PBN Review: The Zula Patrol DVD

A few weeks ago, the fine women at Parent Bloggers Network sent me a DVD of the PBS kids' show, The Zula Patrol, and asked that I give it a watch, and then give it to my kids to watch, and then let everyone, oh just everyone, know what we all thunk about it.

I am very glad to do this.

First, reviewing The Zula Patrol gives me something to blog about other than my adorable husband and my crotchety kids.

Second, it gives me some practice writing reviews for things and stuff and flotsam and jetsam, and practice is what I need since I intend to soon begin working on unveil my super-duper review blog. Aaaaaaannnnny day now.

Third, it gives me something to blog about other than my crotchety husband and my adorable kids.

(There's only so much crotchety any readership should have to endure.)

Fourth, I do so enjoy and treasure my own opinions and, really, don't get enough opportunity to state them out loud over and over and over again. This is a great tragedy for all humanity, as far as I'm concerned, and - in my further opinion - this tragedy should be the main topic of either one of the Democratic nominee's next nationally televised speeches: Why More People Should Listen to Madame Jozet's Opinion On Just About Everything (I will admit to not having a opinion on "shopping cart" versus "buggy", but that's about it.)

And so, without further ado...

The Zula Patrol: Explore Space! DVD

Let's not reinvent the wheel here. Instead of telling you the gist of the series in my own words, i.e. plagiarizing the back of the DVD box, let's move right on to direct quotes:

Blast off with The Zula Patrol as they travel the galaxies in a quest for universal knowledge, scientific discovery and pizza, all the while exploring the wonders of science and astronomy. Join our wacky crew on a series of space exploration missions as Multo sends a probe to a far away Planet, Bula's replacement, a robot, goes through Astronaut training at The Zula Academy, Dark Truder attempts to put his own nefarious spin on all of the Solar System's Moons and Gorga and the Moon reflect on their past days moonlighting as circus performers.

My first opinion: "Planet" and "Astronaut" probably don't need to be capitalized. Sorry. I'm just a hard ass that way.

This particular DVD runs a total of 57 minutes and is comprised of four different episodes each with the theme of exploring space. Uh...thus the title. That isn't too obvious, eh?

The topics covered were astronauts, moons, space probes, and another one about the moon. Two episodes about moons. But what kid doesn't love moons? You really just can't hear enough about moons. Did you know that one of the planets has two potato-shaped moons? I learned that on The Zula Patrol.

And that's what The Zula Patrol is about: learning stuff. It's another in PBS' long line of children's programming that's more than just mindless entertainment and kooky-colored brain candy that will rot your cerebral cortex; it's boob tube with an objective beyond "I've seen the show and now I want the lunch box and the t-shirt and the plush character doll and a weekend at the animated-television-show-based theme park in Orlando where I'll buy more lunch boxes and t-shirts and plush character dolls!"

Uh-oh. I'm not sounding like one of those "television is the work of the Beelzebub " types, am I?

Before I go any further, let me stand up right here and place my hand over my heart and pledge my undying love and dedication and allegiance to television and its important sanity-saving role as 30-minute-interval babysitter. Without television, dinner would never get prepped. Without television, this blog would never get written. Without television, I'd have to drink enormous pots of caffeinated coffee each day so that all my bathroom visits would be more...expedient. It is true that up until a few weeks ago, our family had no cable or broadcast television, but that was mostly a matter of finances; in this interim, however, I went four years without using the bathroom. It's true.

Now, back to the review...

From The Zula Patrol website:

The only 3D/CG animated children's show that focuses on the important curriculum of science and astronomy, The Zula Patrol is an entertaining and educational TV series that combines zesty family entertainment with proven educational elements. With a secondary goal of encouraging core values of non-violence and tolerance, the show encourages whole-family participation and interest in learning about science and astronomy, in a fun, comic style. American Public Television will begin distribution of the TV series to its Public Broadcasting Station affiliates starting in fall 2005.

The Zula Patrol is designed to appeal to:

  • Children (Pre-Kindergarten-2nd Grade), the target audience for the comical denizens of Zula who, during the course of a typical show, will learn interesting and critical facts about the universe, galaxy, and solar system in which they live;
  • Teachers, who will be provided with an interactive educational tool to help introduce science and astronomy concepts to young children; and,
  • Beleaguered parents, who are desperate for nonviolent family entertainment and a way to explore the world of science and astronomy with their children.

Oh, I'm beleagured, alright.

My middle child, Seconda, is six years old and is The Zula Patrol target audience.

She was thrilled to sit and watch a cartoon in the middle of the day, even moreso because Mommy was going to sit and watch with her instead of stand in the kitchen and curse the carrots for not chopping themselves. So, right off the bat, she was an easy sell.

She immediately fell in love with the character Gorga.

Gorga is a space...pet...animal...creature...thing. I'm getting a little hung up here already. All the characters are sentient outer space beings of some sort - not human, that's for sure - and Gorga is an alien creature, too...but obviously Gorga is of some lower "pet caste", even though he communicates with his own language and can make flashlights and fish nets appear from the end of his snout. This hierarchy of species makes me very uncomfortable, my coming from a generation and liberal mindset that coined the term "animal companions" in an attempt to deal with our guilt over evolving toward an opposable thumb and the ability to really relax into a shampoo and a pedicure. I mean, the other characters and Gorga communicate with each other through spoken language, and Captain Bula and Molto empathize with Gorga's emotions, but I kept sensing a bipedal versus quadrupedal dichotomy of validated experience that suggested that two-footed upright aliens were somehow the dominant species in this imaginary world even in spite of immediate objective evidence favoring of the actuality of all the show's aliens having comparable levels of higher consciousness, a similar capacity for social interaction established by ritual, ethics and norms, and equal ability to use technology. It was both uncomfortable and discomfiting to consider.

My daughter just thought Gorga was very, very cute.

See, this is why the target audience is six year olds and not middle-aged pseudo-intellectuals.

Other areas where Seconda and I differed in our opinion on The Zula Patrol:

  • I thought that the computer animation looked a little AutoCAD 101. Seconda didn't mind the un-finessed motion and clunky, glaring backdrops. Looks like one of us has been watching "too much" Pixar and has become a bit of a snob connoisseur.

  • I got freaked by the evil robot space clowns in the Three Ringed Gorga episode and had to sleep with the lights on for three nights. The six-year-old thought the clowns were hilarious and noted "evil robot space clown" in her journal of potential future Halloween costumes.

  • I rolled my eyes at the obvious and over-the-top deus ex machina ending to the first episode. Seconda recommended that I get over myself and stop trying to ruin her childhood and rhetorically wondered whether I didn't I have carrots to go scream at in the kitchen?

We did agree on the following:

  • The villain, Dark Truder, was derivative (my word, not hers) of some of Tim Burton's more ghoulish Nightmare Before Christmas characters; however, as we are both big fans of Tim Burton, this likeness was added on the plus side.

  • Dark Truder's talking hairpiece was inspired comedy hearkening back to the very best Sid and Marty Krofft Lidsville episodes.

  • The new found knowledge that there are moons shaped like potatoes makes for some kick-ass (her word, not mine) "In your face, Einstein!" trivia.

  • The factual scientific tidbits interspersed within a narrative that utilized imaginary talking planets and evil robot space clowns was not jarring or confusing. By 6 years old, most kids are developmentally able to separate fact from fiction, and by 41 years old most adults no longer have a psychological hair-trigger when it comes to experiencing flashbacks from their college undergrad days experimenting with "herbal" brownies and freaking out at Dead shows. In other words, I was - after all - able to enjoy the whimsy.

Seconda watched the entire 57 minutes in rapt enjoyment. And then she asked to watch it again.

I asked her if she "learned anything" and she did, in fact, quote information about astronauts and space probes and actually remembered the names of the potato-shaped moons.

Now, I don't know whether she needed a 57-minute animated show to teach her that information, but I ask you - since when is watching television about needing anything other than some fun down time for kids and some coveted solo bathroom time for parents? If the kid is happening to learn a little science trivia at the same time - as well as honing their comedy chops via a talking wig - then that's the vegetable-laced icing on the brain dessert.

Mom's Rating: 3 Bleenies out of 5
Kid's Rating: 5 Bleenies out of 5

(I'll explain the Bleenies later.)


Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

You sold me!

Anonymous said...

But when is the new PBS program, "Sigmund and the Sea Bleenies", going to be available? That's what inquiring minds want to know.

mamatulip said...

Seriously, this is like, the best review EVAH.

Don't make me wait too long for the Bleenies explanation, mmmkay?

Krista said...

So how'd you get on the "backstage pass" list and score a freebie like this? And more importantly...how do I get me an advanced copy of this for my target-audience offspring?? :)
Sounds delightfully "bleenielicious"!

Julie Marsh said...

What Mama T said. Reviews like this are the reason I nearly wet myself when you agreed to become part of PBN.

Blog Antagonist said...

LOL, great reviewing! But I am so glad to be past this stage. Of course, now I am stuck in Hannah Montanna Hades. Drake and Josh purgatory. Zoey 101 hell.

I'll pass the news along to my sister, who has toddlers and a seven year old.

Carey said...

I have to agree with your rating...although the space-nut in my house, ehem - my husband, thinks it is a cool show and very educational for our daughter.

I say, at least you weren't tortured to review something like Teletubbies! UGH!

Anonymous said...

I miss Mr. Rogers. That is all.

Mother Theresa said...

God bless television. I got most of my stuff done when the kids were younger with the aid of a Winnie the Pooh video. My kids are past the age of Zula Patrol, so now I'm stuck with those horrid Japanese cartoons with the enormous eyes. I still can't tell any of the characters apart because they all look alike.

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