Octonauts, based on the books by MEOMI, is a British animated television series which began in 2013. It just aired its fourth season in America this year on the Disney Channel. The show follows a group of underwater explorers who have vowed to explore, rescue and protect the ocean and its inhabitants.
Each episode features two unrelated stories, with a handful of special episodes offering one longer story. In each story, the Octonauts encounter a creature with a problem to solve. As the Octonauts help the creature, they learn interesting facts about the animal. These facts are recapped at the end of each story in a song and dance called the “Creature Report” which is accompanied by actual photographs of the creature in question.
While there are no directly-stated educational goals, it is clear that the show aims to introduce underwater exploration, a wide variety of aquatic creatures, and teamwork. There are also a few episodes that incorporate conflict resolution when the story’s problem centers on a disagreement between different types of sea creatures over turf or food. As the synopsis on Commonsensemedia.org states, “the characters’ actions illustrate the show’s themes of cooperation, friendship, and caring for others” (Ashby, 2016) and these are the tools used to resolve conflicts that arise.
According to Commonsensemedia.org, the show is appropriate for ages 4+, though its users believe it is appropriate for ages 3+ (Ashby, 2016). I tend to agree that 3-4 is an appropriate age for the show, though it would be best watched with a parent or other guardian who can help if the stories become confusing or scary. For example, in one story, a colossal squid grabs ahold of the Octonauts’ underwater home, the Octopod, and won’t let go. When the squid wants to let go to escape an incoming group of Sperm whales, it cannot release its hooks from the Octopod. For a moment it seems the whales will catch the squid (Simpson, 2012). Of course the Octonauts help the squid escape, but that interaction could be frightening to a 3-4 year old. The more frightening moments, though few and far between, could make the show objectionable to some.
The Octonauts themselves are likable characters; they love to explore, learn new things, meet new people, and work together to solve problems. They don’t use any bad language or violence to solve their problems. In addition, they use a nice variety of dialogue including using more difficult names of various sea creatures.
On the topic of language, it is worth noting that one character, Kwazii, a zany pirate kitten, will often mispronounce the name of a sea creature several times before getting it right. In addition, the vegimals (half-vegetable – half-animal creatures) speak their own language made up of short melodies sung in nonsensical words. These two character traits could be annoying to some viewers.
Even so, Octonauts has been placed on Commonsensemedia.org’s list “Best Kids’ Shows on Netflix in 2016” (“Best Kids’…” 2016), and was nominated (but did not win) for an International Emmy in the Kids-Preschool Category in 2013 (“The Octonauts – Awards,” 2016).
In terms of product tie-in, there are a wide variety of Octonaut toys and games available with prices ranging from $15-$50 and books ranging from $5-$15. These products are not advertised on the show directly and if a person were viewing on Netflix, for example, they would not see any commercials pushing Octonaut toys. Caregivers may be interested to know that free printable coloring pages and games are available on Disney Jr’s Octonauts webpage, and even more goodies can be found on MEOMI’s Octonauts website.
Ashby, E. (2016). Octonauts. Commonsensemedia.org. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/tv-reviews/octonauts
Best kids’ TV shows on Netflix in 2016. (2016). Commonsensemedia.org. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/lists/best-kids-tv-shows-on-netflix-in-2016
The Octonauts – Awards. (2016). IMDb. Retrieved from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1710177/awards
Simpson, S. (Head Writer), & Darragh O’ Connell (Director). (2012, Nov. 19). Octonauts and the Colossal Squid [Television series episode]. In K. Mueller (Producer), Octonauts. UK: Brown Bag Films.