Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, a mostly-animated sequel to Fred Rogers’ immortal Mister Rogers Neighborhood, premiered during Labor Day, on PBS stations. Its little protagonist is a tiger cub — the son of the source show’s puppet Daniel Striped Tiger — who sings a version of the late Rogers’ ”Won’t You Be My Neighbor” song, only instead of putting on a cardigan sweater, Daniel Tiger zips up a hoodie.
As a PBS Kids entry aimed at pre-schoolers (Daniel himself is four years old), Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood features the big-round-eyes animation that’s everywhere now, and each episode trades on a theme. The Labor Day premiere, for example, was about disappointment and how to deal with it. It was Daniel’s birthday, and a nice tiger cake he had picked up from the bakery and then insisted on carrying home himself ended up, when the box was opened at home, ”smushed.”
Daniel was disappointed, but his dad pointed out that the cake still tasted good. ”I’m not disappointed any more,” said Daniel. ”I feel better.”
This kind of easy problem-solving doesn’t make for very amusing scenarios. In the second segment, Daniel and his pals go on what looks like the dreariest picnic ever — the food was all fruit! Were hot dogs or sandwiches considered too unhealthy? — and their ball is punctured. They’re disappointed… until a parent suggests they throw it like a Frisbee. Bingo: They’re not disappointed any more!
There’s a difference between being simple and simplistic. Fred Rogers’ Neighborhood was great kids programming because its creator not only addressed common kid problems and joys, but did it with interesting conversation. He also built a rich fantasy world in the ”Neighborhood of Make-Believe.” And while Rogers’ puppetry may seem slow and old-fashioned to some grown-ups now (probably a lot of television executives, for example), the life that Rogers and his collaborators breathed into characters such as Lady Elaine and King Friday XIII is missing in the current new show.
The series is a co-production of The Fred Rogers Company and Out of the Blue Enterprises, the latter containing some of the folks who brought you Blue’s Clues. This new project is a good enough show — not, as Daniel says ceaselessly, ”Grrrr-ific!” If it didn’t have the Fred Rogers sourcing behind it, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood would seem like a score of other pre-school-aimed shows: brightly-colored, always in hectic motion, always careful to spell out every theme and emotion slooooowly. It doesn’t have the slightly eccentric, humane, leisurely touch that Fred brought to children’s television, but it’s perfectly okay. B-