James Bond For The Kiddie Set
Men and women, being from Mars and Venus and all that, often perceive glamour in different ways, and seek glamour in different types of stories. However, one type of tale that appeals to both sexes is that of international intrigue – dashing men, beautiful women, dazzling jewels, high-tech tools and exotic locales. These elements have been incorporated into thousands of stories, from The Thomas Crown Affair to the entire James Bond collection.
We’ve written a lot here about princesses, fairy tales, and the roots of little girl glamour. Little boys construct their own worlds full of glamour, often drawing on cars and buildings and superheroes to tell their stories. Like their grown-up counterparts, the two narratives have things in common–they share themes of self-reliance and aesthetic beauty and the joy of escape–but they look pretty different from the outside.
It's not surprising then that children’s programmers, in an effort to develop shows that appeal to kids of both genders, turn to 007 himself for inspiration. A few years ago, the creators of the Nickelodeon show "The Backyardigans" produced an hour-long movie called The Backyardigans - Super Secret Super Spy. It came complete with a dramatic villainess and juice boxes that are shaken–never stirred. My son was a baby when it aired, too young for TV, but I loved it.
Recently, The Disney Channel has picked up where Nick left off, with “Special Agent Oso,” an animated series chronicling the training missions and “special assignments” of Oso, a stuffed bear who moonlights as an international special agent, helping kids solve problems like learning how to play hopscotch or tie their shoes.
Every element of the series draws from Bond, from episode titles (“Carousel Royale,” “Live and Let Dry” ) to swirling graphics and classic “spy” music to Oso’s reliance on cool gadgets. The show’s creator, Ford Riley, was inspired to create Oso after his young son was entranced by his first glimpse of a real James Bond movie, making me wonder if we’re all hardwired to be thrilled by certain types of glamour.
Special Agent Oso and other kids’ spy shows bridge the gender gap, but they also span another gap that might be just as important–the generational one. Most parents I know have a fairly low threshold for kids’ TV. There’s only so much Dora one adult human can take. But Oso is somehow different. Even as a grown-up, I connect with that little stuffed bear.
Sean Astin, who voices Oso, says, “I should probably be embarrassed by the fact that I feel that by some extension, secret agent status has now been conferred upon me personally.” I know my son, now 2 1/2, feels the same way. And, come to think of it, so do I.
[Special Agent Oso images ©American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. (Disney Channel), used with permission.]