Jumble Leaf, Tumble Leaf!
Amazon Prime has some great shows, especially for kids. "Tumble Leaf" is an awesome show that I have no reservations about my kids watching. But as they've been watching it in the background, I can't help wondering a few things about the world these characters inhabit.
The main characters in the show are Fig, the bright blue fox, and his friends Stick, the caterpillar, Maple, the bright pink bear, and Hedge, the brown hedgehog. Fig lives inside a wrecked ship. Almost all episodes in the three available seasons start the same way: Gingko the crab pulls up a chest from underwater (almost like crab fishing) and opens it to find some random object, usually more than one. He discards one of the objects, throwing it upwards into a treasure chest which is on a spring, which then shakes back and forth and rings some chimes on the top of Fig's ship. Fig then goes, "Something new is in The Finding Place! Let's go see what it is!" and jumps down a slide which dumps him into a bathtub, where he changes clothes behind a shower curtain and then walks into the room where The Finding Place is. He opens the chest and removes whatever was inside, discusses with Stick what they should do with it, and then leaves the room while barnacles (brightly colored little balls of fuzz) sing out the name of whatever he found.
The show is ostensibly focused around "play", but the best part of the storylines is Fig and Stick figuring out different uses for the item they found. The storylines are a little contrived so that whatever problem comes up can usually be solved by whatever they found, but not necessarily in an obvious manner. And, again, not every episode even involves finding something in The Finding Place. It's really cool that the company that produced them hired children to do the voices of Fig (and Stick), Maple, and Hedge, so children have exposure to the voices of people closer to their own age. The whole show is done in stop-motion animation, with a few more traditionally-animated aspects as well, like Stick's mouth and the removal of objects used for propping the models up.
It's a very strange universe, though. The first obvious question that comes to mind is, where are Fig's parents? It's unclear how old he is, but why does he live all by himself in a ship with a caterpillar? Is he being raised by the family of chickens that live upstairs? Does he have any family at all? No other foxes, blue or otherwise, appear in the show to my knowledge. Most other major recurring characters are similarly alone in their species. Maple is the only bear. (although I will admit that for a long time I thought Maple was a fox as well). Buckeye the only beaver. Okra the only octopus. Timber the only Yak. Gingko the only crab of his type (there are other crabs, but they appear to be a different species). Yet in the more inland areas of the ship, there's a family of four chickens, Rutabaga, Zucchini, Squash, and Butternut. Hedge is apparently being raised by his Aunt Pine (although with a name like that, she may actually be a porcupine). And Gourd the ancient turtle is joined in later episodes by his grandmother Coco (short for Coconut). There's also rabbit named Bloom with a child named Bulb who shows up in one episode that I've seen. And there's a whole bunch of butterflies, and lots and lots of beetles. I think there's more than one log bug. What is the logic to which characters are unique species?
And speaking of logic, which characters speak English and which can only communicate through perfectly-understood-by-everyone animal noises seems to be pretty arbitrary. At first, I thought it was more of a predator/prey thing (foxes and bears can speak, but chickens and caterpillars can't) but then I realized that Gourd the turtle (well, technically tortoise) and his grandmother speak clearly and turtles are herbivorous, definitely not predators. And of the rabbits I mentioned earlier, the father can speak, but the child only says her own name. Small animals can't speak? Nope, there's a whale in season 3 named Bonsai who can't speak either. Also, it's not like the "predators" actually eat any meat (although Maple is shown to be fishing in the opening sequence -- are the fish equally sentient? They do communicate with a cephalopod underwater in one episode).
The creative output of some of the characters is fascinatingly magical, as well. Buckeye, the beaver (also a talker), can use his teeth to carve nearly anything out of wood in a matter of seconds. Hedge's Aunt Pine can knit or crochet nearly anything made of cloth just as quickly. Like, superpower quickly. I can't help wondering if the child animals (Fig, Maple, and Hedge) will gain mysterious creative superpowers of their own as they age. But aging seems to be antithetical to the show, as if that happened Stick would turn into a butterfly and that would just be weird. Like many shows, it's timeless, the characters frozen at a certain age. Which will get them into trouble with the child voice actors should they continue on for more seasons (for example, the cartoon "Hey, Arnold" had issues with this and needed to recast as the years went on).
Maple is one of my favorite characters, a young female engineer. I wish she got more screen time. She invents crazy things like submarines, and lives in a snowy area and visits Fig's region via hot-air balloon. Aunt Pine is another wonderful strong female character, more traditionally female with her sewing and dress, but strong and smart and sassy. She even plays the sousaphone in one episode, and always encourages Hedge's love for astronomy. She's a little bit kooky sometimes, but an adult figure who plays with the kids and doesn't take herself too seriously is an amazing role model.
But then again, there aren't any really demure, overly-feminine characters in this show. Everyone is boisterous and occasionally over-the-top, even the chickens. And you need that to hold the attention of many toddlers and preschoolers. My kids both love the show, and I can't blame them. For all of my fridge logic, I love the show and it's message of figuring things out for yourself. My eldest, currently 3.5 years old, sometimes declares that he won't wake up until he hears "a Fig video." (I only honor this request on occasion.)
I kind of get the feeling the details of the show's universe weren't fully worked out in advance, though. One interview I found online asked about the mysterious ruins around the Tumble Leaf world, and the creator basically admitted they were there to add something for viewers to wonder about, then made a tongue-in-cheek St. Elsewhere-esque reference. I can't help poking holes in fictional universes, as you might be able to tell from my "Thomas and the King of the Railway" review. (Seriously, do the trains have drivers?) And don't get me started on "The Stinky & Dirty Show", another fabulous Amazon Prime kids' show. (In the episode where they ran out of gas, how were they still able to move anything at all?)
The important thing about the show is that its episodes have great messages and that the characters are fun and engaging. We love this show, and I heartily endorse it, despite its confusing universe. After all, when my kids get older they might start reading comic books. It's probably best to get them started early on the bizarre realities that come with fiction.