Kinder, Gentler Pirates with Social Values? Today is the Launch of Disney Junior

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The news from Disney is that Playhouse Disney is being shelved for good. Its new preschool incarnation is called Disney Junior. The focus will be less on teaching the three Rs à la PBS and more on social values. According to a Disney survey of 2,200 parents, parents want more added value in television shows than basic educational programming. Apparently Dora the Explorer hasn’t been enough of a didactic force for anxious parents. . . and she’s bilingual too! Using storytelling can help build social values, and would develop the emotional preparedness needed to understand the world we live in, according to Nancy Kanter, senior vice president of Playhouse Disney Worldwide.

And, of course, there’s also the fact that Disney lags far behind Nickelodeon (in the top 5 slots) in the preschool market, where it has only one show in the top ten, “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” (ranked 7th), with PBS owning the rest of the slots. Today’s official launch of Disney Junior features a daily 10-hour block of programming on the Disney Channel. Preschoolers between the ages of 2-7 at home with Mom or Dad are the target audience. The segment airs from 4 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the Disney Channel.

JAKE AND THE NEVER LAND PIRATES Image: Disney Channel

The Disney Junior segment’s new series, “Jake and the Never Land Pirates” is about the adventures of a young pirate and his mates, but these aren’t the pirates in Peter Pan you remember as a child. Think kinder, gentler pirates who look like the 4-year-old skateboarders down the block. Along with friends Izzy and Cubby, Skully the parrot and Bucky the pirate ship, their challenge is to cooperate as a team to keep their pirate hideout hidden from Captain Hook and his mate, Mr.Smee (and, of course, to find the treasure before Captain Hook does). The stress on teamwork, of course, is Disney’s effort to work in social ethics themes into the script for the benefit of all pirate-loving preschoolers.

Disney Junior will keep previous programs such as “Handy Manny,” “Mickey Mouse ClubHouse,” and “Special Agent Oso.” Other new shows in the segment include “Babar and the Adventures of Badou,” which introduces the King Babar’s eight-year-old grandson, and “Lift of Tinga Tinga Tales,” a new animated series inspired by traditional African animal folktales and the art of Tanzania.

By the way, colicky newborn keeping you up all night? Well, lucky for you, Disney plans to expand Disney Junior to a 24-hour cable channel by early 2012. The marketing reason behind this is that the television habits of preschoolers, according to Disney, “extend far beyond the traditional morning blocks.” Hmm. Now you can warm your bottles of formula and watch cartoons at the same time—with a kinder, gentler social message attached. I dare say that Walt would indeed be proud.

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