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TV Critic Reviews "Higglytown Heroes"
As an aunt to a preschooler and an aspiring voice actress (I knew all those hours of watching Bugs Bunny would come in handy), I know all the kids’ shows as well as any kids’ DVD.
In my opinion, there is no better way for celebrities to recoup their outrageous salaries than to entertain and sometimes educate children. And They Might Be Giants gets a “cooler than Elvis” voice for singing the theme song to one of Playhouse Disney’s latest hits, “Higleytown Heroes,” which is also featured on their children’s CD/DVD, “Here Come the ABCs” .
For those of you unfamiliar with all things Higgles (an adjective used as much as “Smurfs,” but not, thank you Higgles, as a verb), the show centers around a small town and four kids named Eubie, Kip, and their siblings Wayne and the Twinkle. Think “South Park” with better art and no foul mouth. The strongest language is “Aww, pickles,” usually uttered by Twinkle (pinker than Trista Ren Sutter!) after her imaginative ideas for solving children’s dilemmas are gently punctuated by Fran, the friendly chipmunk voiced by Eddie McClarg.
In each half-hour, two-episode show, the Higgly Kids experience common, innocent childhood events such as finding a caterpillar, hosting a television party for the Happy Hairy Higgly Monster Primetime Special, losing a tooth, Kip’s grandfather being locked in the bathroom, or caring for an unfortunate bird. The kids try to solve their problems, guided by Fran who is the voice of reason, with the help of their loving families and the ever-enthusiastic weirdo 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…Higglitown Hero!
Hero of Higleytown!”
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? Or a telephone operator (voice of Cyndi Lauper)? Although the heroes have celebrity voices, the Higley Kids discover that the real stars all around them are the people who solve everyday problems.
Some of the dilemmas get a little funny 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 gets stuck, can’t they help him back out? Ahem… when was the last time you tripped and panicked? You need help in your own life every day without even thinking about it.
The beauty of “Higleytown Heroes” is that it celebrates working together, “having fun together”, and Higley children, like their families, never take heroes for granted in their lives. An electrician (Lance Bass) is invited to participate in the Higly Monsters TV party after fixing the circuit for Kip’s house. The fireman (Donald Faison) who pulls Kip out of the tree attends a birthday party for the neighborhood cat. How many of us try 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 families as heroes. Kip’s grandmother (voice of “Golden Girl” Betty White, with a Rose Nylund-like hairdo) knits the children’s sweaters. Kip’s real estate agent mom, Beatty, acts like the soul of the 50s household, but is rewarded when Kip and his friends make her a get-well card. Wayne’s mom, Planky, shows the kids a caterpillar and drives them to the beach, while Wayne and Twinkle’s Uncle Lemo cooks them breakfast at his restaurant and, in the Christmas special, takes Wayne and Twinkle in his sleigh.
Interestingly, the Higley families are not always nuclear families, something that Disney portrays as normal without drawing attention to it. Kip’s family is the proverbial nuclear family, with twin sisters, a little sister, Mom and Dad, Fripp (who runs the hot dog cart), and two grandparents who either live in Kip’s big house or visit all the time. Twinkle and Wayne’s mom seems to be a single parent (even though they’re all African-American, no one has yelled racism yet), and Eubie is apparently being raised by his Southern-accented Aunt Mellie and Uncle Zutter, with visits from his Southern-accented Grandpa Crank (the farmer).
In many ways, Higleytown is idealized. No one really seems to care about jobs, money or status. People go to the library, and the librarian is the hero of Higleytown! The kids “work hard” and take responsibility (gasp) by figuring out ways to help themselves and their families, and each episode has little moral lessons and advice (take care of your pets, don’t waste too much electricity, make someone smile) to show kids how they can grow up to be…Higleytown Heroes!
Cynics and naysayers will laugh this off as kid pablum. I call it a refreshing dose of reality and a tribute to the heroes all around us. Disney animators are the Heroes of Higlytown for creating this show.
Author’s Note: After this review originally made the rounds, actor Rory Thost, who voices “Kip,” was kind enough to be the “Higleytown Hero” and make my day by telling me how much he and the cast loved the review. For all those who think our children are total troublemakers, young master Rory Thost is thirteen years old: http://imdb.com/name/nm1191277/?fr=c2l0ZT1kZnkteD0iMHkzZz0kfGktPTIvMHk0dD1vbnkvbj9cf=ft. His showbiz career is already longer than mine! More importantly, in a world where celebrity bad behavior is unfortunately the norm, this young man remains polite, mature, well-educated and well-grounded.
Author’s Note II: This series just keeps getting better and better. Continuity is even on par with most prime time shows. Kip adopted a dog named “Shadow”, who makes a guest appearance; we meet Fran’s parents after seeing them in the Christmas special; Eubie’s Grandpop becomes the Higgletown Hero; Eubie’s bird Flappy makes an appearance from time to time. The fireman returns. The Electrician proposes to the Teacher, and Pizza Guy and Fran become the heroes of Higleytown!
Author’s Note III: Disney made the Higgletown Heroes toys. This series has, um, legs!
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