Written by Caballero Oscuro
Jakers! hasn’t made much of an impression on the U.S. public, which is really a shame because it’s a great children’s show with extraordinary production values. It doesn’t garner much attention in its PBS home, and it hasn’t been mass-marketed with a multitude of product tie-ins, just a few books and DVDs including this new release. As opposed to its more manic kin on the likes of Nick Jr. and The Disney Channel, its pace is a bit slower, a bit sweeter, and hence maybe a bit more in tune with TV’s golden age than modern standards. That’s not to say it’s outmoded or irrelevant, in fact its high-gloss CGI presentation puts its animation quality fully on par with the likes of The Backyardigans and My Friends Tigger and Pooh, nearly approaching Pixar quality.
The show has a framing device that opens each episode in present times where a grandpa pig recounts the tales of his youth in rural Ireland to his three grandchildren, usually imparting some seeds of wisdom that offer them educational insight. The framing device gives way to the adventures of Grandpa as a young pig named Piggley Winks, along with his sister Molly and his friends Ferny the cow and Dannan the duck. The show’s principal setting in the lush Irish countryside of the 1950s gives it a warmth and depth that just couldn’t be possible in its introductory urban environment, and provides added appeal to parents and grandparents who might wish to share a bit of the flavor of their own rural past with their urban descendants.
In addition to his adventures with his friends, Piggley’s life on Raloo Farm also brings him into frequent contact with Wiley the sheep, a comic character always up to some new mischief. Wiley’s misadventures aren’t always directly related to Piggley’s, which exposes an amusing flaw in the show’s structure (how are we witnessing Wiley’s tales in Grandpa’s flashbacks if Piggley wasn’t there?), but also offers opportunity for some Looney Tunes-inspired hilarity honed to perfection by the stellar vocal casting of the legendary Mel Brooks.
The new DVD includes four full episodes. In “Treasure Hunt,” the gang have so much fun following a set of clues left by Piggley’s dad that they don’t realize they’re completing their farm chores until they reach their treasure. In “Our Dragon’s Egg,” the friends find a mysterious egg and learn to take care of it while theorizing about its contents. In “Dannan Does a Jig,” Dannan learns that natural dancing prowess isn’t hereditary but also doesn’t affect the unconditional love of her relatives. Finally, in “Growing Pains,” Piggley learns that being grown-up isn’t all it’s cracked up to be when he’s called to step into his injured father’s shoes. All four episodes are charming and worthwhile family viewing, although I preferred “Treasure Hunt” purely for its instructional value to me as future plans for my own child.
The DVD’s special features include live-action segments that air during the PBS broadcasts, where real grandparents share educational stories of their youth and different storytellers entertain a group of children via various techniques such as freestyle hip-hop and mime. The DVD also includes a fun read-along Piggley tale that allows young viewers to turn virtual pages with the remote while the story is being told onscreen.
Jakers! Treasure Hunt on Raloo Farm is available on DVD on February 19th, 2008.