Grade: B+
Entire family: No (ages 3-8)
2011, 2015, 75 min. (2 episodes), Color
Not Rated (would be TV-G)
PBS
Aspect ratio: 16×9
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo
Bonus features: D
Trailer
Amazon link

It’s not exactly family movie night material, but episodes of Wild Kratts—a half-animated, half-live nature show featuring the brothers who gave us Zoboomafoo—will entertain and inform children ages 3-8.

Chris and Martin Kratt’s series, which airs on PBS KIDS GO, is a hybrid that combines the brothers’ nature show activities with a cartoon segment that feels like a cross between The Magic School Bus and a Disney animated series like Kim Possible or Phineas and Ferb.

Each episode of Wild Kratts: Wildest Animal Adventures begins with the real-life brothers in the wild, pointing out an animal with a curious trait—say, for example, the Basilisk lizard that can walk and run on water—and then the brothers morph into cartoon versions of themselves in order to explore the animal’s “powers” and, with the help of a suit that looks a little like a cousin to Iron Man’s, acquire that animal power. It all happens within the animated framework of a story that often involves saving a particular animal from human encroachment, a world problem, or even a Disney-style villain. Though the characters seem unnecessary, there’s also a crew at the computer center in Tortuga helping the brothers once they’ve transformed or are on their way in various animal-shaped vehicles to get a better look. It’s clearly a way to include children of both genders in the show, but they really feel like window dressing, and some children will prefer more nature footage to the Tortuga gang “interruptions.”

The brothers say they got into animation because it gave them a chance to feed their (and children’s) imaginations and project what it might be like to have the ability to fly, swim, leap, see at night, or any of the other animal “superpowers.” And it is kind of fun. Again, I’m not sure that the show needed villains—especially ones that remind you of standard cartoon bad guys—but obviously the brothers thought that it might be yet another “hook” to get kids less innately fascinated by nature into the show. My son would have loved this show if it were around when he was younger, but as a nature guy he would have preferred more live footage than the intro-outro we get for each episode.

Wild Kratts Creepy Creatures! features two shows that originally aired around Halloween. “Masked Bandits” is from Season 1. In it, the brothers power up for a costume party, while back on the Tortuga some crazy things are going on. Given the intended audience, the plot seems a little convoluted. As the Kratts are preparing for Halloween they hear wolves in the background and decide to investigate. Then they ask for a wolf disc to be added to their animal power repertoire so they can assume wolf powers and learn more. Meanwhile, an “eight-eyed monster” is prowling around the Tortuga, but it turns out to be a mother raccoon and her offspring. So there’s more investigation and a little Raccoon Power in the suits to figure out how to get the animals safely back to a natural habitat. There’s also brief live-action footage of a Great Horned Owl and Chilean Rose Hair Tarantula.

“Creepy Creatures!” In this one, unsure of how they’re going to celebrate Halloween, the Kratts go in search of “creepy cool” creatures, only to discover that Zach and his dastardly buddies are trying to capture all the animals for a haunted house. There’s a little more in the way of heroes vs. villains plotting in this episode, and a greater variety of animals that are legitimately Halloween-worthy as we watch the Kratts try to rescue the captured animals and return them to the wild. The animated segment highlights the vampire bat and Goliath birdeater (or tarantula), while there are at least a dozen more species that pop up in the animated story, chief among them the Komodo dragon. Chris pops in vampire bat and Komodo dragon discs to assume their animal “powers,” while brother Martin powers up with a Goliath birdeater. Among the live-action animals are a turkey vulture, goblin shark, and ghost crab.

There may only be two episodes for a total runtime of 75 minutes, but the price is right: $6.99 (currently $4.79 at Amazon). And kids in the target age group seem to love the combination of animal appreciation and cartoon adventures.

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