I’ve written before about how weird pop culture perceptions of piracy are, but man, Jake and the Neverland Pirates is the weirdest. Because it completely and totally fails to understand piracy. It fails to understand Peter Pan, come to think of it. I’ll admit I’ve never read the book or seen the play, but even I understand it better than this show does. Because what the show misses is that Captain Hook’s failing isn’t stupidity. He’s not Peter Pan, and honestly that’s as much of a failing as they really need. I’ve heard fans of the play complain that the Disney movie version of the character is watered down from the terrifying villain of the play, but at least he doesn’t seem to have been literally brain damaged.
Jake (too many children to bother listing, frankly) sails around the islands of Neverland, apparently a thing here, in a ship with a name neither my son nor I can remember. He’s got friends named Izzy and Cubby and a parrot named Skully (David Arquette, for some reason). Their nemesis is Captain Hook (Corey Burton), of course, along with Smee (Jeff Bennett) and a couple of pirates who sing tedious songs all the time, Sharky and Bones (Loren Hoskins and Kevin Hendrickson while speaking and Jeff Bennett while singing, respectively). Generally, episodes feature Hook trying to prevent the kids from doing something or stealing their stuff or similar.
Supposedly, Corey Burton wanted to emphasize the fun aspects of Captain Hook so he wasn’t as scary for small children, and there’s a lot to unpack there. Not least that, to a lot of kids, the scary part is the fun part. But even beyond that, this Hook doesn’t have any of what I think is fun about the one from the movie. Instead of being suave and a bit of a dandy, he’s vain and prissy. And dumb as a brick, of course. It never ceases to infuriate me when he spends a whole episode unable to remember what a boomerang is called or whatever, and spends an episode forgetting that it’ll come back if you throw it.
The kids aren’t always much brighter. There’s an episode where Hook discovers where their treasure chest is and learns the secret song to bring it up so they can hide doubloons, and at the end of the episode, they leave it in the same place. No one on this show is exactly a genius. I think a lot of children’s shows aim for “about as smart as the audience,” and if that’s the case, they’re severely underestimating my kid’s intelligence.
There is also, as many parents will tell you, the ongoing thing about how pirates shouldn’t steal someone else’s stuff, which, yeah, they really just don’t get what the word “pirate” means. The problem is that the show seems to have internalized the idea that pirates are fun but at the same time been a bit hamstrung in their villain by the fact that the villain of Peter Pan is a pirate. But Jake and his crew aren’t actually pirates inasmuch as they never commit acts of piracy and get all defensive about how good pirates don’t do that.
And of course Izzy wears pink. And of course she’s the one who has a bag of pixie dust, which she’s been told she can only use “in an emergency.” I mean, Cubby’s shown to be able to just make a map, which means he doesn’t even really need the magic one he has, but still. She can be a cool pirate, but she’s still The Girl. All the female pirates on the show are The Girl, no matter what else we know about them, and it’s really maddening.
It’s also another one of those kids’ shows that gives a bunch of characters catch phrases, and of course your kid will pick them up and repeat them incessantly. Simon seems to have grown out of repeating Cubby’s “oh, coconuts,” but since his new word is “frick,” perhaps Cubby’s is too sanitized for him. (And I keep wanting to call Cubby Tubby, which isn’t helped by his character design.) Fortunately, my daughter will ask to watch it, get distracted, and wander away, so she’s not repeating any of them.
The character design feels lazy. Another thing I liked about Captain Hook in Peter Pan was that he was drawn well, and this Hook definitely isn’t. The animation’s not terrible, but it’s really simple. The show doesn’t even have much in the way of those random clever moments that will surprise a laugh out of a parent watching even some shows they hate. Really, we could all do without this show on just about every level.