In 10 Words or Less
Not quite the Chinese Dora
Likes: Noggin, Asian culture
Dislikes: Dora the Explorer
I'm not a big fan of Dora the Explorer, so when I heard Nickelodeon was launching a new show called "Ni Hao, Kai-Lan," about a bilingual little girl, her monkey and her animal pals, I can't say I was very excited (and until getting this DVD in my hands, I'd actually never seen it.) But while Kai-lan and Dora sound similar, in execution, they are quite different. Unfortunately, that doesn't make it a better show, despite sporting more impressively cute animation that's sure to appeal to younger viewers.
The most obvious element of "Ni Hao" is the integration of Chinese culture and language, much like the use of Spanish in "Dora the Explorer." Thus, Kai-Lan celebrates Chinese New Year, eats dumplings and speaks in both English and Mandarin Chinese. But on Dora, most of the Spanish is followed immediately and obviously with the same in English, and frequently is spoken as single words to create simple vocabulary lessons. Perhaps it's because English and Chinese don't share language roots as close as Germanic is to Romance, but it's hard to follow, mainly because it's not handled the way Dora handles her Spanish. Even watching with captions didn't help. The only Chinese I've picked up are the few times Kai-Lan says "Want to know what I call this in Chinese?" and tells you just that. But most of the time, you're just on the outside of understanding the tongue.
Also different is the story content. With Dora, the adventure is mainly a delivery system for lessons in basic academics like words and numbers, with Spanish thrown in. On "Nihao," the story is the lesson, as Kai-Lan, watched by her grandfather Ye Ye, helps a friend, normally Rintoo the tiger or Tolee the koala, with some personal issue, like not sharing or being unhappy with their place in life, focusing on social skills rather than the three 3Rs. I do find it somewhat curious that all the lessons learned seem to fall in line with Communist pillars, like sharing, knowing your role in a team and accepting a smaller part in a larger success, but since these tend to be kid stuff also, I'll give them a pass.
What they don't get a pass on is the music, which may be the least catchy I've ever heard in a kids cartoon. In the four episodes on this disc, there's not a memorable tune to be found, including the mediocre theme song and the attempt to give Kai-Lan a "catch-song." If there's anything worse than an infectious earworm of a kids song, it's a bad kid's song. Equally as bad are some of the characters' personalities, a problem I call "The Franklin," after the eternally miserable lead character of the fellow Nickelodeon cartoon "Franklin."Rintoo and Tolee may be two of the most emo characters I've seen on TV, as whenever their feelings get hurt they run off and sulk, with Tolee even hiding inside his hooded sweatshirt. And the reaction to such behavior? Everyone makes an effort to make them happy, which is just the lesson kids need. Kids are already prone to pitching fits until they get their way, and having that attitude enforced by a cartoon makes this one I'm glad to see infrequently.
A one-disc release packed in a standard keepcase, this DVD has a static full-frame menu, with options to play all the shows, select episodes and watch previews. There are no audio options and no subtitles, but closed captioning is included.
These brightly-colored full-frame episodes look fantastic, with a crisp image and no issues with dirt, damage or compression artifacts. There's absolutely nothing to complain about with this disc, as the video looks as good as it's even been seen.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is solid, presenting the dialogue and music clearly, without any issues with distortion. There's nothing dynamic about the mix, with a purely center-focused soundtrack, as you would expect from a kids show.
Unless you count extras (and I don't) there are no extras included on this set.
The Bottom Line
If you were expecting a Chinese version of Dora the Explorer, you'll end up disappointed by "Ni Hao Kai-Lan," as it's less about learning words or numbers, and more about learning how to interact with a group. While little ones are sure to enjoy the candy-colored, adorable animation and the silly animals, the stories don't offer a lot, and the mixing of Chinese and English without explanation might be confusing. That the DVD doesn't offer anything beyond the four episodes presented in solid quality also should give buyers pause, leading them to pick up one of the more interesting kids DVDs out there.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.