Don't know much about Kwanzaa? Neither do the kids on "Rugrats"--until tonight's episode (8:30 p.m., Nickelodeon), when the Carmichael family's jovial Aunt T. arrives and insists on celebrating it.
There was a time when you could have predicted what would come next: a camouflaged lecture on African American heritage followed by a message about the need for tolerance and respect.
It's a mark of how sophisticated children's programming can be these days that the script by Lisa D. Hall, Jill Gorey and Barbara Herndon never uses the label African American. And the formal explantation of the weeklong event--a cultural holiday established in 1966 that focuses on such principles as unity, self-determination and responsibility--is tossed off so perfunctorily that no child could possibly understand it.
No problem. All you need to know, says Aunt T. (energetically voiced by Irma P. Hall), is that it's a time for families to be together and "honor the legacy of our great people."
That's the jumping-off point for the main story, as 3-year-old Susie worries that she hasn't done anything great enough to merit her inclusion in the celebration.
Aunt T. comes to the rescue with a warm explanation of the many ways people can exhibit greatness in their everyday lives--by being kind and generous, for example. "Child, always be proud of who you are and where you come from," she tells Susie. "And remember: You have your whole life to discover how great you are."
That's a lesson from which any child can learn. And that's why this is a model of diversity programming: It has special resonance for African American viewers but finds the universal themes that make Kwanzaa valuable for everyone to acknowledge.