One of the sweetest, most gentle cartoons on the air today, Charlie and Lola: Volume One (along with Charlie and Lola: Volume Two), based on the books by Lauren Child, is a delightful way to spend some time in front of the TV with your child, perhaps learning a lesson or two while you giggle along with Lola's infectious mischief.
As Charlie will tell you at the beginning of each episode, "I have this little sister Lola. She's small and very funny." In Charlie's conversational way, he talks about what he has to go through every day, in trying to help his parents by watching over Lola, a delightfully real little girl whose funny flights of fancy make up a large portion of each episode.
What first hooked me on this show was the cheeky, whistling little theme song. I heard it one day outside my office. When I came out to see what it was, I saw my four year old daughter, dancing around the TV. She was watching this brightly colored cartoon, featuring what looked like pencil drawn figures, colored, then cut out like paper dolls. Of course, the animation was computer generated, using a 2D cell animation collage approach, with photomontage, paper and fabric cutouts, and real photos. But the jerky movements and "crude" articulation perfectly captured the look and feel of children's art. I asked Jane what she was watching, and in a perfect little English accent, she said, "Why, Charlie and Lola, of course." I immediately started laughing, because she sounded so funny, but then I was laughing at the show, when I sat down to watch it with her.
Besides the sweet little stories that gently teach a lesson (if the child wants to hear it -- the messages aren't in any way "preachy" or intrusive), it's quite a funny show, and that's mostly due to the charming vocal talents of Jethro Lundie-Brown as Charlie and Maisie Cowell as Lola. While her British accent is adorable, it's also a real, believably young voice. She speaks with all the slightly daffy, eccentric logic that any highly intelligent four or five year old girl possesses. Just listen to the way she positively groans over her friend Marv's dog, Sizzles ("Ahhhh......look at him!) just like any lovesick, slightly dramatic girl would. Lola is a little willful, a little annoying at times (what little child isn't?) but she's always good hearted and kind, and just as important, she's her own person. Independently minded, many of the stories involve Lola's determination to see the outside world in her own special way, and often, she doesn't stray from this vision at the end of the story. I would imagine most parents of little girls would love Charlie and Lola precisely because it shows a strong role model for their girls. She's obstinate and stubborn sometimes, and utterly beguiling.
Charlie is also a good role model for younger boys. He's the kind of big brother we all probably wish we had. Indulgent of Lola's willful ways, he's always patient and kind in his guiding of Lola's actions. He also readily admits that Lola makes him laugh, regardless of how grating she is; just when he should be getting mad at her for pushing him beyond his patience, he starts to laugh at one of quirky little doings, and he's giggling right along with her. In one episode, after taking just about enough from Lola, she suddenly quiets down, and Charlie ultimately realizes that he likes Lola exactly the way she is, and encourages her to go right back to teasing him. Contrast the obvious love and caring that Charlie and Lola show for each other during the episode where Lola is sick, as opposed to some of the more annoying, cynical cartoons that are out there now, and you'll be glad you picked up this DVD.
One of the smart things they did with this DVD is to keep the theme song and end credits for each episode. Children love repetition and they really want to hear that theme song every time the cartoon comes on. As well, the length of each episode (11 minutes, designed that way to allow two episodes per half hour segment on commercial TV, plus commercials, of course) is perfect for little children who watch their fill, until it's time to move on to other activities.
Here are the seven Charlie and Lola episodes included on Charlie and Lola: Volume One:
I Will Not Ever NEVER Eat a Tomato
We Do Promise Honestly We Can Look After Your Dog
I Love Going To Granny and Grandpa's, It's Just That...
I'm Far Too Extremely Busy
It's a Secret
I'm Just Not Keen On Spiders
I'm Really Ever So Not Well
Shown in enhanced 16:9 widescreen, the video is flawless on this disc. Bright, primary colors really pop out of the screen during Lola's lyrical flights of fancy
The stereo mix is bright and clear; the irrepressible theme song really jumps out at you.
The case promises a jigsaw puzzle (which is fun for the kids to navigate) that when finished, shows Lola hilariously dancing the flamenco. You can play it several times, with different colors on the puzzle pieces. Kids love to do these things over and over, so they won't be bored. The case also promises hidden surprises and funny outtakes, but as far as I can tell, they're one and the same -- a little montage of some of Lola's scenes from other cartoons -- so that was a little misleading. Again, the kids won't really mind, though, since they'll just repeat the montage again and again until they're bored with it. The animated menus are quite fun.
Charlie and Lola: Volume One is an absolute delight from beginning to end, for each 11 minute episode. Never patronizing or insulting to your child's intelligence, the gentle, funny stories will be repeated over and over again on your DVD player. Lola's adventures are warm and funny, and quite lyrical (the lovely "cloud hopping" scene during Charlie and Lola's trip to Flutterby Mountain). And you will never get that cheeky little theme song out of your head again! Highly recommended.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.