As the aunt of a preschooler and aspiring voice actress (I knew all those hours of watching Bugs Bunny would come in handy), I know every kid’s show, as well as every kid’s DVD out there.
In my opinion, there is no better way for celebrities to win back their outrageous salaries than to entertain and sometimes educate children. And They Might Be Giants gets a “cooler than Elvis” vote for singing the title track of one of Playhouse Disney’s newest hits, “Higglytown Heroes,” which is also on their children’s CD / DVD, “Here Come the A B C s”.
For those of you who are not familiar with all things Higgly (an adjective that is used both as “Smurf” but not, thanks to Higgles, as a verb), the series focuses on a small town and four children named Eubie, Kip and brothers Wayne and Twinkle. Think “South Park” with better art and no bad language. The loudest language is “Aw, pickles”, usually uttered by Twinkle (pinker than Trista Rehn Sutter!) After his fantastic ideas for solving children’s dilemmas are drilled gently by Fran, a friendly squirrel with the voice by Edie McClurg.
In each two half-hour episode show, the Higgly Kids experience common and innocent childhood events, such as finding a caterpillar, throwing a TV party for the Happy Hairy Higgly Monster Primetime Special, losing a tooth, Kip’s grandfather locked in the bathroom. or taking care of an unhappy bird. Children try to solve their problems, guided by Fran, who is the voice of reason, helped by their loving families and the ever-enthusiastic Bill and Ted-ish Pizza Guy … plus someone special. Then comes the inevitable song …
“Someone special, who could it be?
This job is too big for you and me.
We need help!
But never fear
Looks like a job for a … Hero of Higglytown!
A Hero of Higglytown! “
Some of the heroes are natural choices, especially after 9/11: policewoman, firefighter, etc. But how many of us think of sanitation workers, electricians, plumbers, gardeners, postmen (voiced by Kathie Lee Gifford), and farmers as heroes? Or a telephone operator (with the voice of Cyndi Lauper)? Although heroes have celebrity voices, the Higgly Kids discover that the real stars around them are the people who solve problems every day.
Some of the dilemmas get a bit ridiculous from an adult perspective. For example, when Kip climbs a tree to save a beloved neighborhood cat and her kittens, his friends help him. Why, when you get stuck, can’t they help you back up? Ahem … when was the last time you tripped and panicked? You need help in your own life every day without thinking about it.
The beauty of “Higglytown Heroes” is that it celebrates working together, “having fun together,” and the Higgly Kids, as well as their families, never take the Heroes in their lives for granted. The electrician (Lance Bass) is invited to participate in the “Higgly Monsters” TV party after repairing the circuits at Kip’s house. The firefighter (Donald Faison) who pulls Kip out of the tree shares a birthday party for the neighborhood cat. How many of us make an effort to thank the people who make our lives easier? Sometimes we forget to see them as people with needs and feelings.
We even forget to see our own families as heroes. Kip’s grandmother (voiced by “Golden Girl” Betty White, with Rose Nylund hairdo) knits the boys’ sweaters. Kip’s real estate agent Mom Bitty acts like the lifeblood of 1950s domestic life, but is rewarded when Kip and his friends gift her a card to get her back on track. Wayne’s mom Plunkie shows the kids a caterpillar and takes them to the beach, while Wayne and Twinkle’s Uncle Lemmo cook breakfast for them in their restaurant and, in the Christmas special, she takes Wayne and Twinkle. on his sleigh.
Interestingly, Higgly’s families aren’t always nuclear families, something Disney portrays as normal without drawing attention to it. Kip’s family is the proverbial nuclear family, with twin sisters, a little sister, a mom and dad, Fripp (who operates a hot dog cart), and two grandparents who live in or constantly visit Kip’s big house. Twinkle and Wayne’s mother appears to be a single dad (although they are all African American, no one has yelled racism yet), and Eubie is apparently being raised by her Aunt Mellie and Uncle Zooter with a southern accent, with visits from her southern accent. Grandpop Crank (a farmer).
In many ways, Higglytown is idealized. Nobody seems to care about work, money, or status. People go to the library, and a librarian is a Higglytown hero! Kids “work really hard” and take responsibility (gasp) by thinking of ways to help themselves and their families, and in each episode there are little moral lessons and tips (take care of your pets, don’t use too much electricity, make them smile someone) to show children how they can become … Heroes of Higglytown!
Cynics and naysayers will scoff at this like a childish pablum. I call it a refreshing dose of reality and a tribute to the heroes around us. Disney animators are Higglytown Heroes for creating this show.
Author’s Note: After this review originally went online, actor Rory Thost, who voices “Kip,” was kind enough to be a “Higglytown hero” and brighten my day by telling me how much he and the cast I liked the review. For all those who think our children are real troublemakers, Young Master Rory Thost is thirteen years old: http://imdb.com/name/nm1191277/?fr=c2l0ZT1kZnxteD0yMHxzZz0xfGxtPTIwMHx0dD1vbnxwbj0wfbH9yef9ye. His career in show business is already longer than mine! More importantly, in a world where celebrity misbehavior is sadly the norm, this young man remains polite, mature, well-mannered, and well-grounded.
Author’s Note II: This series just keeps getting better. The continuity is on par with most primetime shows. Kip has adopted a dog named “Shadow” who makes guest appearances; we meet Fran’s parents after seeing them at the Christmas special; Eubie’s grandfather becomes a Higglytown hero; Flappy, Eubie’s bird, makes appearances from time to time. The fireman is back. The electrician proposes to the teacher, and Pizza Guy and Fran become Higglytown heroes!
Author’s Note III: Disney has created Higglytown Heroes Toys. This series has legs!