It's been 11 years since PBS aired the last original episode of the beloved children's series Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, and on Monday, a new group of animated residents settled into the neighborhood. Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, a semi-sequel to Fred Rogers' long-running series, is intended to introduce Rogers' world to a new generation of children. (Watch a video sample below.) Producers reportedly spent six years developing the show, eventually deciding to create an animated series based around the children of Rogers' puppet characters from the original show. Does Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood live up to the legacy of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood? Here, five talking points on this new cartoon:
1. The new show constantly nods to Mister Rogers
Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood "has the built-in advantage of nostalgia," says Rob Owen of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The show opens with the original series' theme song, "It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood," which plays as Daniel is "putting on a red cardigan sweater and lacing up his sneakers, just like Mr. Rogers used to do on his 1968-2001 PBS series." Even Daniel Tiger's origin can be traced to Mister Rogers Neighborhood: The character is the son of Daniel Striped Tiger, a puppet character frequently used by Fred Rogers.
2. But Daniel Tiger is aimed at very young children
Mister Rogers' Neighborhood had "a broader audience in mind" than Daniel Tiger, says Elizabeth Jensen at The New York Times. While Fred Rogers had a certain appeal even for slightly older kids, the simple new show is clearly targeted at a "narrow demographic" of children ages 2 to 4. Each episode features two "thematically tied stories" that teach life lessons about emotions like "separation anxiety, fear, waiting, and empathy", and uses original songs and fantasy sequences to "drive the themes home." Don't expect your 8-year-old to enjoy it.
3. It captures the spirit of Mr. Rogers' work
"Mr. Rogers would approve," says David Wiegand of the San Francisco Chronicle, of Daniel Tiger's "valid attempt to replicate the gentle mix of fundamental education with engaging stories and characters." The series manages to balance a respect for Fred Rogers' distinctive approach to children's television with concessions to the preferences of a 21st-century preschool audience, for which "colorful animation is more effective" than "an oversize train set and a group of hand puppets."
4. Mrs. Rogers is a fan
Before Fred Rogers passed away in 2003, he had been quietly searching for "someone who could take over the program," his widow Joanne Rogers tells The New York Times. Though Fred Rogers' search for a human replacement proved unsuccessful, Mrs. Rogers believes that the animated Daniel Tiger's Playground successfully carries on "Fred's philosophy," and that young kids will really like it.
5. But let's be honest: It's still no Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood
"There's a difference between being simple and being simplistic," says Ken Tucker at Entertainment Weekly, and Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood is the latter. The new show has less in common with its beloved predecessor than with other contemporary shows aimed at preschoolers: it's "brightly-colored, always in hectic motion, always careful to spell out every theme and emotion slooooowly." It may be good enough to entertain young children, but it's not, as Daniel Tiger is prone to saying, "Grrrr-ific!"