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SHOWS FOR YOUNGSTERS AND THEIR PARENTS TOO : The puppet who cried wolf ... on Disney's 'Under the Umbrella Tree'

March 20, 1994|N.F. MENDOZA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's time to huddle Under the Umbrella Tree, since it's raining on the show's parade. After seven years on the Disney Channel, production of new shows has stopped.

"Too Many Pranks," the first of the show's final three episodes, airs this week. But fans still will be able to catch reruns on the premium cable channel "for the next couple of years," producer Noreen Young reports.

The popular and colorful show focuses on an artist (Holly LaRoque) and her puppet roommates, Jacob the Jay Bird, Gloria the Gopher and Iggy the Iguana. The quartet live in a treehouse.

Although the show is aimed at preschoolers, fans are up to 8 years old. "The youngest viewers, who can be 1 1/2 years old, love the colors and the puppets," Young says. "The older kids like the jokes."

Each episode, Young says, "discusses problems familiar to kids. The problem gets solved. We try not to be preachy. We always try to show the humorous side of things. We want something that will make them laugh and help them cope in a domestic situation they might encounter and how they relate to adult figures."

Adults, she adds, are always shown in a nice light. Holly--the actress' real name is used for her "Umbrella" character--"likes to have fun and has childlike qualities to her. But the puppets are the real kids in the show."

Previous shows have dealt with death, sportsmanship, sexism, envy and careers.

This week's half-hour show--most weeks two 15-minute segments air back to back--offers a contemporary twist to the classic tale of the boy who cried wolf. The puppets learn an important lesson when Iggy's practical jokes go awry. Iggy thinks his antics are funny, but the others disagree. When he finally tries to tell them about something that has really happened, no one believes him.

It's hard for Young to believe that her show is ending, that it encountered budget problems that made it "not viable from a business perspective."

In addition to Disney Channel reruns, parents will be able to find "Umbrella Tree" on video this winter: all 270 15-minute episodes, as well as 15 half-hour specials.

"Under the Umbrella Tree" airs Saturday at 11:30 a.m. For ages 2 to 6.

More Family Shows

It's springtime in Paris for France's famous schoolgirl in Madeline and the Easter Bonnet (Sunday 6-6:30 p.m. Family Channel). With the flowers in bloom and the Eiffel Tower sparkling, everything is new except for the mangy bonnet worn by the milk-wagon horse. Madeline and her 11 school pals refurbish the bonnet, which sets a fashion trend. The "Madeline Easter Bonnet" becomes a must-have on the spring fashion scene for both horses and humans. For ages 2 to 9.

"Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" star Alfonso Ribeiro is the celebrity guest this week on Bill Nye the Science Guy (Friday 8:30-9 p.m. KCAL). Ribeiro helps Nye crawl through "The Food Web." The first 50,000 viewers who write in to the show--an address will be provided at the end of this week's episode--will receive "Bill Nye the Science Guy's Amazing Box O' Science." Paid for by a grant from the National Science Foundation and created by Disney for kids 8 and up, the free kit offers a Nye-style hands-on approach to scientific mysteries. Scientific facts and three safe-and-simple experiments, complete with tools, are provided. For ages 8 and up.

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