“It’s just so ‘blah’,” says one child of a plain-walled library in Creative Galaxy, Amazon’s new part-animated TV series for kids.
“Blah?” exclaims the architect who designed it – and who also happens to be the mother of our hero, Arty. He spends his days flying around the Creative Galaxy, picking up objects floating in the void and putting them
in his Idea Box. Pom poms. Stickers. It’s all out there, waiting to inspire him into creating something.
That’s the laudable aim of the programme by Angela Santomero (who has previously brought us such series as Blue’s Clues): use art to solve problems and, in theory, encourage kids to do same. In practice, it’s somewhat less inspiring.
The mark of a good childrens’ TV show is not talking down to its audience. Communicating on their level is key, whether that’s explaining something without being condescending or simply being funny.
Creative Galaxy clearly knows this. Within a few minutes, we’ve been introduced to the concept of pointillism – “painting with dots!” – and they’ve even casually name-dropped A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by George Seurat as if it’s a painting all pre-school tykes are aware of.
At the same time, though, there’s a bizarre feel to the language that feels forced. “I’m inspired!” cries Arty, the antenna on his tiny, green alien head lighting up and going erect. The fact that no human child would ever say such a thing only adds to the extra-terrestrial vibe. Then, there is a worrying tendency to preface sentences with gibberish to create rhyming couplets, because normal words are boring. “Beepity-bo, let’s go back home!” he shouts. “Bleepity-bee, come fly with me!” cries his friend Epiphany, who looks like a purple sponge got stuck climbing out of a yoghurt pot. Isn’t learning fun?
This is the sad fact of Creative Galaxy’s universe: that sense of fun isn’t always there. Arty and Epiphany get excited when they use or discover art and, in an age of dumbed-down television full of talent shows, the show’s raison d’être is admirable – a boring library? Paintings will make it cool! But when creativity is presented as a solution to a problem, it is smothered by a song that feels as workshopped as they come. “Art makes a space, a better place, to be!” sings the show’s musical accompaniment, right out of the textbook for childrens’ TV.
The show redeems itself with a live-action segment at the end of each episode, which sees normal, human children making things with the objects found earlier. A pointillism pizza? Why not? They smile in a way that feels genuine, enjoying sticking and colouring in the way everyone naturally does. If we spent more time with these kids, we could have something unique: an Art Attack-style programme, presented by young people.
Arts and crafts have always been a staple of childrens’ TV, from Neil Buchanan to Tony Hart. Amazon, meanwhile, have set themselves out as the top video on-demand destination for child-friendly series, featuring everything from Pingu and Morph to Round the Twist and Thundercats. But while Morph’s stop-motion plasticine is inspiring enough just witnessing it come to life – the moment a child realises how Aardman programmes are made is a delight – Creative Galaxy is missing that magic. It tries hard not to talk down to its audience, but ends up introducing nonsense words, meaningless adjectives and unimaginative songs to do so.
The result is a jumbled message that never quite connects – a series from another world. Compared to the unfettered craziness of something like Adventure Time, or the brand new, two-minute, Morph shorts by Peter Lord, which are being released on YouTube, you wonder how much potential this titular galaxy really has. The name suggests a sandbox of infinite possibilities. The real sparks, though, are on the planet below.
Bleepity-dah. It’s just so blah.