February 8, 2012

‘Never Land Pirates’ captures kids’ imaginations

Posted in Between Us column, Entertainment, Television at 6:52 pm by dinaheng

Pre-schoolers may not know that they’re learning valuable lessons, but they sure love to rock with “Jake and the Never Land Pirates.”

The animated Disney Junior series will feature its first prime-time special on Monday, Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. Eastern, followed by its second second premiere on Monday, Feb. 20 at 8:30 a.m., featuring the adventures of Jake and his pals Izzy and Cubby on Pirate Island as they outwit the ever-greedy Mr. Smee, Captain Hook and his crew while hunting for treasure.

“Originally, Nancy Kanter (senior vice president, original programming and general manager of Disney Junior Worldwide), wanted to do a show with Disney heritage characters, Captain Hook and Mr. Smee,” explains Mark Seidenberg, producer and story editor for “Jake and the Never Land Pirates.” “Rob (LaDuca) and I were involved with developing the group of kids off Never Land, who became Jake, Izzy, Cubby, and Skully the Lookout Parrot.”

In the series, Peter Pan has gone off to explore the world beyond Never Land, putting his trusted crew in charge during his absence.

Rob LaDuca, executive producer of the show, says Never Land’s magical setting of tunnels and mermaid lagoons is a great place for finding treasures and battling Captain Hook for them, while teaching youngsters some important lessons.

“There’s action, adventure and involvement,” LaDuca says. “One theme, for example, is teamwork. We show how the kids work together to solve pirate problems. We might ask the kids to help us jump like a frog while exploring social and living problems that kids at that age are facing.”

Seidenberg says the characters on the show face dilemmas that mirror issues kids will identify with in stories that try to help them deal with their fears.

“Cubby, the youngest of the pirates, is afraid of the dark,” Seidenberg says. “Jake feels less than confident because Hook has stolen his sword. We want the kids in our audience to emotionally bond with our kids on the screen. The audience we’re going for is ages two to seven, but we’ve heard that some teenagers even watch the show.”

Both men also hold the same roles of executive producer and producer/story editor on Disney’s “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, another series for preschoolers on Disney Junior.

“Writing for preschoolers entails a very different kind of thinking,” LaDuca says. “It’s interesting because you have to be more sensitive to younger kids’ issues, and you don’t want to show the obnoxious side of human nature. You want to focus on good deeds, and doing well in school.”

Characters are clearly portrayed as “good” and “bad” on the shows, but since younger children may frighten easily, meanness is softened, and “bad” characters are shown to make laughable decisions that fail.

“Emotional issues of wondering why people are mean, and trying to understand things at that age are important,” LaDuca says. “We stress teamwork on ‘Jake and the Never Land Pirates’ because they’re a crew. Music’s also very important to the show, so we try to pepper in little song ditties throughout.”

Seidenberg says the producers Googled ‘pirate rock’ and discovered the Portland rock musicians (Kevin Hendrickson and Loren Hoskins) who now perform as The Never Land Pirate Band, and the animated Sharky and Bones, Captain Hook’s crew, on the show.

“Mostly, we want the show to empower the littlest,” Seidenberg adds, “and to give them the message that you can overcome your fears.”

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