The newest Netflix series, “Puffin Rock” is full of action, suspense and topicality. A valuable cargo is hauled across a beach under a ticking deadline. The story’s heroine disappears, and her father sets out to find her. The whole cast gathers to take in the supermoon.
These aren’t Florida drug dealers or Colombian gangsters, however. The cargo is the egg of a guillemot (a North Atlantic seabird) that’s about to hatch. The heroine is an adorable young puffin named Oona. And the crowd gathered on the beach to look at the moon includes Otto the owl, Silky the seal and Mossy the pygmy shrew.
While the streaming-video giants Netflix and Amazon draw the attention of adults with provocative dramas like “Narcos” and “Transparent,” they are simultaneously cultivating a less prominent but still important market - very young children. The preschool series “Puffin Rock” (from the makers of the award-winning Irish animated films “The Secret of Kells” and “Song of the Sea”) joins Netflix’s roster of original children’s shows a few weeks after Netflix added the DreamWorks Animation show “Dinotrux.” Amazon recently posted the first season of a preschool series, “Wishenpoof,” and put up six new pilots for children’s shows in June.
The new series cover a range of styles. “Wishenpoof,” created by Angela C. Santomero, a producer and writer for “Blue’s Clues,” “Super Why” and “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood,” is bright, peppy and in your face, with its doll-like 3-D characters looming in front of flat painted backdrops. The heroine, Bianca, is a girl with huge Keane-like eyes - ever so slightly creepy - who can grant wishes, turning her bedroom into a mermaid’s lair or her yard into a jungle. There she and her teddy bear companion have mildly surrealist adventures and Bianca sings upbeat, educational songs, including a tribute to the value of paying attention to others called “Listen Up.”
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“Dinotrux” is a noisier, more comical and pop-culture-savvy show that combines elements of the “Transformers” and “Ice Age” movies. Its prehistoric characters, living in an isolated ravine, are part dinosaur, part mechanical - in some cases a mixture of animal and vehicle, and in other, more inventive cases a mash-up of reptile and everyday object, as in a triceratops-like creature whose head is a crescent wrench.
The most interesting of the new shows (for adults, in any case) is “Puffin Rock,” It’s a deceptively gentle, quiet, small-scale affair with a sharp, winking sense of humor and a simple but distinctive look - a scaled-down, fuzzier version of the pictorial beauty of “Kells” and “Song of the Sea,” drawn from Celtic art and mythology.
What really sets “Puffin Rock” apart, though, is the instantly recognizable voice of the Irish actor Chris O’Dowd, who supplies the show’s narration in the mock-hearty, self-congratulatory style familiar from his wonderful sitcom “Moone Boy.” (The Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon, which is behind “Puffin Rock” and the earlier films, also provided the pulsating animated sequences for “Moone Boy.”)
It’s hard to guess how O’Dowd’s sly tone and goofy asides will play for 3- or 4-year-olds, but any parents pressed into watching the show will notice and perhaps appreciate them. Describing an excited flock of owls, he says, “You could say they’re having a hoot” and chuckles loudly at his own pun. When a curious sea gull swoops down toward Oona, he yells, “Duck!,” then adds, “Or shall I say ‘sea gull’?” and again can’t help being impressed by his own wit: “Ah, that’s good.”