There has always been an audible groan associated with pre-school entertainment. The garish colours, and over-the-top voicing coupled with a manic animation style and nonsensical storytelling that only the very young and possibly very intoxicated could enjoy. Over the years animation has come into its own as a legitimate way of telling serialised stories. Thanks in no small part to adult-orientated programming from Adult Swim and their crop of animated programs. As a result of things like South Park and the monster success of The Simpsons, even shows aimed at younger audiences began to be embraced by the older crowd. The Powerpuff Girls and SpongeBob SquarePants remain the gold standard for children's animated programs that have dedicated adult followings.
Perhaps because we spent two years stuck indoors with no means to entertain children except what could hold their attention on TV, Disney+'s UK distribution of Australian kids series Bluey has cemented itself as a favourite show among those who can barely talk and their often socially starved parents. Bluey follows Bluey Heeler, a six-year-old Australian blue heeler puppy and her daily life learning lessons in life. Bluey lives with her younger sister Bingo and her parents Bandit and Chilli. Each five-minute episode often follows one core theme, a game or a lesson that Bluey (though not always) learns about life.
As the three-season show has gone on the episodes have tackled a lot of issues that would concern children, bullying, social issues, making friends, responsibility as well as teaching a new generation of British children what a “dunny” is. What sets Bluey apart from other pre-school shows such as Bing or even classic works like Fireman Sam is that the conceit of talking dogs is often played with very well. There's a level of wit and invention done to this world. Joe Brumm's creation mixes the day-to-day of growing up with familial issues and at other times absurdist humour.
Parents are often forced, almost at threat of disownment, to watch children's television shows but thanks in no small part to a generation of new and young-ish parents fluent in memes, Bluey has already become one of the more popular shows to talk about among parents with little in common except their spawn running around.
Over the course of 141 episodes we have come to learn of the extended Heeler family, including her outrageously funny cousin Muffin who steals every episode she appears in. Perhaps what is most interesting is the way the show plays with shifting focus. The show is at times comforting in its predictability and character building, episodes where Bluey and Bingo don the guises of two old grannies – Rita and Janet – and cause mischief or an episode that concerns Bluey trying to teach her nana how to do the floss dance.
What works best is when the show plays with the format, jettisoning Bluey and her family entirely to focus on new or side characters. One episode sees Rusty, a classmate of Bluey, playing army with a new kid Jack who suffers from ADHD, teaching him everything his own father taught him about the army. Another plays out in a Rashamon structure telling the story of a game played by the girls in Bluey's class and then interrupted by Rusty and how he came to interrupt it. Show also plays with its more naturalistic tendencies. One strange episode plays out over the course of a night with Bingo sleepwalking because she is left to sleep without her toy bunny, we watch her dreams as she comes to terms with moving on from a childish habit.
What really cuts to the heart of its appeal is in the emotional heart the show boasts. Both David McCormack and Melanie Zanetti as Bandit and Chilli respectively are played with such enthusiasm that it's hard to not root for them even when they struggle to parent and encourage their kids. Bandit, who from the outset appears to be a typical Aussie dad, masculine, roguish with a streak of competitiveness often shows his softer side. Perhaps epitomised in Bin Night, an episode that follows the weekly ritual of Bandit being helped by Bluey and Bingo to take out the bins. His playful game of making the bins talks – one an aggressive eater, the other a laid-back stoner-type — gives way to him hearing all about how Bingo has been dealing with a troublesome kid in her play school class. Bluey spends the episode contemplating what she will do when she grows up eventually concluding she might build a machine that will take the bins out for her dad to which Bandit, having heard of Bingo's triumph over the fellow child remarks “oh, I hope not”.
The same goes for Chilli. While often played as the straight woman to Bandit's more outgoing and fun-loving parent, Chilli is played as a more cunning character. Teaching lessons to adults like Bandit or her sister-in-law through logic as well as with the children. Less is shown about her family so far, but in the episode Grandad we meet her father Mort, a retired army veteran and outdoorsman recovering from heart surgery. The episode, from the outset, appears to be a lesson that Bluey should listen to her mother because she knows what's best but becomes a riff on The Fugitive or The Terminator as Mort and his two grandchildren try to escape Chilli's stern authority. Culminating in a moment where Mort realises that as much as he still sees himself as an authority over his adult daughter, what she wants is what's best for him. Their heartfelt reconciliation on a lakefront ends with her lamenting how long it's been since she's been there, to which her father retorts it's only been seconds, with the image slowly morphing to show Chilli as a young girl.
It seems obvious that a children's show would have moments of genuine emotion, but for any person with children who have thought about their own growing relationship these moments are what have catapulted Bluey from a thing to stick a kid in front of and occasionally fork out for merchandise (the talking Bluey is annoyingly fun), to a way of bonding with your little ones and communicating heavier ideas that perhaps you can't find the words for, or are not yet ready to contemplate.
That said Mr Monkeyjocks is a dickhead.