Earlier this week, I was dismayed to learn that PBS is launching a spinoff of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Dubbed Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, it will feature the animated son of the Land of Make-Believe puppet of the same name. This seems… not quite right.
It’s not wrong, per se, but Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood’s strength was always that it was a calming influence after the frenetic Sesame Street. The puppets were muted compared to Jim Henson’s vivid Muppets. The characters in the Land of Make-Believe talked slowly. There were no animated jazz numbers between segments. Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was the eye of a high-impact, brightly-colored educational programming hurricane. The still from Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood reveals an overly vivid design for the show. I can only assume the content will be as high-energy as the color scheme.
Seeing Daniel Tiger get animated is just the latest in a string of reboots that seems to corrupt the soul of programs that were popular when I was a kid. The abomination of The Smurfs (Neil Patrick Harris, how could you?!) is another. Yes, the Smurfs were always used as a means to sell kids merchandise. (I owned bedsheets, sweatsuits, figurines, and a tea set.) But the CGI version of the animated characters seem to have lost all of what little soul they once possessed. I was never into the Thundercats, but they’re back and burlier than ever. Even the Muppets are getting refreshed with the help of How I Met Your Mother’s Jason Segel, the result of which will be seen in November.
Some things should be left to the era in which they originated. Mr. Rogers was the star of his show, with all apologies to the trolley. His production company should continue to reflect his values in new content, but can’t we leave the Land of Make-Believe and Daniel Tiger to reruns? They had over 30 years of content. Let them be.
Many shows may prove too difficult to reboot and will mercifully be left to history. Jem and the Holograms would be difficult to take out of the ’80s, and the relatively anatomically-correct dolls that show spawned would never fly today. DuckTales is out—no parent wants to foster a child’s dream of diving into a vault of money in this economic climate.
That doesn’t mean I don’t want to revisit my childhood programming in its original form. Nickelodeon is wisely cashing in on this, re-airing shows like Hey Dude and Clarissa Explains It All as they aired in the ’90s for us 30-somethings to engage in some nostalgia. By all means, let us judge for ourselves if those shows hold up under the test of time. But don’t reanimate their corpses in the hope of making a buck.