The music seems vaguely familiar, reminiscent of the opening scenes of the Connery-era Bond films, but something’s not quite right. Then the show’s star, a short, bumbling (but lovable) stuffed panda, enters the scene and it all clicks. Although there are plenty of subtle nods to the classic 007 films, Disney’s latest animated show is definitely aimed at preschoolers.
But Special Agent Oso is much more than a handful of inside jokes. The new series follows the adventures of a stuffed bear named Oso, voiced by actor Sean Astin, as he works to help kids in their daily lives. Each episode, Oso helps a child complete a common household or personal chore by breaking it down into 3 easy steps.
"It’s an educational action-adventure ride for the preschool set," says Astin. In the role of Oso, Astin engages his audience by asking them for help finding items or pointing out where things belong (think of Dora the Explorer, but with real-world implications).
"Our stories range from cognitive skills – how to put a puzzle together
– to more emotional skills – how to make a friend at school," said
Nancy Kanter, Senior Vice President, Playhouse Disney Worldwide.
"What’s important is to present them in a practical way, to take away the mysteriousness of a task like tying a shoe."
Plus, kids can log on to the Special Agent Oso mini-site and participate in a number of games related to the show, including winning medals for accomplishments, just like Oso does.
What’s more, parents can sign their children up to receive a personalized phone call from Oso, following the show.
A Visual Feast
The world Oso lives in is a wonderful, delicious combination of 3D animation set among backdrop collages consisting of papier-mâché, textures made from real food and beautiful drawings. It makes for a visual feast that is truly a treat for the eyes.
As Oso moves about his environment, like many of us, he relies heavily on technology to get him through his day. He has a two-way wrist radio for communicating with his boss, Mr. Dos, and a cyborg ladybug which is able to fly to out-of-reach places and use its built in digital camera to take pictures for the bear. But it’s his always-on "Paw Pilot" that helps Oso complete missions and stay on schedule. As you can tell, the show has a pretty good sense of humor. In previewing a number of the episodes, my kids giggled endlessly at the jokes that the characters told.
It was all very good, but I wanted to find out more about Special Agent Oso. So, I asked the voice behind the bear about fatherhood and where he found the inspiration necessary to play a stuffed panda.
Q & A With Sean Astin
GeekDad: You’ve had a long career, playing a wide range of incredibly diverse characters. Is there anything in your past that you were able to draw on for inspiration to play a 16 inch stuffed bear with a 007 preoccupation?
Sean Astin: Pretty much everything! The three roles I’m know best for are Mikey in The Goonies, Rudy Ruettiger in Rudy and Sam in Lord of the Rings. I had to draw on all those things for Oso. I think that Mikey is closest in spirit, Rudy brings the perseverence that keeps Oso going and Samwise is all about the loyalty.
I feel like
I’m a lot like Oso, because he’s got the heart of a lion and he loves helping kids — and I’m a lot like that too.
You’ve got three daughters, including one aged 6 and another who will soon be 4. It seems like Secret Agent Oso will be right in the sweet spot for your kids. Have your daughters seen the show, what do they think about it … and does the youngest understand that her dad’s voice is coming out of the bear’s mouth?
SA: My kids have seen the show and they really like it, which just feels so good to me.
The visuals are really colorful, which they love, and there are these great songs that play an integral part in the show, reinforcing the lessons and just entertaining the kids. They really like those.
At first, the my youngest didn’t get that it was me — even though I did the voice for her. And my middle daughter is saying "Come on, don’t you see? The bear has daddy’s voice." And my youngest is looking at the tv … then looking at me … then back at the TV … then at me. And, all of a sudden, her eyes get really big and the light goes on and she got it.
We were scared that it was going to put her off cartoons because she’d think that every voice was someone’s mom or dad, but we straightened it out. She’s enjoying cartoons – no problems.
GD: Has fatherhood affected the roles you choose or audition for? And did it influence you playing the part of Oso?
SA: I jumped at the chance to play Oso. It wasn’t only because Disney is such a sterling brand – they only had to ask once and I knew I wanted to do it – but also because I wanted to do something my kids would want to see. And when they got a chance to see it and they liked it, I felt like I had conquered Everest because they loved it and it gives me such a sense of pride. As a dad, that’s just great.
I’m just really enjoying being part of a big animated production
I think we’re doing a lot of really positive things with this show. Plus I know some of the intreractive aspects are going to take Special Agent Oso to a whole other level. I’m excited about it and I think it’s going to do really well.
Wired: An absolute winner for preschoolers. It teaches real-world skills in a fun, easy-to-understand way. It’s definitely worth checking out.
Tired: Lots of repetition is great for the under-six set, not so good for parents.
Special Agent Oso premieres with two consecutive episodes Saturday,
April 4 (8:00-9:00 a.m., ET/PT) on Playhouse Disney. Check local listings for further episodes.