Minorities in cartoons: “Super Why!”

This week’s minorities in cartoons entry is “Super Why!,” a PBS animated series. “Super Why!” debuted in 2007.

Background

In the vein of “Blue’s Clues,” “Dora the Explorer” and “Go, Diego, Go,” “Super Why!” is one of those “interactive” shows. That is, when a character asks the child viewer a question, the viewer’s expected to answer along at home.

The show‘s heroes are fairy tale characters living in the literary realm of “Storybrook Village.” Each episode has a similar plot. The protagonists face a particular problem—say, a missing comic book, or going trick-or-treating on Halloween for the first time. To resolve it, the characters turn into superheroes (collectively dubbed the “Super Readers”), and take off for a particular fairy tale. Said fairy tale’s accessed via entering a book, a la the old “Gumby” cartoon. The Super Readers use various literary skills to help the story’s characters solve a problem, and then head home. The Super Readers use the story’s resolution/lessons learned in the story to resolve their own problem.

Besides fairy tales, the stories the Super Readers visit include ones about: holidays (Halloween, Hanukkah, Christmas, etc.); superheroes; westerns; science fiction; and others.

Characters

The “Super Readers” consist of:

  • Whyatt (aka “Super Why“), the show’s main character. A boy who’s the younger brother of Jack (from “Jack and the Beanstalk”), Whyatt’s super-ability is using “the power to read”… and apparently edit. Super Whyatt possesses a (magic?) pen that lets him change the words of the story they’re in, and thus alter the story’s outcome. Whyatt’s interests include, appropriately, reading superhero comics.
  • Little Red Riding Hood (aka “Wonder Red“). Wonder Red’s super-ability is her basket, which can summon various words. Red also puts an emphasis on rhyming words.
  • Princess Pea (aka “Princess Presto“). Princess (voiced by Tajja Isen) is the character from the fairy tale “The Princess and the Pea.” Her special super-power is her magic “spelling wand.”
  • Littlest Pig (aka “Alpha Pig“). Pig, as Alpha Pig, possesses “alphabet power.”
  • Woofster. Whyatt’s pet dog. Woofster gains the ability to speak while the team is on their adventures. Woofster possesses “dictionary power,” or the ability to look up the definition of any word. Woofster’s an addition later in the series’ run. Earlier episodes stated the fifth Super Reader was the viewer (as “Super You”).

Syndication

“Super Why!” debuted in 2007, and still airs on PBS Kids as of this writing.

The show also airs outside the United States, including Canada’s CBC network. From what I can tell, the Canadian airings stick exclusively with American word spellings and pronunciations. Compare that with fellow PBS series “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood,” which in Canada airs as “Daniel Tiger’s Neighbourhood” (with an appropriately-spelled logo).

(Updated 9/30/16)

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