“Toys that come to life” is an ever-present theme in movies, books, videogames, and TV shows. Disney has taken advantage of the many creative opportunities this idea presents with The Toy Story movies, Winnie the Pooh, and Pinocchio. Following in these footsteps, the Mouse has added a half-hour children’s TV show to their Disney Junior block called Doc McStuffins about a little black girl who nurses her toys back to prime working condition. In the premiere episode, the Doc and her friend are playing dress-up with dolls and a pair of jack-in-the-boxes aptly named Little Jack and Big Jack. Little Jack is not jumping out of his box at a startling pace, which earns him a visit to a state-of-the-art medical playhouse complete with surgery, puzzle block floor, waiting room, aquarium, tool bench, and ICU. Hopefully, Little Jack’s HMO will cover the costs. Once Doc steps into the playhouse she is greeted by her bevy of toy friends that magically come to life with a sprinkle of fairy dust or magic—it is something sparkly. The main toy friends are sweet Lambie in a pink skirt and bow, Hallie a candy-striper hippo, Stuffy a blue dragon, a purple fish who squeaks, and Chilly the hypochondriac stuffed snowman. The main premise is Little Jack is afraid of getting a check-up; Doc and Big Jack help build his confidence with a prerequisite song and Big Jack getting a check-up first.
The second part features Doc and her little brother Donny prepping for a big race with toy cars. Donny expects to beat his sister hands down with Ricardo the fastest race car ever, but something goes wrong. Indignant that his older sister bet him, Donny vows never to race again and Doc whisks the famous toy car to her office. Ricardo is what would happen if Lightening McQueen and Francesco Bernoulli were taken to a chop shop and reassembled—he has Lightning’s body and paint job and Francesco’s foreign accent. He can’t rationalize why he can’t go as fast as he used to. Using the power of observation, Doc runs a few tests to figure out what’s wrong with Ricardo, even though he thinks his racing career is over–such melodrama from a boy and his toy car. There is another song and Doc diagnoses that Ricardo needs to be recharged. The lesson learned is sleeping is a good way to restore/recharge your energy levels.
Doc McStuffins is a fun and educational show that doesn’t pander to kids. Okay, maybe it does in some ways with the simplistic story plots, songs, and the over dramatization with Donny and Ricardo, but what a toddler doesn’t think the world will end when trouble appears? These are characteristics of practically ever children’s cartoon, so let’s focus on what makes Doc McStuffins different. At the top of the list is the semi-blurred line between pretend and real life. Doc’s mother is a real doctor and our main character is mirroring her mother by healing her toys. Her toys also “go stuffed” in the presence of adults or other children, but hey quickly come alive again when a back is turned. A simple blurring of the imagination lines, but it makes the series all the more charming. Doc also breaks new ground by pretending to be a medical professional. I cannot think of any kid shows that feature a child dispersing medical advice (Lucy from Peanuts doesn’t really count because her advice didn’t really help poor Charlie Brown). Among other things Doc teaches life lessons and simple science procedures when she examines her patients. She does give her patient aliments’ names that describe the cause and ends it with “itis,” not too original but it can be forgiven. At the end of the episode, she offers health tips such as washing hands to ward off germs, which is good advice for kids since their hands are always sticky, dirty, or gunky. Some people can interpret Doc McStuffins as a channel to push healthy living habits on the young viewers, but it’s not being shoved down their throats. The stuffed animal friends are cute, but their personalities don’t come out much in the first episode. As there are a lot of them, it will take time for the characters to develop and carve out a niche in viewer’s hearts.
The animators did an amazing job on an animated preschool show! The toys and characters aren’t perfectly plastic, instead hey have softer edges with scuffs, dings, dents, and textured fabrics. They took the time to add details to a genre saturated in CGI balloons. The characters’ movement is also very fluid with strict attention paid to how Doc’s stuffed friends walk about, each character is given their own individual gaits based on where the stuffing lays. For example, Stuffy the Dragon bounces when walks as the bulk of his polyester fiber filling is concentrated in the middle and Chilly the Snowman shuffles from side to side because he doesn’t have legs. There are some faults with the shading and the backgrounds are flat, but they’re not too noticeable.
Doc McStuffins is the first show Disney commissioned for the new Disney Junior block (name possibly stolen from a former line-up called Nick Jr.?). It is original for having the main character be a doctor and concentrating on health and wellness. Doc is a great, positive girl, but we don’t know much about her menagerie. The show has set itself up for a long run and it appeals not only kids, but adults as well.