Monday, August 17, 2009

Little Kids, Big Mistakes - II: Little Krishna and Big Animation

As I'd mentioned in my last post, children's television in India has reached an all time low. The question now is what is being done?

A key step in the right direction is "Little Krishna", a show airing on Nickelodeon India. That it was Nickelodeon that picked this show up, and not any of the zillion Hindi/regional channels tells you a lot. The show was set up by BIG Animation, a subsidiary of Reliance Entertainment. You see the BIG when you see little Krishna's animation all right. For the first time, we get animation that compares favorably with the West (or East for that matter, the Koreans animate Simpsons). I can't compare it to Pixar or Dreamworks, but it's a major improvement on such nonsense as Bal Ganesh or Little Hanuman. Compare the three:

Little Hanuman:

Bal Ganesh:

Chota Bheem:

and Little Krishna:

The difference is all too obvious. Where the first two go for "Oh it's cute enough for kids to pick up and it's mythology so that's good enough", the third does create this world where Krishna and his pals play while fending off Kamsa's continuous assaults. I could further attest to the latter after viewing several episodes. Which is where Krishna scores. Craftsmanship.

This is the first requirement for any good TV show, specially for kids. Like I said, most animation houses in India don't care what their final product even looks like. It's impossible to get them to improve corresponding content. Clearing this baseline requirement, Little Krishna and its ilk are in a position to confront the next one.

Creativity. Here is where Krishna faces a bit of a problem. Doubtless to minimize rioting and blasphemy FIRs (see this btw, it's hilarious), BIG Animation went to ISKCON for the stories. The result is the televised equivalent of those pies one got at ISKCON bakeries - gooey, dripping and hoping to make up for lack of crust with a ton of sugar.

Consider for instance, the whole blue thing. Krishna was said to have the complexion of a raincloud, and hence paintings showed him as glowing purply-blue, a motif much much repeated in any ISKCON religious text. While suitable (I suppose) for paintings, it's weird to see a blue kid running about amidst a bunch of normal complexioned people. He ends up looking like Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen. Couldn't BIG have gone with a dark skin? Similarly consider Kamsa's demons. None do more than strike an evil pose and leer at Krishna, saying something on the lines of "Ha ha ha, I will kill you because I'm an evil demon and you're only a little child". In addition, not one of the demons is shown to really pose a threat to Krishna. I know the source material dictates that Krishna triumph over them, but does it have to be so easy? A tornado demon carries him off, only to succumb to Krishna's mass altering powers. A monstrous stork and python attack him, only he has super-strength. Kaliya comes up, but is no match for his super Kathakali/Taekwondo powers. And when a living-flame type demon tries to burn the forest about him, what does Krishna do? Make an ever so slight poopy face and suck in the demon. That's right, he has flame-ingestion powers too. This of course brings up the question as to whether Krishna makes for an interesting animated series, but that's a digression again. The point is that for now, BIG is afraid to veer off the safe-and-cutesy side of Krishna tales. Hence the implied innocence in all the girls of Vrindavan dancing to his flute despite the quasi-sexual tones of the Rasa-Lila.

The requirement as I see it is for creativity. Of the type that pushes boundaries. Something like say this clip from the Ren and Stimpy show [look it up here]. And before you protest the violence in it, think Tom and Jerry. Even if that extreme is avoided, consider a show like Animaniacs. The source of the "Pinky and the Brain" cartoons, this show was famous not only for its smart slapstick but also for naughty little jabs, as recounted here. Jabs that make reference to giving people the bird and fingering amongst other things.

My point in all this is not to ask for more vulgarity in kids shows. Heaven knows they get enough of that from their song and dance shows. What is needed is the assumption that kids are smart, and write shows that nurture their sensitivities while stimulating them in some way. Because kids are smart. See shows like this one to realize what can be done with their entertainment:

This post has meandered a bit. I didn't really know of a way to end it, so I decided to call for some discussion. What shows did you watch as a kid and find entertaining without being dumb? Let's discuss readers.

1 comment:

Pavan said...

Nice post.

Perhaps kids have moved on from TV for their most engaging sorts of entertainment? And without engagement learning does not happen, so the real creatives interested in children's shows haved moved on to the internet? Just a theory. I don't know of any examplary 'edutainment' stuff on the net. Do you?