“Ask the Storybots” and “Dear Dumb Diary”

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“Ask the StoryBots” is an animated show is a Netflix original produced by JibJab Bros. Studios. The show is based on the characters from the StoryBots educational apps and videos. I had not heard of these apps and videos before seeing this TV show on Netflix and doing some background research on it, so I had to look them up. StoryBots is a learning program for children ages 3-8 that spans multiple platforms. Their website features educational videos, apps, books, games, classroom activities, and so much more for teachers and parents. There is also a second TV show based on the StoryBots characters, also on Netflix, called “StoryBots Super Songs.”

In “Ask the StoryBots,” the StoryBots are little robotic creatures who live behind our electronic screens. There are four StoryBots named Beep Bing, Bang, and Bo, each of whom make up Team 341B. In each episode, children ask big questions and the StoryBots go out into the human world (or the “Outer World,” as it’s called in the show) in an attempt to find the answers. The answer for each question is then presented at the end of the show through music. There is a mix of cartoon animation, live action, and puppets used throughout the show, as well as several educational musical numbers.

In the episode that I watched, a video of a child asking the question “Why does night happen” was presented to the StoryBots. The StoryBots traveled to “the Outer World” to a castle and talked with a knight. There is an amusing mix-up in which the knight explains the difference between the words “night” and “knight,” and then there is a song about words that start with the letter “N.” The knight suggests the StoryBots try to find the opposite of night by going in search of the sun. Then there is a song about things that are the color red. Next is another mix-up where the StoryBots try to follow the sun into the ocean, where a whale explains to them that the sun is in outer space. So the StoryBots travel to outer space, meet the sun, and the sun explains how night happens depending on which part of the earth is facing sun during the earth’s rotation around it. Finally, there is one last song about the earth rotating around the sun, night and day, etc.

I thought this was a really cute, silly show! The StoryBots’ adventures to find the answers to life’s big questions take amusing turns, and there are lots of silly jokes. The show is also visually appealing through its mix of animation styles, live action, puppetry, and even stop-motion animation. The way the StoryBots approach the big questions and the explanations for those questions are presented in a way that is very simple and childlike, making it accessible and easy to understand. While the show is not necessarily influenced by commercial interest like Legos or Disney, it is influenced by the StoryBots learning programs.

Even though I am an adult without any children of my own or even any children in my life, I actually kind of loved this show. I believe it can be entertaining and educational for children of all ages, especially the show’s target audience of children ages 3-8 – and even for parents too! The show has also received many positive reviews, including from Common Sense Media and IMDb, among others.

Crandall, Natascha. “Ask the Storybots – TV Review.” Common Sense Media. Common Sense Media, n.d. Web.

Hinckley, Kristie. “Ask the StoryBots: How Does Night Happen?” Children’s Book and Media Review. Brigham Young University, 28 Nov. 2016. Web.

“StoryBots Launches Groundbreaking Product for Kindergarten Classrooms — and It’s Free for Teachers.” Marketwired. Nasdaq, Inc., 9 Feb. 2016. Web.

deardumbdiary

“Dear Dumb Diary” is a Hallmark TV movie based on the popular middle-grade book series of the same name by author Jim Benton. It is about a 7th-grade girl named Jamie Kelly who writes in her diary about her experiences in middle school – in particular, her best friend Isabella, her “nemesis,” the popular girl Angeline, and her crush Hudson. I have not read any of the books in the series, so I cannot comment on the faithfulness or accuracy.

First of all, there is a lot of stuff going on in this movie. I kept getting a little confused because there are so many little side stories happening. Then there are also many song-and-dance musical numbers throughout the movie, which I personally thought got old really quickly, but I know that musical TV shows and movies are a huge hit with this age group (upper elementary to middle school).

Jamie is a 7th-grader at her middle school, where she has a best friend named Isabella with questionable morals, a “nemesis” popular girl named Angeline, and a crush named Hudson. Whenever she is around Hudson she becomes very clutzy and says all the wrong things. Unfortunately for her, he clearly likes Angeline and follows her around like a puppy. After the school has major budget cuts and has to cut almost all of their extracurricular programs – including Jamie’s beloved art class – Jamie signs up for the Jump-A-Thon jump-rope fundraiser to try to save it. She goes door-to-door with Isabella to get sponsors for the fundraiser, and Isabella collects donations for the Juvenile Optometry Federation – which we later find out she made up. Angeline also participates in the Jump-A-Thon fundraiser and receives an outstanding amount of sponsors, but unfortunately she reveals to Jamie that she cannot jump rope and is going to let the school and her sponsors down. Because she wants to help the school, Jamie agrees to help Angeline with the Jump-A-Thon and in the end Angeline wins.

As I mentioned before, there are many little side stories going on here. First is Isabella’s ruse to con donation money out of caring adults in their neighborhood in order to buy herself contacts. In addition, Jamie’s Aunt Carol moves to town, gets a job at their school, and begins dating the assistant principal – eventually becoming engaged to him. Then there’s Jamie’s attempts to attract Hudson, as well as a few scenes were her diary is lost and stolen and Hudson and his friends find it and read it out loud, embarrassing Jamie. Throw in a weird rivalry with the one of the lunch ladies in the school cafeteria, and a series of musical numbers throughout, and it all makes for a very busy movie.

I personally really disliked the character of Jamie. She is overly-confident and overly-dramatic, and not just for a middle schooler. While the movie is obviously meant to be silly and fun, the majority of the jokes felt weird and fell very flat, and I personally found the musical numbers to be too numerous and honestly annoying. But overall the movie touched on several positive messages. Some of these messages include volunteering, inner beauty vs. outer beauty, self-esteem, and peer pressure. There are a few potentially objectionable aspects (particularly Isabella’s questionable morals), but while Jamie and her friends make several poor judgment calls, they always make amends and learn valuable lessons from their experiences.

I did really like the way that illustrations from the books were incorporated into the movie and, despite my personal dislike of the awkward musical sequences, I think they could be a hit with the target audience of children ages 8 and up. While the movie has received very mixed reviews from IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes, Common Sense Media rates it pretty well, stating that it has great social messages for kids.

Ashby, Emily. “Dear Dumb Diary – Movie Review.” Common Sense Media. Common Sense Media, n.d. Web.

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