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Learning about life from pigs

Not to mention from cows, shamans and monks. A rundown on new children's series.

September 14, 2003|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

This fall's new series for kids feature the usual mix of aliens, warriors, kung fu fighters, spirits and even spinoffs of popular series. But perhaps the most unusual series for the small fry is PBS' "Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks."

A sophisticated 3-D, computer-animated series, "Jakers" follows the adventures of a spunky 8-year-old pig named Piggley and his friends, Dannan the Duck and Ferny the Bull, who live on a farm in Ireland. Also on the spread is Wiley (voiced by Mel Brooks), a transplanted American sheep -- sort of a Borscht Belt comedian-singer -- who tells jokes and stories to other members of his flock.

The adventures are told by Piggley as a grandfather, who is sharing his childhood exploits to his three grandpigs to teach them a life lesson. Each episode ends with a four-minute live-action epilogue, hosted by Los Angeles Galaxy's Cobi Jones, and features children sharing anecdotes from their own lives.

The series is created by the London-based Entara with the Los Angeles animation studio Mike Young Productions supplying the animation.

And just what does "jakers" mean?

According to co-executive producer Bill Schultz ("The Simpsons"), it's an Irish expression "meaning 'oh, my gosh' or 'wow.' "

Kids who have seen the show, Schultz says, love the Irish accents. "It's different. The way that 'SpongeBob SquarePants' takes you to the bottom of the ocean, this takes you someplace different."

The target age group for the series is ages 4 to 7, but with Brooks' comedy and the charm of the stories, Schultz believes its appeal is much broader. "The stories are fun and funny," Schultz says. "I think the CGI is handled in a way that's very sophisticated. I wouldn't be surprised if there were older members of the audience who will enjoy this."

Schultz says the reason to use 3-D CGI animation is that "there have been a lot of 2-D pigs. We really wanted to try to get something that was not going to be copied easily and wouldn't be confused with other pigs. One of the things that was important with PBS in deciding to go with the show is that it was a very contemporary production. It's 3-D CGI and high definition."

The series, Schultz says, teaches "good fundamental life lessons." One episode, for example, deals with the three little heroes trying to overcome their fear of a banshee (a wild spirit) they think is living in the barn. "It's about friendship and how you don't make fun of your friends if they are afraid," Schultz says. "Everybody needs to be treated with a little compassion."

As for hiring funnyman Brooks to be the voice of Wiley, Schultz says "we pitched him on the idea of playing his very special character," he says. "He liked the material, and he really enjoys the work. He's in most of the episodes. His character is not a main character from the point of view that the stories don't tend to revolve around him, but he is for comic relief."

'"Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks" can be seen Sundays at 8 a.m. on KCET.

Other new shows

Here's a look at selected other new series for fall:

"Clifford's Puppy Days": Before he was the biggest dog there ever was, Clifford was a little red puppy. This new animated series for kids ages 3 to 7 follows Clifford's life as a young bundle of energy and good humor. Wednesdays at 9 a.m. on KCET. Already premiered.

"Rubbadubbers": A stop-frame animated preschool series about a group of energetic bath-toy friends whose vivid imaginations take them on amazing journeys and adventures. Tuesdays to Fridays at 9:30 a.m. on Nickelodeon. Already premiered.

"Sonic X": After he is accidentally transported by Chaos Control, Sonic the Hedgehog finds himself in a strange planet inhabited by humans. He teams with a boy named Christopher and they embark on a series of quests as they search for precious stones that deliver the power to conquer the world to whoever possesses them. Saturdays at 9:30 a.m. on Fox. Already premiered.

"Funky Cops": Modeled after '70s cop shows, this animated series follows the adventures of two brothers on the San Francisco police force who become stars at the local disco. Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. on Fox. Already premiered.

"Shaman King": Adventure series from the creators of "Yu-Gi-Oh!" takes place in a world where anything is possible. The series revolves around a 13-year-old shaman who can see the spirit world and who teams with a samurai warrior spirit to fight evil spirits and misguided shamans. Saturdays at 11 a.m. on Fox. Already premiered.

"Connie the Cow": Aimed at preschoolers, this 34-episode series about a young cow who lives on a farm with her parents features three seven-minute stories and two interactive games designed by educators to help youngsters learn about nature and the world of animals and plants. Mondays at 10 a.m. on Noggin. Already premiered.

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