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TV Critic Reviews "Higglytown Heroes"

As a preschooler’s aunt and aspiring comedian (I knew all those hours spent watching Bugs Bunny would come in handy), I know all the kids’ shows as well as all the kids’ DVDs.

In my opinion, there is no better way for celebrities to recoup their exorbitant salaries than to entertain and sometimes educate children. And They Might Be Giants get the “cooler than Elvis” vote for singing the theme song to one of Playhouse Disney’s newest hits, “Higglytown Heroes,” which also features on their children’s CD/DVD, “Here Come the ABCs”.

For those of you unfamiliar with all things Higgly (an adjective used as much as “Smurf” but not, thank Higgles, as a verb), the series focuses on a small town and four toddlers named Eubie, Kip, and siblings Wayne and Glitter. Think “South Park” with better art and no rude mouth. The strongest language is “Aw, pickles”, usually uttered by Twinkle (more pink than Trista Rehn Sutter!) after his whimsical ideas for solving children’s dilemmas are gently drilled by Fran, a friendly squirrel voiced by Edie McClurg .

In each two-episode half-hour show, the Higgly Kids experience common and innocent childhood events such as finding a caterpillar, hosting a TV party for the Happy Hairy Higgly Monster Primetime Special, losing a tooth, the big – Kip’s father locked in the bathroom, or taking care of an unfortunate bird. The children try to solve their problems, guided by Fran who is the voice of reason, helped by their loving families and by Bill and Ted-ish Pizza Guy, always enthusiastic… 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 be afraid,

Sounds like a job for a… Hero of Higglytown!

A Higglytown hero!”

Some of the heroes are natural choices, especially after 9/11: policewoman, firefighter, etc. But how many of us think that sanitation workers, electricians, plumbers, gardeners, postmen (voiced by Kathie Lee Gifford) and farmers are heroes? Or a telephone operator (voiced by Cyndi Lauper)? Although the 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 little 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 he’s stuck, can’t they help him back up? Ahem… when was the last time you tripped and freaked out? 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 and their families never take the heroes in their lives for granted. The Electrician (Lance Bass) is invited to appear on the “Higgly Monsters” TV party after fixing the circuits in Kip’s house. The fireman (Donald Faison) pulling Kip out of the tree attends a birthday party for the neighborhood cat. How many of us go out of our way 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 a Rose Nylund hairstyle) knits the children’s sweaters. Kip’s real estate agent’s mother, Bitty, acts as the soul of 1950s domestic life, but is rewarded when Kip and his friends make her a greeting card. Wayne’s mother, Plunkie, shows the children a caterpillar and drives them to the beach, while Wayne and Twinkle’s Uncle Lemmo cooks them breakfast at his restaurant and, in the Christmas special, drives Wayne and Twinkle in his sleigh.

Interestingly, Higgly families aren’t always nuclear families, which Disney describes as normal without drawing attention to it. Kip’s family is the proverbial nuclear family, with twin sisters, a younger sister, a mother and father, Fripp, (who operates a hot dog cart) and two grandparents who live in Kip’s large house. or visit him constantly. Twinkle and Wayne’s mother appears to be a single parent (although all of them are African-American, no one has cried racism yet), and Eubie is apparently raised by her Southern-accented Aunt Mellie and Uncle Zooter, with hits from his southern accent. Grandpop Crank (a farmer).

In many ways, Higglytown is idealized. No one really seems to care about jobs, money, or status. People go to the library, and a librarian is a Higglytown hero! The kids “work really hard” and take responsibility (gasp) in devising ways to help themselves and their families, and in each episode there are little moral lessons and advice (take care of your pets, don’t use too much electricity, make someone smile) to show kids how they can grow up to be… Higglytown heroes!

Cynics and naysayers alike will scoff at this as kiddie 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 made its way around the web, actor Rory Thost, who provides the voice of “Kip”, was kind enough to be a “Higglytown Hero” and make my day by telling me how much he and the cast loved the criticism. For anyone who thinks our kids are real troublemakers, young Master Rory Thost is thirteen years old: His career in showbiz is already longer than mine! More importantly, in a world where bad celebrity behavior is unfortunately the norm, this young man remains polished, mature, well-educated and grounded.

Author’s Note II: This series just keeps getting better. The continuity is even on par with most primetime shows. Kip adopted a dog named “Shadow”, who makes guest appearances; we meet Fran’s parents after seeing them in the Christmas special; Eubie’s Grandpop becomes a Higglytown hero; Eubie’s Flappy Bird makes appearances from time to time. The fireman returns. The electrician proposes to the teacher, and Pizza Guy and Fran become Higglytown heroes!

Author’s Note III: Disney created Higglytown Heroes Toys. This series has, uh, legs!

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