WildKrattsSharktasticcoverGrade: B+
Entire family: No
2011, 60 min., Color
TV-Y (young viewers)
PBS Kids
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1 widescreen
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo
Bonus features: None
Episode segment/Amazon link

When television first featured nature shows for a family audience, it was hosted by serious and sedate fellows like Marlin Perkins, a zoo director whose long-running Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom first aired in 1963. The photography was a combination of long and medium shots, with Perkins mostly relying on voiceovers. Think public television and you’ve got the right tone.

How times have changed . . . even on public TV.

Martin and Chris Kratt are two animal-loving brothers who put together a kids’ nature show for PBS back in 1994. Kratt’s Creatures was popular enough to warrant 50 episodes, and when the show was phased out, another, even more insanely popular Kratt brothers nature show replaced it: Zoboomafoo, which ran for 65 episodes from January 1999 to April 2001. What made the show click with the training pants set was a Lemur that “transformed” into a talking animal (translation: puppet) that engaged the kids on another level besides the appreciate nature message. And the filming style? It was Crocodile Hunter for the wee ones, with a HIGH ENERGY, ARMS WAVING, SHOUTING ENTHUSIASTICALLY style that featured the hosts interacting with the animals as they talked about them in language small children could understand. The brothers weren’t above jumping into a kiddie pool to frolic with the animal of the day, either, and their zaniness kept the kids coming back for more.

With Wild Kratts the brothers embarked on their third highly successful nature series, this time aimed at a pre-school through third grade audience. Eighty-four episodes have been produced since the show was first broadcast in January 2011. Instead of a puppet, this time Martin and Chris mix it up by returning to a format that was a staple with early kiddie show hosts: a live-action beginning and end, with animated cartoons in-between.

WildKrattsSharktasticscreen1First the brothers are shown live in nature or a lab and we see them engaging animals. Then there’s a segment that’s structured somewhat like the popular Magic School Bus plots. The brothers morph into animated characters and they’re off on adventures via Tortuga HQ, a sub-plane-vehicle piloted by Jimmy and computers, with communications handled by Koki. The leader of the Tortuga expeditions is Aviva, and while they’re all supposed to be in their 20s, as cartoon characters entering animal habitats to learn more about them they look a lot younger. Every outing they experience momentary danger or distress in the middle of their “schooling,” or have to do something to save the animals in one way or another. Sometimes there are villains to deal with, like Gourmand, who tries to capture a shark to make a soup. Naturally, you can’t fight villains or be scientists without gadgets and gizmos, and the ones the Kratts use most are Creature Power Suits that are powered by various Creature Power Discs that enable them to become animals that can interact with the herd, the school, the whatever.  

But don’t be misled by the title of this DVD. “Shark-Tastic!” implies a Shark Week of sorts, but features just one episode based on sharks—“Stuck on Sharks”—along with three other sea creature adventures: “Octopus Wildkratticus,” “Tortuga Tune Up,” and “Speaking Dolphinese.” And if you already own “Lost at Sea,” you already have “Speaking Dolphinese.”

WildKrattsSharktasticscreen2Two episodes come from Season 1, and two from Season 2. “Octopus Wildkratticus,” features the brothers trying to recover their power suits after they’re accidentally dropped into the ocean. But the suits have attached themselves to an octopus, with the result being that they mutate with any animal it comes in contact with. And an octopus they nickname “Seven” (because of a missing tentacle) turns into a horrific sea monster as a result. Naturally, they have to retrieve the suits and save Seven. In the process, young nature-lovers learn about such octopus “powers” as intelligence, camouflage, and jet propulsion.

In “Stuck on Sharks,” the cartoon brothers use a remora rocketsub to “stick” to a female great white shark in order to learn the secrets of this giant “Jaws.” But their research is interrupted when they have to stop Chef Gourmand from turning sharks into soup.

“Speaking Dolphinese” offers a pair of dolphins (Whistle and Click), one of which is threatened by a shark. Martin tries to help him and gets trapped in a shipwreck. Will Chris be able to master speaking dolphinese in order to warn the pod and save his friends? Dolphin communication takes center stage in this episode.

In “Tortuga Tune Up,” the cartoon brothers explore a coral reef and try to gather information about hawksbill sea turtles, but they have to fend off a shark and, worse, they lose the key to the Tortuga. It takes turtle power to help them save the day this time.

The thing about Wild Kratts is that there’s less live animal footage and interaction than there was in the brothers’ previous shows, with a greater emphasis placed on the fantastic cartoons. That might appeal to casual viewers in the target age group, but the true animal lovers—the young ones who can’t get enough animal and sea creature books and videos and who relish memorizing facts about them—will probably think of the longer cartoon segments as an unwelcome digression.