Arthur (TV series)

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Arthur
Arthurtv logo.png
Format Children's animated series
Animated sitcom
Created by Marc Brown
Developed by Ken Scarborough
Kathy Waugh
Directed by Greg Bailey
Theme music composer Judy Henderson & Jerry de Villiers Jr.
Opening theme "Believe in Yourself" by Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers
Country of origin United States
Canada
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 17[1]
No. of episodes 200 (aired) (List of episodes)
Production
Executive producer(s) Marc Brown
Micheline Charest (Seasons 1–4)
Carol Greenwald
Jacqui Deegan
Peter Moss
Lesley Taylor
Toper Taylor
Pierre Valette
Producer(s) Ronald Weinrerg (Seasons 1–4)
Cassandra Schafhausen
Lesley Taylor
Greg Bailey
Diane Dallaire
Tolon Brown
Running time 24–26 minutes
Production company(s) Cinar (seasons 1–8)
Cookie Jar Entertainment
(seasons 9–15)
DHX Media (seasons 16-present)
9 Story Entertainment (seasons 16–present)[2]
WGBH-TV
Broadcast
Original channel PBS
Picture format SDTV (480i),
HDTV (1080i) (seasons 12–present)
Audio format Dolby Surround
Original run September 2, 1996 (1996-09-02) – present
Chronology
Related shows Postcards from Buster
External links
Official Website on PBSkids.org

Arthur is a Canadian/American animated educational television series for children, created by Cookie Jar Group (formerly known as Cinar) and WGBH for the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). The show is set in the fictional American city of Elwood City, and revolves around the lives of 8-year-old Arthur Read, an anthropomorphic aardvark,[3] his friends and family, and their daily interactions with each other.

The television series is based on the Arthur book series, which are written and illustrated by Marc Brown. WGBH Boston along with Cinar (now Cookie Jar Group) began production of the animated series in 1994, and aired its first episode on September 2, 1996. Since its debut, the show has broadcast 200 30-minute long episodes, and its 17th season premiered on November 11, 2013. With 200 episodes, Arthur is one of the longest-running TV shows on PBS Kids, behind only Sesame Street.

A pilot for the spin-off series Postcards from Buster aired on December 2003 as a season 8 episode of Arthur. Postcards from Buster began airing from October 11, 2004 to November 21, 2008, where the series faced several years of hiatus, and it began airing again on February 2012.

Arthur often deals with important issues families face such as asthma, dyslexia, cancer, and Asperger syndrome. It also encourages reading and relationships with family and friends by explaining that people have different personalities and interests.

Arthur became one of the highest-rated shows on PBS Kids for several years since its debut, averaging almost 10 million viewers weekly in the U.S. It is aired in a total of 83 countries; PBS in the United States, Radio-Canada, Knowledge and TVOKids in Canada, ABC1/ABC2 and Nickelodeon in Australia, and BBC One/CBBC in the UK. It is the longest-running children's animated series in the U.S., and the second longest-running animated series in the U.S., behind The Simpsons.[4] Although Arthur is directed primarily toward a child and preteen audience, over the years it has gained a substantial cult following among older viewers.[5]

Setting

Arthur Read, the series's titular character, is an anthropomorphic eight-year-old brown aardvark who lives in the fictional town of Elwood City. He is a third-grade student at Lakewood Elementary School. Arthur's family includes two home-working parents, his father David (a chef) and his mother Jane (an accountant), his two younger sisters, Dora Winifred (D.W.), who is in preschool, and Kate, who is still an infant, and his dog Pal. Arthur also has several friends who come from various ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, and he also occasionally meets with members of his extended family.

In the TV series, Elwood City is portrayed as a largely suburban area which bears a strong resemblance to the Boston area; the TV series is partially produced by WGBH. Furthermore, Elwood City's professional baseball team, the "Elwood City Grebes", appears to be a fictional representation of the Boston Red Sox. The episode "The Curse of the Grebes" in Season 10 clearly references baseball lore such as Curse of the Bambino. The same episode also refers indirectly to the rivalry between the Red Sox and the New York Yankees, as the Grebes have a fierce rivalry with the Crown City Kings during the World Championship, the show's version of the World Series. In another episode, the Elwood City Airport is shown to have a name that represents Boston's Logan International Airport. Crown City, as featured in other episodes, is apparently a fictional representation of New York City. In one episode, it is inferred that an ice hockey team wearing the WGBH logo and the Boston Bruins' team colors on their uniforms are Elwood City's professional (possibly NHL) hockey team.

There are also firm references to Brown's hometown of Erie, Pennsylvania. Most notably, the local shopping mall in the TV series is called "Mill Creek Mall", a reference to Millcreek Mall.[original research?] Brown himself stated that the series is influenced by his upbringing as a child in Erie.

Production

In 1994, Marc Brown was approached by WGBH and PBS about the possibility of adapting the Arthur books into a television series. Brown was reluctant at first to become a part of a medium for which he had little respect, but soon agreed when he learned that the objective of the television series would be to use the powerful medium of television to promote children to reading books.

Although the program is primarily written and produced by WGBH of Boston, the production of the animation and voice acting are done in Montreal, Toronto, South Korea, and Hong Kong. The animation of the show was done at AKOM Production Company from season 1 to season 11, then at Animation Services (HK) Ltd from season 12 to present. The entire cast of Arthur lives in Montreal or Toronto, where Cookie Jar Entertainment's studios are located. The only segments of the show that are filmed outside Canada are the "A Word from Us Kids" interstitials, filmed at elementary schools or other educational sites in the Boston area. Beginning in Season 11, the "A Word From Us Kids" segment was replaced by a segment called "Postcards from You", where live-action videos sent in by young viewers were spotlighted per episode. The segments are omitted from all airings outside the U.S.

Marc Brown's children, Tolon, Eliza and Tucker, are referenced in the show many times, just as they are in the Arthur book series. For example, the town's moving company is called "Tolon Moving", and everyday items such as cups or pencil sharpeners have the word "Eliza" printed on them. References to Cookie Jar Entertainment and WGBH also appear often on the show. In one episode, Francine and Buster are shown playing a table hockey game in which one team's players wear shirts in the Montreal Canadiens' signature colours with Montreal-based Cinar's logo on them (Cinar was the predecessor to today's Cookie Jar Entertainment) and the other team's players wear shirts in the Boston Bruins' colors with Boston-based WGBH's sting logo on them. Subsequent episodes that involve hockey also depict players wearing these sweater designs. Also, in the episode "The Big Blow-Up" in Season 2, a racecar driver wears a jersey with "Cinar" written on it and a car with "WGBH" written on it. In the episode "Prove It" in Season 4, The Brain introduces D.W. to science while watching a non-animated episode of Nova, a science series also produced by WGBH. Brown's son Tolon, for whom Brown first invented the character of Arthur the Aardvark in a bedtime story, is the executive director of the show.[6]

In October 1999,[7] Cinar was investigated for tax fraud. It was revealed that the husband-and-wife chairman Micheline Charest and president Ronald Weinberg invested $122 million (US) into Bahamian bank accounts without the boardmembers' approval. Cinar had also paid American screenwriters for work while continuing to accept Canadian federal grants for content. While the province of Quebec did not file criminal charges, Cinar paid a settlement to Canadian and Quebec tax authorities and Charest and Weinberg were banned from serving in the capacity of directors or officers at any publicly traded Canadian company for five years. During and after the scandal, many of the producers of Arthur left Cinar, including Joe Fallon and Ken Scarborough, the head writers from season 1 to 4.

In season 12, the series began creating and airing episodes in 1080i HD format. Until January 2013 in the U.S., the episodes still aired in the 4:3 aspect ratio, with the left and right sides cropped out. They have since began airing in 16:9 in January 2013. Season 12 also marks for the switching of animation studios from AKOM to ASHK. Starting with season 16, the show is now produced by 9 Story Entertainment and airs in the 16:9 aspect ratio. Along with this change, 9 Story produced a re-mastered opening theme for the show in 16:9.

Music

The TV series' reggae-style theme song, "Believe in Yourself", was written by Judy Henderson and Jerry de Villiers Jr. and was performed by Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers. A remixed techno version of the song has been officially released on the third album and a shortened version has been played during the closing credits for the sixth season. The Backstreet Boys covered the song with the original instrumentals for the ending credits of television special Arthur: It's Only Rock 'n' Roll.

The original music score was produced by Ray Fabi.

In season 2, the song "Crazy Bus", written and performed by then-head writer Joe Fallon, was introduced. It served as the alternate anthem of the television series. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma and jazz composer Joshua Redman covered the song on the ending credits of the season 4 finale episode, My Music Rules. When Joe Fallon left Arthur after season 4, the song was officially retired from the show. The show alluded this fact on the television special Arthur: It's Only Rock 'n' Roll when D.W. says, "Crazy Bus is for babies; I know a million better songs."

Guest stars

Many celebrity guest stars have appeared on the show, each providing the voice for their anthropomorphic animal counterpart, excluding Joan Rivers, who played as Francine's maternal grandmother. Lance Armstrong and Joan Rivers are the only guest stars to make more than one appearance on the series.

Cast and characters

Characters

Arthur and his younger sister D.W. are the main characters of the series. The main supporting characters are Buster, Francine, Muffy, the Brain, Mr. Ratburn, and Arthur's parents. Over the years, the roles of each character have changed as more episodes focused on characters besides Arthur or D.W., most notably Buster, Francine, Muffy, and Binky. Minor supporting characters such as Sue Ellen, George, and Fern have also had expanded roles in the series.

Like The Simpsons, characters in the Arthur series do not age in order to maintain the status quo, although their universe does in parallel to the real world in terms of social and economic state, progression in technology, and influences of popular culture.

Voice cast

Unlike most animated television series, Arthur showcases a wide range of voice actors. Arthur, D.W., Brain, and the Tibble Twins have each had several different actors throughout the seasons due to the producers employing young males for these parts. The resulting effects of voice changes have been particularly criticized by viewers.

Celebrity guests

  • Jack Prelutsky - As himself on the episode "I'm a Poet".
  • Fred Rogers - Mr. Rogers appears as himself in a surprise visit to Elwood City.
  • Art Garfunkel - Garfunkel appears as "the singing moose."
  • Yo-Yo Ma - Ma appears as Redman's rival.
  • Joshua Redman - Redman appears as himself as Francine's uncle.
  • Alex Trebek - Trebek appears as "Alex Lebek" on the episode when Arthur is on a game show.
  • Michelle Kwan - Kwan appears as herself when Francine learns to skate.
  • Backstreet Boys - As themselves in the hour-long special, "Arthur: It's Only Rock 'N' Roll".
  • Larry King - Although King does not appear on the show itself, he interviews the Arthur characters during the interstitial on PBS's telecasts.
  • Tom and Ray Magliozzi - Both appear in the episode "Pick a Car, Any Car" as Click and Clack from the 'Car Talk' radio show.
  • Arthur Ganson - Appears as himself in the episode "Muffy's Art Attack".
  • Koko Taylor - As herself.
  • Taj Mahal - As himself who helps George write music.
  • Frank Gehry - Gehry appears as an architect who helps the gang build the new treehouse.
  • Rodney Gilfry - Appears in the episode "Lights, Camera, Opera".
  • Johnny Damon - Damon appears as a player for the Elwood City Grebes.
  • Edgar Rentería - Also appears in "The Curse of the Grebes" as a player.
  • Mike Timlin - Also appears in "The Curse of the Grebes" as a player.
  • Ming Tsai - Tsai is shown as the judge for a cooking contest at the Lakewood Elementary school.
  • Matt Damon - Damon appears as himself in an episode featuring the creation of the Arthur show.
  • Lance Armstrong - Appears to support a campaign for bike lanes. He appears again to help Francine deal with cancer on "The Great MacGrady".
  • Joan Rivers - Rivers was the voice of Francine's Grandmother, on season 12's "Is That Kosher?" and season 15's "Grandpa Dave's Memory Album"
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman - Appears in "No Acting Please" as Will Toffman.
  • Neil Gaiman - Appeared in "Falafelosophy" as himself.[8]
  • Michael Fincke - Appears in "Buster Spaces Out" as himself, credited as Mike Fincke.
  • Alan Cumming - As the voice of Sebastian Winkleplotz in "Show Off".

Episodes

Each episode of Arthur runs for half an hour. Episodes usually consist of two completely self-contained 11-minute stories. The episodes start off with one of the characters (usually Arthur) speaking towards the audience about a situation within the story followed by the title card. The episodes are separated by a one- to two-minute live-action interstitial called "And Now a Word from Us Kids" (or, in some cases, a permutation of that title more specific to its contents). The live-action segments almost always feature children from elementary schools (generally in the Boston area) presenting subjects they are currently learning about or projects they have been working on in their classes (the subjects covered here relate to the first cartoon segment in the half-hour). This segment is seen exclusively on PBS telecasts of the show, filling space otherwise used for commercials, which are generally forbidden on PBS. There is also a relatively new segment that sometimes appears at the end of the second 11-minute episode called "And Now a Word from Marc Brown" where he shows the viewers how to draw various main characters from the show. In 2007, the show began encouraging viewers to send in "video postcards" (similar to those used in the spin-off show Postcards from Buster), which were shown in the interstitials of episodes until the middle of Season 12. Beginning with Episode 151, the show reverted back "And Now a Word from Us Kids".

Set in a realistic environment (as opposed to the more fantastical settings prominently featured in children's programming), certain episodes of the animated series may not necessarily focus on the titular protagonist's point of view and may instead detail the experiences and viewpoints of surrounding characters, usually Arthur's schoolmates (in some episodes, Arthur himself doesn't even appear). Often such episodes will depict those characters handling situations often faced by children in actuality as a means of guiding audiences through those situations, including bed-wetting, asthma or dyslexia, and Arthur's character sometimes may see a reduced role. In spite of the realistically-designed environment, the series may showcase the fantasies or daydreams of a few characters on a number of occasions, and a multitude of guest stars have made appearances. Later episodes dealt with more serious issues or subjects, such as cancer or Asperger syndrome, albeit numerous episodes may simply address topics including childhood fears, trends or fantasies, although occasionally a couple of episodes might offer very little educational value at all.

Franchise

Television

In addition to the television series, the Arthur franchise has spawned three hour-long movies, which are often run on PBS during pledge drives. The latest, Arthur's Missing Pal, was produced by Mainframe Entertainment and is the first animated Arthur project to make use of three-dimensional computer-generated imagery. [1]. Arthur's success has also led to the spin-off series, Postcards From Buster. Postcards from Buster premiered on October 11, 2004 with several returning characters.

Music albums

Arthur has released three music albums. The first album, Arthur and Friends: The First Almost Real Not Live CD, contained songs that were played throughout the TV series and original songs for the album. The second album, Arthur's Perfect Christmas, contained songs that were played during the television movie of the same title. The third album, Arthur's Really Rockin' Music Mix, contained only original songs, including a remix of the theme song which was played on the credits of season 6 as a promotion for the album.

ActiMates

In 1998, both Arthur and D.W. were made into Microsoft ActiMates, sophisticated toy dolls who could interact with children, with each other, with certain computer software and the Arthur website, and also with the Arthur television show and videos.

Microsoft discontinued the ActiMates line shortly before season 5 aired, most possibly due to a lawsuit pertaining to patent infringement[9] and the fact that sales were dropping. It has been noted that post-season 4 episodes of Arthur have not included any ActiMates code. Newer videos and DVD releases of the show does not carry ActiMates code either. The enhancements on the website were removed when the site was redesigned in 2002 and thus the ActiMates would no longer interact with the website. Likewise, re-releases of the ActiMates software by Creative Wonders do not interact with the ActiMates because the library that controls the PC Pack has been replaced with a dummy library file.

Video games

  • Arthur's Thinking Games: Released in 2001 by The Learning Company, this game has six fun activities that encourage critical thinking and logic.
  • Arthur's Absolutely Fun Day: Mattel Interactive/The Learning Company/Ed Magnin and Associates (GBC): Released between 1998 and 1999, this game has you piloting the head of Arthur throughout a map of part of Elwood City and partaking in minigames so he could go visit the amusement park.
  • Arthur: Ready to Race:Mattel Interactive/The Learning Company (PlayStation): Released between 1999 and 2000, This game has Arthur scouring around for parts to build a cardboard box racer. It consists of mostly minigames which the player partakes to gain parts, although the player is only confined to exploring a small area in Elwood City. The graphics are 3D CGI style with three pre-rendered CGI cutscenes. The voice acting in the game is not done by the original voice actors.
  • Living Books: There were several interactive storybooks in the Living Books series based on Arthur, such as Arthur's Birthday and Arthur's Teacher Trouble.
  • Arthur's Pet Chase: Arthur's first side-scrolling adventure, similar to Super Mario Bros..

Home media releases

Selected episodes were distributed on VHS and DVD by Random House. Each tape had two or three episodes dealing with similar subjects. WGBH Home Video also released two Region 1 Arthur season sets; they released Season 10 on March 25, 2008 and Season 11 was released on September 2, 2008.[10] Seasons 10–14 are available to download on iTunes and Amazon.com. The first three seasons were released over four collections (the second season was split into two volumes) on DVD in Europe only.

DVD Name Ep # Region Release date
Season 1 30 Region 2 April 7, 2008
Season 2 20 Region 2 November 3, 2008
March 23, 2009
Season 3 15 Region 2 August 4, 2009
Season 4 10 Region 2 TBA
Season 5 10 TBA TBA
Season 6 10 TBA TBA
Season 7 10 TBA TBA
Season 8 10 TBA TBA
Season 9 10 TBA TBA
Season 10 10 Region 1 March 25, 2008
Season 11 10 Region 1 September 2, 2008
Season 12 10 TBA TBA
Season 13 10 TBA TBA
Season 14 10 TBA TBA
Season 15 10 TBA TBA

Reception

Awards

The series has been acknowledged with the George Foster Peabody Award and four Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Children's Animated Program. In 2002, TV Guide ranked Arthur Read No. 26 on its list of the "50 Greatest Cartoon Characters of All Time."[11] The show has also won a BAFTA and was nominated for 17 Daytime Emmys.[12]

Critical response

The Arthur home page, www.pbskids.org/arthur/ has been ranked among the best websites in various genres: #12 in Arthur, #485 in Kids, #537 in Children, #3,076 in Authors, #23,542 in English, #32,329 in Education, #40,865 in TV, #71,515 in Games.[13]

The website http://pbskids.org/arthur has been given a rating of 5/5 stars at website common sense media, and has been advised for viewers 5 and up. The site described the show as being, "One of the Internet's best offerings for kids." It however advised that "there are links to PBS sponsors...but other than that, there is no commercial marketing to kids." The review added, "The games are actually teaching your kids something...[for example] The Music Box...combines music and learning, so much so that kids won't even realize that they're figuring out space relations, hand-eye coordination, and mousing skills as they jam along to upbeat tunes."[14]

A review at MommyPR concluded by saying "My boys were able to preview "The Wheel Deal", "The Buster Report", "Falafelosophy" and "The Great Lint Rush". As soon as my boys were finished with these episodses (sic) they begged to watch them again!"[15]

Dad of Divas' Reviews explained that Executive Producer Jacqui Deegan said of the 14th season:

This season, we're hoping to empower our young viewers to go after their goals and dreams. Whether that means becoming a wheelchair basketball champion, or expressing yourself through writing, drawing, and making movies, Arthur and his friends show kids that determination and hard work really pay off...Both Lydia and Neil serve as great role models, and we're excited to have them to reinforce these important lessons for our audiences.[12]

About.com gave the show a rating of 4.5 stars. The series described Arthur's assets:

The Arthur series has won several awards including the George Foster Peabody, and for good reason. Arthur presents issues and situations kids can relate to, and teaches positive behaviors and responses to these issues in a genuine and comical way. The series is fun and engaging to the target age group. Kids will relate to the storylines and characters, and will therefore give thought to the responses the characters demonstrate and outcome of those responses. Because "Arthur" presents real childhood issues, the show contains some imitative behavior such as name calling or bickering, much like children experience in their own lives. Kids might hear words like "sissy" or "stupid" and see Arthur and D.W. argue. Should children mimic some of these phrases or tactics, the show provides a good springboard for parents to talk about the issues with their children and point out the importance of considering others' feelings.

The review continued by citing many ways in which children could extract more from the series, for example by encouraging kids to write stories based on their own families (in much the same way Arthur was first realised) or by Kim Brown, Marc Brown's sister, teaching kids to draw Arthur while on tour.[16]

Popularity with older fans

The Brain, Francine and Arthur animated in the style of South Park, from the episode "The Contest"

Arthur maintains an active young adult fan base, in part because of the show's style. The show regularly incorporates satirical parodies of adult-oriented topics and references to pop culture, including, but not limited to, parodies of South Park, Jeopardy!, The Sopranos, Beavis and Butt-head, the Indiana Jones adventures, the James Bond series of films, The Adventures of Tintin, Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, The Jerry Springer Show, Oprah, Law & Order, Charlie Rose, Antiques Roadshow, Mystery!, The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, Macbeth, and That '70s Show. Many of the references and topics covered are ones with which the target audience most likely would not be familiar. In the episode Desert Island Dish, Francine holds up a cage containing a swallow and then shows a coconut, saying the bird was carrying the coconut, and in Buster Baxter and the Letter from the Sea, Buster writes letters in a bottle to what he believes to be an Atlantean civilization and one of the questions he has is "Do octopuses really have gardens?" These are subtle references to Monty Python and the Holy Grail and the Beatles, respectively, and could likely only be picked up by older audiences.[8] Another example is the episode "Meet Binky", in which Arthur learns that his favorite band Binky is composed of holograms and that their music is actually recorded by two older, unattractive individuals; a reference to the Milli Vanilli scandal, something which the show's intended audience may be unfamiliar with.

The series is also noted for its self-referential humor. In one episode, Arthur's class is unnerved by an impending appearance in the regular mid-episode interstitial of a popular educational program, "The Magic Tool Box", a play-off of the popular children's program The Magic School Bus, which, coincidentally, also aired on PBS. The interstitial is called Let's Talk to Some Kids, a reference to Arthur's own interstitial, And Now a Word from Us Kids, and is presented the same way the And Now a Word from Us Kids is presented—with hand-held "camera work" and children who speak in stilted sentences on the PBS version. Also, there was an episode where the gang wanted to enter a contest sponsored by a cartoon they watched (Andy & Co.) that was very similar to Arthur itself.

The series also features a discernible, complex continuity, which is uncommon in children's cartoons. Although the episodes themselves are not in chronological order (a single episode may have one story that takes place in the winter and another that takes place in the summer), many episodes are rife with references to past events within the series' continuity, in particular D.W.'s missing snowball (for which she blames Arthur) or Buster's cat saving incident; these are often intended to amuse long-time viewers.

References

  1. ^ "9 Story to Co-Produce and Distribute Arthur". 
  2. ^ "9 Story Entertainment". 
  3. ^ "PBS Kids web site". 
  4. ^ "Arthur Facts". 
  5. ^ Salamon, Julie (November 23, 2000). "TELEVISION REVIEW; Aardvark And Pals Celebrate". The New York Times. 
  6. ^ Churnin, Nancy (April 12, 2012). "Arthur creator Marc Brown brings his new work to the DMA's BooksmArt". Dallas News. Retrieved 30 October 2012. 
  7. ^ Kilmer, David. "Cinar investigated for tax fraud". Animation World Network. Retrieved 2011-08-05. 
  8. ^ a b Booth, John (February 4, 2010). "Neil Gaiman and Ten More Reasons Arthur is a Geeklet Icon". Geek Dad. 
  9. ^ "PBS Kids". 
  10. ^ "Arthur - Season 11 DVD Information | TVShowsonDVD.com". Archived from the original on 27 August 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-27. 
  11. ^ "About the Program". PBS Kids. Archived from the original on 27 August 2007. Retrieved 2007-09-11. 
  12. ^ a b Dad of Divas (2010-09-15). "ARTHUR Premieres Season 14 on PBS KIDS GO!". Dad of Divas' Review. Retrieved 2011-01-02. 
  13. ^ "Arthur | PBS Kids". Retrieved 2011-12-17. 
  14. ^ "Arthur". common sense media. Retrieved 2011-01-02. 
  15. ^ M, Andrea (2010-08-04). "ARTHUR Premieres Season 14 on PBS KIDS GO! Review". MommyPR. Retrieved 2011-01-02. 
  16. ^ Bryson, Carey. ""Arthur" TV Show Review". Retrieved 2011-01-02. 

External links