Okay, I’m going to level with you—my kids don’t currently watch this. In order to get the picture for the article, I turned it on myself, and Irene kept saying, “More Bear!” But a, I’ve already done Masha and the Bear. And b, I promised my firstborn that I’d write about it. Simon used to watch the show a while back, though, and I formed strong feelings about it at the time. It wasn’t the worst show he ever watched—I’m so glad we don’t seem to have access to that one anymore—but my goodness it’s bad.
Peppa (several kids over the course of the show) is, obviously, a pig. She lives with Mummy Pig (Morwenna Banks), Daddy Pig (Richard Ridings), and younger brother George (several kids over the course of the show). The world is populated by various other anthropomorphic animals, one family of each, and they do, you know, stuff. Sometimes, it is theoretically interesting stuff. More often, it is not. When it should be interesting, the cartoon contrives to make it as painful to watch as possible.
Part of this but not even most of it is the animation. Which is terrible. Like, I complain about bad animation a lot, because a lot of the shows the kids watch have bad animation. (It’s interesting to compare the difference in quality of the first couple of Masha and the Bear segments to the rest of the series, for instance!) Even Pocoyo is the sort of blobby computer animation that Simon has a hard time distinguishing from stop motion. But ye Gods is the animation in Peppa Pig awful. It’s basically taking a child’s drawing style and making a full series of cartoons (plus movies, video games, books, and vast quantities of other merchandising) out of it. Also an object lesson on why you shouldn’t do that.
This is not a good medium for getting into exactly why it doesn’t work, of course. I cannot in text tell you about the nightmare of perspective that is the placement of the characters’ various body parts. Ari, my firstborn, sent me a YouTube video that gets into it, and while the guy in the video points out in the video several things that her head resembles, Peppa’s head to me resembles something I would not expect to see in a children’s video. In that it more resembles human male genitalia than an actual porcine head. And there’s all those lines that are left crossing over one another in a deliberately childish manner. It’s awful.
As is Peppa herself. Now, I’m not a big fan of Every Episode Has A Message storytelling. Or children’s media where everyone is nice and polite. But worse than either of those is “this character is rude and no one tells them to knock it off.” Peppa is pushy. Peppa interrupts. Peppa is mean to her brother and assorted other characters. Peppa is demanding. And, yes, children are like that. Children are often terrible; I could tell you stories about my own. But Irene just turned two on Sunday, and she already knows how to say “please” and is working on “thank you.” George is supposed to be about her age and never says either even though his language skills are better than hers. But then, Peppa seldom does, either.
I want the adults to push this. Peppa has two parents. Peppa has Granny (Frances White) and Grandpa (first BRIAN BLESSED, then David Graham, among other things the original Dalek voice) Pig. Peppa has Madame Gazelle (also Morwenna Banks), her playgroup teacher. Peppa has all the adults in the show—friends’ parents, the doctor, Miss Rabbit (Sarah Ann Kennedy), and so forth. And they basically never say, “Hey, Peppa, you know better than that.”
And oh, let’s talk about the rabbits. Peppa’s best friend is a rabbit, sure. But it’s interesting to note that the rabbits are the only animals that don’t live in a human-style home, living instead in a burrow, and that literally pretty much all the service jobs in town are done by Miss Rabbit. There is considerable debate as to whether there’s more than one Miss Rabbit or not, but I’ve seen an episode where she’s presented with a medal by Queen Elizabeth (yes, really, and Morwenna Banks again) for her services to the community for doing basically everything. Which to me only works if there’s only one Miss Rabbit.
But let’s say there are multiple Misses Rabbit. All that means is that all the important work without which the town won’t survive is done by the women of a single family. None of the kids’ parents have service jobs. Sure, Mr. Rabbit works in the same office as Daddy Pig (except in the episodes where he doesn’t and has other jobs instead), but the closest we get to a kid whose parent has a service job is things like “Mr. Fox (John Sparkes, who is also the narrator) owns a store” or else “Mr. Rabbit sells ice cream now for some reason.” None of the non-rabbit kids have parents who are in lower-income jobs.
Also, none of the parents have names. Okay, so I didn’t know a lot of my friends’ parents names when I was a kid—but I did know my own parents’ names. Just because I called them Mom and Dad didn’t mean that I didn’t know they were Mary and Jim. Heck, Simon went through several years where he called his father Graham about as often as he called him Daddy. Further, when the parents talk to each other, they say, “Oh, hello, Mummy Rabbit” or whatever. We seldom see them show outside interests; we seldom see them as their own characters at all.
I mean, I could keep going. I haven’t gotten into how the cartoons are five minutes long yet ridiculously padded with a narrator who just tells you what’s going on that you already know. But basically, this is the worst of professional children’s programming to me. It’s poorly made. It’s clearly intended to sell as much product as possible, given just how much product there is. The kids get away with being hellions. There’s an inexplicably superb guest cast over the years. There is little characterization, bad writing, wretched music. Worst of all, it assumes that its viewing audience is not just young but actively stupid. There’s nothing in the show to stretch a kid. I fully believe I could make a better show with the level of animation software available for children these days. How is this winning all those awards?