Thursday, February 07, 2008

There is a new show in town

There is a new show that started on Nickelodeon toda (coincendently also the first day of Chinese New Year). It is called Ni-Hao Kai Lan. And let me tell you Olivia has been waiting for this day. She is a big Dora fan, so we are hoping Kai Lan sticks around for a while. It was funny though today...on the way home from pre-school she asked if Kai-Lan was on yet. Then she asked if Kai-Lan's mom got her in China when she was a baby too. Hmmmm.....maybe she really has been paying attention when we talk about our trip to China.

Pint-Size Peacemaker With a Lot to Teach
('Nickelodeon can only hope Kai-lan, the bouncy star of its new weekday morning cartoon “Ni Hao, Kai-lan,” will demonstrate the earning power of "Dora the Explorer" while teaching children Mandarin.');

They’re both assertive young heroines with dark eyes and dark hair, brightly colored animal friends, theme songs that feature much chanting of their names and a habit of slipping non-English words into their conversations. Oh, and they both work for the same division of Viacom.

Nick Jr.
Kai-lan and Yeye, her grandfather, in “Ni Hao, Kai-Lan.”
One major difference: Dora the Explorer has made more than $1 billion over the last eight years while exposing children to Spanish. Nickelodeon can only hope Kai-lan, the bouncy star of its new weekday morning cartoon “Ni Hao, Kai-lan,” will demonstrate that kind of earning power while teaching them Mandarin.
“Ni Hao, Kai-lan” (it means “Hello, Kai-lan”) was scheduled to make its debut in the fall. The delay has allowed it to make its arrival on Thursday, the first day of the Chinese New Year. Even more auspicious than the timing, of course, are the successful example of “Dora the Explorer” and reports of how eager American parents are for their children to learn Chinese.
Will the show appeal to a “Dora”-size audience? Only a preschooler could say for sure. To this adult there are positive signs: a charming animation style that triangulates Hello Kitty, the Powerpuff Girls and SpongeBob, and a vibrant performance by the young voice actress Jade-Lianna Peters as Kai-lan.
But here’s that comparison again. Dora, the geography nut, is a problem solver — she needs to get to her cousin’s quinceaƱera, or return a beached crab to its ocean home — who operates without adult supervision. Kai-lan is a peacemaker and amateur therapist whose smiling YeYe (paternal grandfather) is always lurking. The first two episodes of “Ni Hao, Kai-lan” revolve around her instructing the selfish, competitive tiger Rintoo in the value of teamwork and self-sacrifice.
Nickelodeon has announced that it wants this show to have a strong cultural-awareness component (i.e. dragon boat races, New Year traditions, dumplings), and it also seems likely that the two shows are being tuned for slightly different age groups. (Dora is 7 years old, Kai-lan 5.) Still, why does the Hispanic girl get to have adventures while the Asian girl giggles and teaches the boys about good manners and collectivism? I suspect that 5-year-old Nielsen viewers may have the same question.
As for the language instruction, a surprising number of Mandarin words and phrases are worked into the dialogue, often without translation. Presumably the preschool brain will apprehend and remember them. Given the multifarious nature of the Chinese language, choices have to be made, and some Chinese-Americans might be disappointed to know that millions of children are about to be told to call red packets — the envelopes used for gifts of money at new year — ya sui qian rather than hong bao or ang pao. They’ll also be taught to wish their family and friends “Xin nian kuai le” (“Happy New Year”) but not “Gong xi fa cai,” the traditional congratulation and wish for prosperity. (And definitely not “Gung hay fat choy”; the show is a Cantonese-free zone.)
In the meantime, xie xie and zai jian. Ask your children — they’ll be able to translate by the second episode.
Nickelodeon, Thursday morning at 11, Eastern and Pacific times; 10, Central time.
Created by Karen Chau; Mary Harrington, executive producer; produced and written by Sascha Paladino; directed by Dave Marshall; music by Matt Mahaffey; Kay Wilson Stallings, executive in charge of production. Produced by Nick Jr. Productions.
WITH THE VOICES OF: Jade-Lianna Peters (Kai-lan), Clem Cheung and Ben Wang (YeYe), Jack Samson (Rintoo), Khamani Griffin (Tolee/Howard), Angie Wu (Hoho), Beverly Duan (Lulu) and Frank Welker (Mr. Dragon).

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