tumbleleaf

With a well-received first season of political comedy “Alpha House” under its belt, Amazon will move further into original programming with the debut this week of “Tumble Leaf,” the first in a trio of children’s TV series from the e-commerce giant.

The original content from Amazon Studios is key to Amazon’s attempt to compete with the likes of Netflix and Hulu, differentiate its Prime Instant Video service, and beef up the offerings on its Kindle Fire tablets and Fire TV box.

So how will Jeff Bezos & Co. fare with the kids? I hesitate to use the phrase “binge watch,” but we immersed ourselves in the first season of Tumble Leaf at my house this weekend, courtesy of an advance review DVD from Amazon. The most important thing to note is that it was was a hit with the target audience — a.k.a. our preschooler, who was clearly enthralled with the show.

It is a charming show, featuring Fig the Fox and his friends exploring their world and figuring out how stuff works: shadows, reflections, springs, spheres, and more. Tumble Leaf features vivid stop-motion animation, beautiful music and quirky characters.

Welcome to Tumble Leaf! Fig the Fox in his home, a shipwreck on the shore.
Fig the Fox in his home, a shipwreck on the shore.

Each episode begins with a funny crab pulling a random item from the ocean (a bag of coins, a flashlight, a sponge, etc.) and placing it in a room called the “The Finding Place” in Fig’s home, a shipwrecked boat at the edge of the sea. Fig then slides down to the Finding Place to retrieve the item, which forms the basis for the adventure that follows.

The idea is to get kids thinking scientifically about the world around them, as Fig and friends solve problems. It’s an admirable goal, but as we watched, I began to wonder if the educational message was too subtle to have the desired effect among the target audience, given everything else going on in the show.

Yes, my kid is a genius, too, but we are talking about preschoolers here.

My mom, a retired kindergarten teacher, watched a few episodes with us and had similar thoughts: Entertainment value aside, the complexity and random plot twists would make it hard for a preschooler to grasp the underlying message.

The best children’s shows spark conversations and questions, in big and small ways. In our house, we constantly reference values and lessons from the Berenstain Bears, and regularly sing Super Why’s alternative version of the ABC song, just as two examples.

So far, Tumble Leaf seems to miss the mark in that way. Maybe we’ve been hit over the head too many times by Dora and Diego, but Fig generally didn’t provide a concrete takeaway worthy of discussion.

Dr. Alice Wilder
Dr. Alice Wilder

But hey, what do we know? Amazon has a bona fide expert helping out with its kids shows: Dr. Alice Wilder, an educational psychologist and advisor to Amazon Studios, who also happens to be the co-creator of Blues Clues and the aforementioned Super Why.

Adding to its cred, Tumble Leaf was created by Emmy Award-winning director Drew Hodges and stop-motion studio Bix Pix Entertainment.

Putting aside my questions about the educational value, it is a captivating and unique show, and worth checking out when the first six episodes debut on Friday for Amazon Prime members. The pilot episode is available for free now for anyone who wants a sneak peek.

After the debut of Tumble Leaf, Amazon will follow up with two more kids’ series this summer: Creative Galaxy on June 27 and Annedroids on July 25.

Comments

  • Tumble enthusiast

    My kid is 2 years old and absolutely LOVES Tumble Leaf! He actually watches the show, and it holds his attention–in spite of the fact that there isn’t much singing or dancing in it. This is the first show to have that kind of impact on him, so I’m not sure what kind of market research you’ve done, but I wonder if it’s with actual kids. Season 2, please!

  • Christopher McGrath

    CV: Dad of 4 kids, three boys and one girl, aged Infant to 12yo, so I’ve seen at least a few episodes of just about every children’s series produced in the last decade and a half.

    Tumble Leaf amazes me. Rarely does a show value both creativity and science so deeply. The characters explore a dynamic technicolor land using their imaginations and their minds. The key is the dual dynamic.

    I want my children to live a vibrant life of the mind. Imagining is wonderful. Create dreams and worlds. Invent machines and games and friends.

    I also want them to make some of their dreams reality. As much as it is enjoyable to create things in your mind, pulling the blueprints out into the world allows children to test their creations and when they fail to perform as expected to extend the creative process by adjustment, improvement, refinement of flawed hypothesis, submission to peer review and incorporation of useful recommendations.

    Many shows promote creativity. Only rare ones go through the second process (if you eliminate ones developed by Jim Henson, there are maybe five).

    Tumble Leaf does more than teach critical thinking within the context of using imagination as a tool to discover, interpret and improv your world, it does in a an exemplary framework ideally suited to delivery of such a complicated and valuable lesson.

    I

  • kevin

    Tumbo Lee!!

  • kevin

    My 2 yo girl loves the show. There’s only 6 or 7 episodes available for season 1 but she happily watches them all repeatedly. She and I eagerly await season 2.

  • Marci Stafford Lindsey

    My son, just two. Has his first Cartoon OBSESSION! (So cute! And yet…not, ha!)
    I really didn’t dream he would like it after watching the first episode. It’s cute but a bit complex for him, right? Well, don’t tell him that. He wakes calling out Tumble leaf?! In the morning and would eat sleep and breathe Fig if allowed. Love how he is working on his negotiating skills by working those dimples and constantly requesting Tumble leaf in a variety of “bring on the cuteness so she says yes”.
    This man is in L.O.V.E. with Tum. Ble. WEAF!
    That expert must know something we don’t know :)
    But we do know WE NEED MORE! Ha!
    Can’t wait for Halloween. His two month old sis is going to be twig!

  • Sunny

    My son loves Tumble Leaf. I think it has the right balance in terms of introducing new things while keeping it fun.I think you (and your mother ) are wrong about the educational value.

    I just hope we have a Season 2 soon.

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