Truly Terrible Children’s Entertainment

About a week and a half ago Jon and I loaded up the kids and headed to the PNE. It’s an annual end-of-summer ritual for many Vancouver families, and ours is no different. We eat fair food, ride the roller coaster, play midway games, visit with farm animals and go to shows. On the day that we were there Shrek: Stompin’ the Swamp was playing at the Family Theatre, and my kids were eager to go, so we went. This, my friends, is what parents do – they go to shows that they would rather not go to in order to make their progeny happy.

The good news is that watching Shrek and Fiona dance and sing on stage did make my kids happy. Three-year-old Jacob was especially thrilled at being so close to Shrek. It was, for him, a real-life celebrity sighting, and he was over the moon. If the stage hadn’t been six feet off the ground, I’m not sure I could have stopped him from climbing up and joining in. The other good news is that the show was really very short, and so while it wasn’t my first choice of entertainment, at least I didn’t have to spend all afternoon watching it.

Shrek Forever After
Photo credit: Yogesh Kumar Jaiswal on Flickr

I was especially glad about the shortness, because Shrek: Stompin’ the Swamp may have been the worst show I’ve ever seen. The costumes were large and padded, so Shrek and Fiona could barely move. The plot was weak and didn’t make much sense. The main premise that Shrek forgot his anniversary was really over the head of your average preschooler. And the venue we were in didn’t really lend itself easily to kids getting up and dancing around. Many people left the performance midway through out of sheer boredom.

In my time as a parent I’ve carted my children thither and yon, and I’ve seen a lot of children’s entertainment. Based on my experience I can say that Stompin’ the Swamp is hardly unique in its bad-ness. While there are truly amazing children’s entertainers, fabulous attractions, terrific children’s museums and even top-notch kids’ TV, there is also a lot of truly terrible children’s entertainment in the world.

Shrek at Macy's Parade
Photo credit: Musicwala on Flickr

My children are oblivious to my opinion about whether something is “good” or “bad”. While I grit my teeth and bear it, they are often having the time of their lives. On one level, I understand that children’s entertainment isn’t made for me, so my opinion doesn’t really matter. But on another level, I see that it could be so much better, because some of it is. And yet, drivel is so often churned out simply because kids aren’t as sophisticated as adults. The people creating the poor-quality shows know that three-year-olds (and their parents) will show up either way, so they’re not putting in the effort.

I don’t think there’s an easy solution to the problem of really shoddy children’s entertainment. If I decided to boycott it, I would only be making my kids sad. So I put on my grown-up pants and sit through shows that I hate, because I know that a little boredom is a reasonable exchange for really happy children. Afterward, Jon and I laugh about how comically awful it was. Eventually, my kids will become more sophisticated audience members and they’ll demand a little more. And then they’ll have kids of their own, and sit through some really awful shows for them. It’s the circle of life, and it moves us all. If only it were a little easier to watch.

What’s the worst children’s attraction or show that you ever attended? Do your kids usually agree with your assessment of whether a show is good or bad? Let’s compare notes and commiserate.

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  1. There is some GARBAGE out there!
    My husband’s work always hired a clown for the Kids Christmas Party… ugh.
    Then again there is some GEMS out there too… Bob’s and Lolo are prime examples of GOOD messages and GOOD quality. I find myself tapping along, even though my kids are really past that age. Also Rick Scott is good for a giggle even at my age (which I will not disclose here). And I love John Lithgow’s kids music “Singing in the Bathtub” though I haven’t seen him live.
    *pol’s last post … Belt Tightening Time!My Profile

  2. I totally agree! Not only live shows but also cartoons! Although watching some of the cartoons now with my kids that I used to watch makes me think that the stuff we watched wasn’t so great on all levels either. For example, the Looney Tunes. Still funny as heck but not always politically correct for our changing times. What I do love is the opportunities for chatting with the kids about what they experience during a show. We end up talking about choices and all sorts of things like that. My kids are 7.5 and 9 now and all these concepts we’ve discussed have made a difference. It’s such a great feeling to know that, as parents, we are doing things right! The other night my son came up with a list of 8 or 9 things he was worried about and wanted to discuss because he couldn’t sleep. (I’m writing a post on this for my blog for next week). We had a 45 min discussion with him and he felt better after. Makes me wonder sometimes if entertainment is meant to be bad sometimes to teach parents and kids how to communicate.

  3. My kid doesn’t watch much in the way of TV or movies, but last spring she really started loving these Rainbow Magic fairies books. There are literally 100 of these books and the basic plot is the same for most of them. On the one hand, I adore that these books got her into reading chapter books by herself. On the other hand it pains me to see her exposed to books that all have the same “nice girl” characters in them and all the “bad guys” have the same dumb, bratty little brother personalities. I know she’ll eventually grow out this series, but in the meantime, we have fun making silly fairy stories of our own.

    • Hannah loves those books, too. Over the summer I managed to avoid them, but now that she’s back at school she’ll probably be taking them out of the school library. I’m not looking forward to it.

  4. I was unimpressed with the Family Theatre at the PNE as well. We caught the Caillou show, and although Jackson loved it, all the songs they sang were about winter! Hello? This is a summer festival! They pretended to dress up in winter clothes and sing about skating etc. I was confused.

  5. In middle school, we were taken on a field trip to see a Tom Sawyer play that was intended for a MUCH younger demographic, but I don’t think our teachers realized that when they planned the trip. I can still remember my classmates making fun of this silly song they sang… “Tom! Jim! Huck-le-berry Finn!” Oh it was awful. Our group of 13-year-olds was surrounded by kids who were about 7 or 8. We could hear them giggling at the dumb jokes.

    The university where my husband works runs a program for homeschooled children and school groups to attend shows for free or extremely inexpensively. I am signed up to take Suzi to 11 of them over the next year, and while almost all of them are things you could enjoy at any age, I’m interested to see if this type of thing might happen at least once. It doesn’t matter, though. I love how excited little kids get at a live performance. Suzi acts out what she sees later at home. As a bonus, my mom is keeping my two younger children, so I’ll get to sit in the dark and relax for an hour!
    Jenny’s last post … We are not bored.My Profile

  6. About those Rainbow Magic fairy books: take heart! For most kids, blatantly awful series books like this supplement but don’t replace more thoughtful and complex titles.

    Kids, like adults, read for many different reasons, and with varying levels of attention. Series books provide a chance for learning readers to feel successful as a reader, and to consume reading material quickly and confidently. That’s an important step towards becoming a strong reader!

    Simple series books appeal to early readers precisely because of they hackneyed plots and stereotyped characters: kids can focus on reading for fluency and speed, because they already have a good sense of what the plot will be. In other words, these sorta-terrible series titles do actually help kids become better readers, even though it’s hard for us as parents to see past their…well…sheer awfulness. Just keep offering kids high-quality titles (even if you slip them in as family readalouds), and carry on talking about the values that show up in the books.

    Sorry to sound so librarian-y in this post: I hear lots of questions from parents who wonder if series books are actually bad for their kids. Basically, if your kid is reading, and you’re talking about those books with them, you totally rock!

  7. I’m glad to see that B&L at least came up in a positive comment from ‘pol’ on this subject.! 🙂

    Living in the world of children’s entertainment (as a performer & new parent), I have to agree that there is plenty of “truly terrible” material out there. Unfortunately, the not-so-good stuff is usually created purely for commercial purposes rather than something that is rooted in a more genuine effort to create quality programming for young audiences. Like most consumer products, the challenge is simply finding the good stuff!
    Lorraine’s last post … Little Seed: What Will You Be?My Profile

    • I have to say this in your favour – my 3-year-old has been listening to “Connect the Dots” on continuous repeat for weeks now, and I have not yet felt compelled to run screaming from the house. This is a high compliment, let me tell you. Your music has staying power!

      And I agree about the distinction between purely commercial entertainment – particularly involving licensed characters – and material that’s created with a little more intention and effort.

  8. That Shrek show was horrible. And guess what? We have sat through it two years in a row. It didn’t get any better from one year to the next and my kids didn’t love it any less. If anything they liked it more. So funny that you felt the same way.
    Lisa’s last post … In My Dreams: A Lady of LeisureMy Profile

  9. My problem with most kids’ entertainment is how incredibly loud everything is. We took the kids to see a Backyardigan’s stage show in Toronto a coupe of years ago, and my son (who was a HUGE Backyardigans fan at the time) had his hands over his ears and was practically in tears through the entire show, it was so painfully loud. Likewise at Disney, we took him to the Mickey’s Philharmagic show, which is aimed at young kids, and the loudness of it actually did reduce him to tears. Apparently children’s entertainers are determined to damage the hearing of children everywhere.

    And yeah, there’s a lot of bad kids’ stuff out there, too. A lot of the time my kids don’t seem to notice, really. I do find the older they get the better their taste in entertainment. The Rainbow Fairies books quickly became boring to my daughter, so she’s on to more interesting reads. And the kids’ favourite TV show right now is Phineas and Ferb, which I confess I quite enjoy, too. So there are some gems out there.
    Mary Lynn’s last post … My Rubberband GirlMy Profile

  10. Two moms and I took our 3 year olds to see the Backyardigans on Sunday. AWFUL. The kids loved the show though, even though only one had watched the tv show. Seriously, they loved it, cheap sets, crappy bulky costumes, irritating (to me) music and all.
    eva’s last post … August 25, 2011. Eleven Months. Bittersweet.My Profile

  11. We saw the max & Ruby show at the PNE. Definitely oriented to kids. My girls loved it, they danced around to the songs and had a good time. There were live people actors hanging with max & Ruby and they TAUNTED us with “where are the parents”…apparently, they are just around the corner, doing “parent things” Yeah right!

    I saw the Shrek show last year. Lame lame lame. Thankfully Victoria agreed and we left part way through

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  1. […] make-believe, and they’re very good at it. I definitely would not classify them in the same “truly terrible children’s entertainment” category as that Shrek show I saw this summer. On the contrary, they’re an example of […]

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