Teddy P. Brains: helping kids wise up

Education

December 02, 2007|By Joe Burris | Joe Burris,SUN REPORTER

Teddy P. Brains doesn't wear baggy jeans that droop below his waistline. Nor does he sass his elders, make trouble for his teachers or speak in slang-laced broken English.

However, the 6-year-old African-American animated cartoon character does talk of being a marine biologist when he grows up. He's the valedictorian of his elementary school, where his favorite subject is math, and he enjoys traveling to exotic lands.

Your child could learn much from him.

Or at least that's the hope of Philadelphia-area video producers Eugene Haynes and Joseph L. Lewis III, creators of the DVD The Adventures of Teddy P. Brains, which was released in April.

Both fathers of young children, the former TV executives say they've been disturbed by the dearth of quality children's programming on television. Most children's programming, they say, is lacking in substance and scarcely educational.

"The quality of television content for kids is mediocre at best, on average," said Haynes, a former production and acquisitions director.

He and Lewis, a former producer for projects that have aired on NBC, Bravo and PBS, began working on the DVD project five years ago.

"We felt that we had an opportunity, based on the timing in our lives and our expertise, to add something to the marketplace that was a refreshing change," Hayes said.

They decided to create a character who they believe many kids could relate to, one with an ordinary background whose joy for learning paves the way for adventure.

Teddy lives in the make-believe town of Metroville with his mom, Belinda, a professional basketball player, and his dad, Dexter, a jazz musician.

Teddy is a bald young man who wears rim eyeglasses with no stems and dresses in many different outfits, including his graduation cap and gown. He's well-mannered, energetic and curious. He spends much of his time with his sassy cousin, Tempest Wits.

After Teddy graduates from kindergarten, his parents give him a magic diploma. With a wave of the paper scroll, a spaceship appears and transports Teddy and Tempest to faraway climes.

The adventure takes Teddy and Tempest through a South American rain forest. There they learn that rain forests around the world receive anywhere from 100 inches to 450 inches of annual rainfall and that they support more than half of Earth's animal life.

They also learn that rain forests are rapidly shrinking because of tree cutting for development. The two plant cocoa beans to help reforest an area.

"Teddy P. Brains is culturally interesting," said Dr. Angela M. Nelson, chair of the popular culture department at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. "By making [Teddy's] mom a basketball player, the series ... speaks to what black women are able to do now with national basketball leagues for women. The series honors the past by making the dad a jazz musician. It seems to be responding to 21st-century African-Americans as well as honoring African-American history."

Aimed at children ages 5 to 8, The Adventures of Teddy P. Brains is about 56 minutes long. It features three-dimensional animation that is similar to imagery seen on Web sites, as well as real-life footage of rain forests.

"You remember Encyclopedia Brown? This is the same concept," said Haynes, referring to the fictional book series in the 1960s that featured a brilliant boy detective. "We've given an introduction to the rain forest so kids can make the connection that they should be global citizens."

He and Lewis have shown the DVD in elementary schools in New York and Pennsylvania, and they say the response has been favorable.

So much so, they say, that no child has raised questions about the lead character's name, including whether it sounds too much like "pea brain," which refers to someone who is stupid or foolish.

Lewis said that "pea brain" was popular with children years ago, but nowadays you rarely hear it, and most kids aren't familiar with it.

He added: "We figured that so many kids are being defined by their external environment that we wanted to create a character that would make them think, `Don't allow anything to define you; you have our own ability and creativity.' "

joseph.burris@baltsun.com

The Teddy P. Brains DVD, which sells for $19.95, can be purchased at teddypbrainstv.com, amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Circuit City, Best Buy, Blockbuster and Netflix.

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