The award-winning children’s program, “Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks” is currently running locally on PBS Kids on WNET Channel 13 and WLIW Channel 21 in New York, and across the country on public television stations. The show also airs in over 55 countries across the globe, including as far away as Australia, and of course, Ireland.
With so many cartoons and television shows vying for children’s attention, what has made this series so universally appealing? Initially, the idea for this unique program came from the mind of Irish woman Denise Fitzgerald.
Her rural Irish upbringing and her childhood memories sowed the seeds for a pilot that was eventually turned into this educational children’s program.
The show came to be when Entara Ltd., a fledgling children’s programming company, took Denise’s concept and brought it to Mike Young Productions in Los Angeles (of “Clifford the Big Red Dog” fame) with the idea of a making a series about a very delightful and beguiling pig named Jakers.
Both companies went on to develop the storyline around this character and the idea of Raloo Farm, and the rural community of Tara was born. Many of the settings come directly from Mike Young’s own recollection of growing up on a farm in Wales, and much of the computer graphics are done by animators in India, which lends a truly international flavor to the show.
The Indian contingent went to Ireland to see exactly the nature and landscape of the country so that they could recreate the scenes with authenticity. Luckily, they’ve nailed it – right down to Jakers’ Aran sweater and Wellington boots.
Shot in hi-definition 3D CGI animation, the clarity and natural movement of the characters is apparent, and the show has already garnered four Emmys and a BAFTA award to its credit.
At home on the farm
Set on the fictional Raloo Farm in the village of Tara in the 1950s, the show revolves around Grandpa Piggley and the retelling of stories from his youth. He is the elder family member of a typical busy American household.
His grandchildren are drawn to his childhood recollections and get to relive the stories through his eyes. In each episode, he recounts tales traveling back in time to the comical adventures of young Piggley Winks, surrounded by his best friends Ferny (a young bull with a Spanish speaking father) and Dannan (a girl duck).
“Jakers!” also offers children the chance to resolve the dilemmas he or she might face in real life. For example in a recent episode, Piggley goes to great lengths to protect his friend Ferny from an embarrassing photograph he has taken – showing the lesson being to look out for your friends!
The show begins and ends with Grandpa Piggley talking to his grandchildren. The program makers were keen to highlight the intergenerational aspect of the show — providing an opportunity for bridge building between children and their grandparents or caregivers.
Storytelling has been proven to have tangible benefits for kids. Iris Sroka, an education expert, says that when children are exposed to storytelling “they tend to have advanced vocabularies, longer attention spans and more fluency in writing.”
Each episode features an interstitial or live-action film in which real children tell their own tales. The “Giggly Piggley” icon pops up on screen from time to time, letting viewers know they can visit the PBS Kids website at www.pbskids.org/jakers, for special surprises and online activities.
Families are encouraged to talk about the show and share their own problem-solving skills and caregivers may access program and education guides on the web.
The voices of the characters in the show reads like a who’s who from the animation world, with voices from “Rugrats — The Movie,” “Powerpuff Girls,” “King of the Hill” and “Spongebob Squarepants,” just to name just a few.
Most of the characters speak with Irish accents, with the addition of a few celebrities. Irish actor Peadar Lamb is the voice of Grandpa Piggley, and Wylie the Sheep is voiced by none other than Mel Brooks, who was delighted to be involved in the program.
Brooks said that he was well known for his Broadway shows and his movies but his grandchildren were not old enough to enjoy much of his adult material. So he was pleased with the prospect of getting involved with “Jakers!” as a way to showcase his talents to them. Needless to say, Wylie provides much of the comical relief on the show.
Other well-known voices that will be featured in forthcoming episodes include comedienne Joan Rivers and author Frank McCourt. McCourt will play the part of Mr. McHoof, a substitute teacher when Mr. Hornsby, the regular teacher, takes a break.
“Jakers!” is unique in that it fosters the unique bond between grandparents and children. Each episode encourages children to explore their heritage — hopefully with a favorite grandparent, and the live action/documentary part of the show features kids from all over the world, singing a song, performing a native dance or telling a favorite story from their own cultural perspective.
A recent episode also featured Tom Kenny, a comedian from the hit HBO show “Mr. Show with Bob and David” as a storyteller recounting tales in many different character styles.
The show’s third series, which has 12 brand new 22-minute episodes, is currently in production and will air in September 2006.
If you haven’t already tuned in, pull up a chair, relax and join the millions of other adults and children around the world who are being charmed and educated by this little Irish porker.