on real people.

But at the “Big Kahuna” of children’s television, long-running and beloved Sesame Street has created clever spin-offs of popular Muppet characters and embedded them within each Sesame Street episode.

Bert and Ernie still appear on the show in their original Muppet identities, but they also appear in the clay-animated series, Bert and Ernie’s Great Adventures. Each episode finds the lads traveling the globe on quests, such as their search for the Loch Ness Monster in Scotland, or on a more surreal experience, such as caring for exotic “living” plants that barked orders at the boys. Sesame Workshop states that the show, “aims to show young viewers that each person experiences the world in their own way, and encourages honest expression of feelings.” It also introduces pre-schoolers to all kinds of interesting international facts, like the platypus being native to Australia. The clay animation style is beautiful and it does get Bert and Ernie out from behind that wall. They get to have legs in this incarnation.

Another spin-off with “legs” is Abby’s Flying Fairy School, a cartoon series featuring popular Muppet Abby Cadabby. Abby also appears on Sesame Street as a Muppet, but in her own series, viewers get a peek into her life at school where she’s beginning to learn the basics of her magical trade, sort of a Harry Potter for the pre-school set. Sesame Street describes the series as, “designed to promote children's reasoning and problem-solving skills,” and the gang at Abby’s school do get themselves out of fixes through thinking and cooperation.

These series stand side-by-side with the “real” Muppet characters, who exist in a recognizable world alongside human beings. This is a testament to the creativity and ingenuity of the people associated with Sesame Street. It’s always been the gold standard of children’s television and speaks to pre-schoolers with the right amount of gentleness, wit, and surprise. Their formula of introducing one letter of the alphabet and one number each episode puts the content level at an appropriate one for pre-schoolers. The extra enrichment of these embedded series continues to make learning fun. There certainly are a lot of choices out there when it comes to pre-school programming, but none better than Sesame Street.

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