Negative NimbusThis weekend is here, and if you have some car travel or down time ahead, I have the perfect new app for you and your family. Boston-based, Emmy-nominated studio CloudKid has officially launched their first game for the iOS platform,Negative Nimbus. Those familiar with the work of CloudKid (“Fizzy’s Lunch Lab”) should expect the same candy-colored, bold and innovative design – priced at only $.99.

Already awarded “best visual and design” at the Boston Festival of Indie Games, “Negative Nimbus” focuses on a lovable and grouchy rain-cloud as he makes his way through the brightly colored Sunnyland. Players tap, swipe and pinch their way through different levels, trying to water flowers while avoiding  the quirky characters that populate the sunshiny land CloudKid has created.  The game includes unlockable achievements to keep players engaged, including comics, accessories and badges.

The visuals in this app truly speak for themselves, with a few samples below.

Negative Nimbus is available for the iPad and will hit the iPhone in November 2012.

 

Merry Meadow

Mean Streets

Volcano Isle

It’s the season of the witch, and we have been playing our Halloween music and watching our Halloween films since mid-September.  We have already rolled out our yearly music playlist, and are ready to follow up with some more ways to get your kid-friendly scares on this Halloween.

“The Grand Scream of Things” by Andy ZListen To: “The Grand Scream of Things” by Andy Z

Award-winning kids’ musician Andy Z has just released an ambitious musical audio play for kids 8-12 called “The Grand Scream of Things.” The 66-minute music adventure takes listeners on a Halloween day journey with protagonist Andy, his dog Reggie,  his buddy Danger Dude and Pleadia, a teenage alien and potential romantic interest for Andie. Interspersed through this “old time radio show” style adventure are stand-alone songs that span the punk, hip-hop, pop and hip-hop genre. Guest kid musicians like Paula Messner (Candy Band) and RhymeZwell show up while production is handled by Grammy-nominated producer Tor Hyams

Bonus Mention: Children’s musician David Tobocman is offering a free Halloween song download called “Spooky Stuff.” This tune was written by David’s 1st grade daughter Zoe.

PlayPeekaboo Trick or Treat with Ed Emberley.
Peekaboo Trick or Treat with Ed Emberley
We are long-time fans of Night & Day Studios’ Peekaboo brand of apps. Each release brings unique artwork and new tricks to their trademark line of  apps  featuring animals and objects popping out and surprising toddlers and babies. For Halloween, Night & Day enlists the talent of Caldecott award-winning author and illustrator, Ed Emberley (“Go Away, Big Green Monster!”) to create kid-safe interpretations of Halloween mainstays like witches, werewolves, bats and ghosts. In “Peekaboo Trick or Treat,” little ones tap on the  colorful “haunted house” and are greeted by a rotating cast of 14 characters with silly sound effects.  A simple app with inspired illustrations that allows even the youngest ones to celebrate the season without getting too scared.
 
Watch: The Worst Witch

The Worst Witch

The Worst Witch introduced the young, fledgling witch/wizard-in-the-making story years before Harry Potter entered pop culture history books. Based on the book series of the same name,  this made-for-TV production focuses on central character Mildred Hubble as she tries to find her way at Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches. Along the way she deals with bullies, botched spells, evil witches and a meeting with the honored Grand Wizard. While the special effects are slightly dated, the movie’s central themes are ageless, as Mildred overcomes obstacles both realistic and supernatural to become the school’s superstar student. Adult viewers: come for the retro charm, stay for the positive message, and come back again for Tim Curry’s hammy performance as The Grand Wizard and his musical number “Anything Can Happen on Halloween.”

Bonus Mention: Scholastic Storybook Treasures: A Very Brave Witch…and more Halloween Stories.  Eight classic kid’s books are brought to life in this Halloween-themed edition of the Scholastic Storybook Treasures series. For parents who prefer a mellower, literary approach to television viewing, this a great option.  Most of the stories in this DVD compilation are filmed books with simple camera pans, celebrity narration and optional onscreen read-along.

Go & Do: PhilharMONSTER! @ The Peter Norton Symphony Space in NYC

Lucky NYC-ers can go to this special one-off Halloween show on Sun, Oct 28 at 4 pm.  The young musicians of the InterSchool Orchestras of New York’s Carnegie Hill Orchestra (ages 8 to 12) and ISO Symphony (ages 12 to 19) will perform horror-themed orchestral classics to get into the spirit of the season. All players will be dressed for the holiday, with a special Ghost Conductor.

HallowilloweenBonus Mention: Be sure to check out musician Alastair Moock’s “Slightly Scary Spectacular” concerts at Jammin Java (Saturday, October 27, 10:30 am) and 92Y Tribeca NY (Sunday, October 28, 11 am).

Read: “Hallowilloween: Nefarious Silliness” by Calef Brown 

Artist/poet Calef Brown could be described as a modern-day Dr Seuss, with an edgy folk-art touch. He has even inspired an album based on his previous books. “Hallowilloween” features Calef’s trademark ridiculous rhymes, this time themed around his own brand of monsters. Meet the baseball “Vumpire,” shunken head Duncan, the brain-eating “Oompachupa Loompacabra”  and the cowgirl “Witches of Texas.” Age appropriately morbid, Calef Brown’s poems are humorous enough to circumnavigate any nasty nightmares.

Bonus Mention: “Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #1: Professor Gargoyle”  by Charles Gilman. A novel for tweens that references the king of horror and “speculative fiction.” Yes please! “Tales from Lovecraft Middle School” tells the story of twelve-year-old Robert Arthur as he navigates his way through a middle school filled with mysterious passages,  Lovecraftian beasts, and teachers that are never who they appear to be.

“Daddy, can we watch the white box?”  This has become a commonplace expression around these parts since the intro of the Ameba. The Ameba system is new kid-centric set-top box, where parents pay a subscription fee to access kids’ programming.  Programs are selected at the official Ameba site and then sent directly to the bright white box. Featuring a kid-friendly remote control, the system also allows for multiple profiles customizable to each child.

Ameba LogoAs for the content itself, the programming on the Ameba comes from high quality production houses like Decode Entertainment, Breakthrough New Media, and Marble Media. That being said, you will have to dig for new programs that suit your child’s interest, as you will not find Wubbzy, Brobee or Elmo on Ameba. However, there is no shortage of as-you want-it original and intriguing programming that educates as much as it entertains. Some of our instant favorites included the ballet-themed preschool show The Toy Castle and adventure travel show A World of Wonders.

Ameba Consile
The actual console

The question, of course, is the long term viability for a product like this. In an AppleTV, On-Demand, Hulu, Netflix Watch Instantly world, can Ameba find its footing? It depends. First off, while the original and indie content is a huge plus, I think it will need to balance it with headline content to attract buy-in from parents who aren’t willing to take the first step without a name brand. There is also the hardware question. Are families willing to stack another hardware in their entertainment console? Personally, I am less concerned about this. Maia looked at it as her own little cable box – a toybox of sorts,  filled with her very own stuff that Mommy and Daddy won’t want to play with.

I look forward to following the progress of this Ameba, and hopefully, its success. It is a commendable effort that a company is working to create a kid-centric content library and set-top box. While they certainly have some hurdles and indirect competition, I hope parents will learn about this service and give it a whirl knowing they can trust the content and its source.

(For a deeper dive into the tech features, check out Daddy Forever’s review.)

With Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign putting the spotlight on childhood obesity, it is more relevant than ever to find content for kids that encourages healthy eating, but does so without preaching. That’s where the original interactive web property Fizzy’s Lunch Lab from PBS KIDS GO! fits in.

Visiting Fizzy’s Lunch Lab (PBSKIDSGO.org/lunchlab) allows for a chance to find animated and live-action webisodes, kid-friendly printable recipes, original music, flash games and suggestions for outdoor game concepts. All content is built around the idea of guiding children towards make healthy food selections without forcing or lecturing.

Of course, the heart of Fizzy’s Lunch Lab is the original characters and their unique design. Created by Boston creative group CloudKid, Fizzy’s Lunch Lab stars Professor Fizzy, the absent-minded and humorous host who is always there to educate about nutrition, cooking and good health. Fizzy is joined by a cast of animated personalities that includes his culinary sidekick Mixie-Bot, the official guide to human body, Sully the Cell, the kitchen drill sergeant Corporal Cup and nemesis to all things healthy, Fast Food Freddy. Fizzy’s absent-mindedness, and Freddy’s trouble-making, lead to various misadventures, while human characters like Avril and Henry explore fun facts around healthy food.

Fizzy and the Gang
Fizzy and the Gang

As a parent, you will definitely appreciate the humor and look of this series. It is certainly not preachy and the artwork has a distinctive, edgy sense that takes away any sort of pandering. Humor is the core of this series, which will help the message resonate with the little ones. You can also feel secure knowing CloudKid worked with education advisors Dr. Craig Sussman and Dr. Sharon Shield in building out all content. Make sure you try out some of the delicious recipes, too, developed by veteran cookbook writer Sally Sampson. Finally, there is also a guide for parents and teachers with additional resources and activities to push kids along further in choosing healthy food items.

With season 2 kicking off last week, Fizzy’s Lunch Lab co-creator Dave Schlafman was kind enough to let me throw a few questions at him regarding this original web property. If his name sounds familiar, he is the same creative mastermind behind the Monster Squad illustrations.

Nugget Island: Can you give me a quick idea about the origins of Fizzy? How did this property come to be?

Dave Schlafman: In 2007, Co-creator Evan Sussman and I were working at Soup2Nuts animation studio in Boston. He and I had just co-directed a series of shorts for Between the Lions and we realized that we worked well together. One morning before work, I mentioned to him that I had always been underwhelmed by children’s cook books, and that I wanted to create a cooking show for kids. He told me that his dad (Dr. Craig Sussman) had been trying to work on a live-action nutrition project, but hadn’t made much progress. We saw the need for both ideas, and decided to combine our efforts. Later that week, we met at JP Licks in Boston and created 90% of the characters in one sitting. It’s funny to think about how quickly it all came together. We were offered a development deal from WGBH Boston and ultimately passed to produce a pilot on our own. That pilot ultimately fell into the hands of Linda Simensky at PBS and the rest is history.

FAST FOOD FREDDY
“Bad Guy” Fast Food Freddy

N.I.: What was your creative inspiration for Fizzy and the gang?

D.S.: Evan and I both loved Pee-Wee’s Playhouse as kids, so I would say that format definitely influenced us. Fizzy was first an older man, but we decided to make him a younger, more current host who was both a little geeky and fun at the same time. Overall, we wanted to populate the show with lots of characters (similar to the Muppets) who each had a unique personality and offered something unique to the topic of nutrition and good eats.

N.I.: Did PBS give you any creative direction?

D.S.: PBS has been an amazing organization to work with. We’ve been fortunate to work directly with PBS National, and they have a lot of confidence in their creators and producers. They didn’t have too many changes during development. The main alteration that they suggested was to revamp the personality and design of Mixie-Bot, Fizzy’s sidekick. It was a great suggestion that made her character, design, and purpose more solid. PBS is fairly hands-off, but they review all our content and offer feedback throughout production, which 99% of the time is spot-on.

N.I.: What are the main advantages and disadvantages of working on a web property?

D.S.: The main advantages are that you can take creative risks and you can measure what content is getting the most “clicks.” We’ve been able to experiment with everything from music videos, to printables, to recipe offerings, to interactive games. It enables us to think about the characters and property in a more well-rounded way. It enables the characters to be able to live in a series of different content while staying true to their roles and personalities. If the Lunch Lab is able to grow, it’ll enable us to make the leap to other mediums a lot easier.

Also, being able to measure our audience’s habits has helped us determine what type of content we wanted to focus on for season 2. After season 1, we looked at the site’s stats and determined that the webisodes, music videos, and interactive games were the most popular. We took that information and focused on that particular content. We also decided to sprinkle in some new types of content to “test” for season 2. This is much harder to do on a traditional TV show.

The main disadvantages of working on a web property are twofold: budget and distribution. Budgets are always shrinking, so it’s something every producer is struggling with – especially because websites and games are costly to produce. Working on the web, you’re we’re forced to be really creative with the type of content you release. It’s been interesting (and fun) to see how far we can stretch our budgets and content. No one has really figured out how to monetize web content, so it’s something that web producers will need to deal with for the foreseeable future.

In terms of distribution and marketing, we’re lucky to work with PBS because their web presence is tops in children’s media. But the web is filled with an endless amount of content, video, games, etc. In TV you’re only competing against a handful of other channels (though VOD is changing that), but with a website you have thousands of competitors. That means your content needs to be the very best, so that’s what we try to strive for. If our web content is as good as what you’ll see on TV, kids will be more likely to stick around. So far it’s worked.

N.I.: Obviously childhood obesity is in the spotlight these days because of Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign. Where do you see Fizzy fitting in there?

D.S.: We’d love to be involved with the “Let’s Move” campaign. Our educational advisor and PhD, Sharon Shields, has been laying the foundation of a possible collaboration with the White House. PBS has also been making some headway, so Evan and I are hopeful that Fizzy will play some role in the coming year. Our fingers are crossed.

N.I.: Any future plans for the ‘Fizzy’ property?

D.S.: The big news for 2011 is that we’re currently producing a series of 30 second spots that will run nationally before and after PBS Kids shows. They’re designed to introduce the ‘Lunch Lab’ cast to the PBS audience and grow the site’s popularity. We also recently released our first iPhone App featuring Corporal Cup and nine original recipes. The app is a cooking-simulation game that’s been getting positive reviews. Finally, we just received the news that Fizzy’s was part of PBS’s “Ready to Learn” grant. We know that we’ll be getting additional funding, but we’re not quite sure what that means. It’s safe to safe Fizzy and company will be around for the foreseeable future, which we’re excited about.

We have just come back from what has been established as an American tradition: the first family trip to Disney World. Unlike a recent “adult trip” we took, where the main objective was to get our FastPasses for the most intense rides possible, this time we had one “necessary” goal: meet all the Disney Princesses. Princess-mania has been in our house for over a year now, and Disney was as much about Mickey and the rides as it was about Cinderella and crew.

My wife, in-laws and aunt made it a mini-game to become Princess “completists,” getting all the signatures and photos of the faux royalty for Maia’s little book.  Be it top-tier princesses like Snow White and Sleeping Beauty or the more recently crowned like Tiana and Mulan, we were going to make it happen.

Maia had the time of her life, in awe of the in-person appearances of her cartoon heroes and barely able to eat at a Princess breakfast in the castle. She seemed not to notice that the actors changed every time she saw them and had no problem standing in line or searching far and wide to seek out hard-to-find characters like Mulan. While some characters were questionable in live-action form, others looked like Enchanted-style princesses, ripped from their cartoon settings to appear in person at Disney World.

We didn’t have to work as hard as I thought to complete the safari. We left Walt Disney World sweaty, tired but successful in our quest. The autograph tent in Mickey’s Toon Town made some of this easy, as did the breakfast in Cinderella’s castle. The less popular characters took a bit of searching, but we used logic (Pocahontas in the forests of Animal Kingdom, Mulan in Epcot’s China) and all were found on the first try. And, for the most part, the actors did an amazing job capturing the look and feel of the character.

Check out our personal “Princess safari” below and let us know what you think. Does Disney deliver the costumed character goods?

Snow White at Disney
Snow White: The O.G. Princess
Pocohontas
Pocahontas, at one with the costumed animals
SleepingBeauty
Sleeping Beauty, wide awake for photo opps
The Little Mermaid
Ariel sans fins
Princess Tiana
The new kids in town: Princess Tiana and Prince Naveen
Cinderella
Cinderella, ready to face those autograph hounds
Aladdin and Jasmine
Aladdin and Jasmine, properly dressed for the heat
Belle
Beauty and the Belle
Mulan
Mulan, the buried treasure of Epcot