The quality of television shows for children is, if anything, even more erratic and unpredictable than programming for older folks. I never would have expected, for example, that one of the new season's best kid shows would be The WB's Jackie Chan Adventures.
Cartoons based on celebrities are usually pretty perfunctory items designed to cash in on a pop-culture phenomenon (a trend that extends at least as far back as the animated versions of the Beatles in the '60s and the Jackson 5 in the '70s). But Jackie Chan Adventures is solidly amusing stuff, featuring an animated version of the chopsocky star accompanied by two supporting characters, his plucky 11-year-old niece, Jade, and a wise if clumsy relative known only as Uncle.
Each week, this trio does righteous battle with a crime clan called the Dark Hand. Like the live-action movies that have made Chan an international star, there's lots of slapstick comedy in the midst of slippery martial-arts scenes. The relationship between Jackie and Jade is warmly avuncular, and the animation is a refreshingly clever cross between today's two prevailing styles: heavily muscled American hyperrealism and the wide-eyed, stylized Japanese anime, most familiar here from the mediocre Pokémon cartoons. At the end of each episode, Chan himself answers a question sent in by a kid, which leads in to some positive message about parents or school (or, in one edition, how much Jackie likes to watch TV).
Equally good is Bob the Builder, Nickelodeon's British import for preschoolers. The characters Bob, a construction worker; Wendy, his business partner; and a building yard full of talking trucks look a little like LEGO toys come to TV life. The plots are scarcely more than please-play-nice scenarios about sharing and caring, but they're never gloppy, and it's easy to see why Bob the Builder has become a sensation throughout Britain: The show looks wonderful. Bob's ultra-bright color scheme and the impeccable stop-motion animation make this a lovely, soothing series.
If you think all this is meager material to praise, you haven't seen the vast wasteland that comprises the rest of this season's new shows. I've already reviewed what is far and away the best of these: ABC's Teacher's Pet, the Nathan Lane-voiced talking-dog series that's the latest addition to the network's generally excellent ''Disney's One Saturday Morning'' block of programming. Teacher's Pet, along with other solid ABC Saturday fare like Pepper Ann and Recess, contrasts sharply with the ''Kids' WB!'' shows, like Static Shock, about an electrically powered teen who has the distinction of being one of the genre's few African-American superheroes. Since the DC Comics book on which this show was based was initially cancelled due to poor sales (it's since been relaunched to coincide with the series), this seems like an odd choice for a TV venture, one made all the more bewildering when you hear the hero uttering tired, condescending lines like ''When Static's in the house, bad guys better step off!''
There's also X-Men: Evolution, which offers poorly drawn and plotted adventures of the comic-book mutants and has recently introduced a character unique to the TV show, Spyke, an earnest creation who sprouts a thick layer of spikes when danger threatens. (For X-Menophiles, Spyke is the nephew of a veteran series character, Storm.) Evolution is full of tolerance preachments ''Don't fret it embrace it,'' one mutant will tell another; if only it had the superior art of almost any one of the multitude of X-Men comic-book titles.
Switch hastily away from The WB and over to ABC, and you get Disney's House of Mouse, an attempt to revitalize familiar characters like Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy. The premise of the show is that Mickey runs a nightclub at which cartoons are shown. Disney's press materials act as if it's revolutionary to show such disparate characters as Pinocchio and Dumbo, as well as the company's versions of Pocahontas, Aladdin, and Snow White, all rubbing elbows at the nightclub's tables.
The small talk these creatures might exchange at tableside would probably be more amusing than the new cartoons they (and we) watch. They're inferior variations on the ones that baby boomers grew up watching on The Wonderful World of Disney, right down to the old Goofy instructional 'toons, wherein the Goofster tried to do things like learn to drive. Disney's House of Mouse makes the mistake of trying to be hip: In fact, that's what Goofy's segment specifically teaches how to be hip. It's a sad day when a beloved shlub comes to think it's more important to be cool than to learn how to parallel-park. Jackie Chan Adventures: B+ Bob the Builder: B+ Static Shock: C- X-Men: Evolution: C- Disney's House of Mouse: C+
Bob The Builder
Disney's House Of Mouse
Jackie Chan Adventures