Tuesday, May 22, 2012

TV Series We Love: “The Octonauts” on Disney Junior

At the beginning of every Octonauts episode, three main characters—Kwazii Kitten, Peso Penguin, and Captain Barnacles Polar Bear—shout the Octonaut motto, “Explore, Rescue, Protect!” That motto goes a long way to describe the content and plot of most episodes. This intrepid bunch of animal (and vegimal) oceanographers go on whimsical undersea adventures but the genuinely educational core of this series puts it a cut above entertainment television.

The book that started it all. 
MEOMI created the gorgeous Octonauts picture book series upon which the tv show is based. MEOMI is actually two people: the partnership of Vicki Wong and Michael Murphy, the authors and illustrators of The Octonauts and The Only Lonely Monster that led to a cult following for their vivid, beautifully rendered characters.

The Octonauts live in the ocean in their Octopod, a futuristic glass-enclosed living space. They tool around the ocean in a fleet of small vessels called “Gups,” each with a letter designation, starting with Gup-A, Gup-B and so on to the expected Gup-E. And while the book series is whimsical, featuring monsters and frowning fish, the television series has a welcome educational component, with each episode featuring a story involving an actual sea creature or creatures in reality-based stories, such as the symbiotic relationship between crabs and sea urchin.

The Octopod 
Each episode ends with a bouncy Creature Report, summarizing a list of facts about the featured creature (with a lively dance break). My daughter loves to sing along as the crew shouts, “Check!” as the facts are listed. Okay, I like to shout, “Check” too. I’m telling you, this show will grab you (with all eight tentacles). But you’ll love every minute of it. Speaking of tentacles, I love the “creator” of The Octonauts, Professor Inkling Octopus, who is described as a “brilliant Dumbo octopus oceanographer. He founded the Octonauts with the intention of furthering underwater research and preservation. Because of his delicate, big brain, he prefers to help the team from his library in the Octopod.” I have to say, I respect a children’s series with such well thought-out characters (with backstories, yet!).

In addition, The Octonauts include a group of Vegimals—like the character Turnip—who are “special underwater critters (part vegetable/part animal).” Just when you think it might get too mawkish, you see there’s a fascinating contrast between the adorable illustrations and the fictional world of The Octonauts. The voices aren’t cutesy, but rather the voices of dedicated grown-ups who give an interesting tone to the series, with wonderful voice performances all around. I especially like the commanding voice of the character Captain Barnacles Polar Bear, but the entire cast is well voiced.

I learn something every time I watch this show. My daughter is over the moon (and under the sea) for The Octonauts. You should sea it. I mean SEE it.

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