In a previous post, I made it pretty clear that we absolutely love Olivia in our house. And, based on my previous iTouch/iPhone app reviews, we also love our technology. So when the two combine, it is perfect multimedia enjoyment.

When I was given a promo code to download the new Olivia Paints app, I surprised Maia and loaded it up without telling her. She reacted with her trademark dramatic delight when seeing that her favorite pig had her very own app. Funny enough, Maia has also taken an interest in color creation lately – mixing different shade combinations to create new ones. Outside of promoting the Olivia brand, this is at the heart of this cute new app.

Olivia Paints hits the iTunes app store today and allows preschoolers to color virtual stickers with a brush and pallet and then place them on different backgrounds. The backgrounds will be familiar to those who watch Olivia on Nick Jr, as will the voice of the narrator used in the app. For $2.99, this app is worth it for Olivia fans, but also for any creative kid.

For us adults: To celebrate the launch of the Olivia app, developer Soma Creates is giving away an iPad with some Olivia goods. All the details on how to win are here.

Click here to download Olivia Paints.

Oliva the App
Olivia takes center stage in new app

Last year, I lamented about the lack of an on-air home for preschool series Pocoyo. Winner of a BAFTA award, three Pucinella Prizes at Cartoons on the Bay and the Best TV Series prize at Annecy, I questioned its nearly-invisible status in the United States.

Pocoyo Well, it looks like the wise folks at Nick Jr. got wind of this property and are  following the lead of 100 other territories worldwide. Nick Jr. is now airing this series as interstitials, bringing the quirky tales of Pocoyo and his animal friends to preschoolers on our side of the ocean.

Of course, this will be followed by an extensive toy line featuring characters Pocoyo, Elly the elephant, Pato the duck, and Loula the dog. Previously, we had to import a Pocoyo stuffed doll from the U.K. (I know, a bit extreme).  I am sure I will soon be scooping up some of the plush dolls, bath figures and electric cars that Bandai is set to release this fall.

So what makes this show so special? Here’s my pitch from a previous post.

This show truly stands out, featuring sparse white backgrounds covered by bright animations. Narrations from British actor/comedian Stephen Fry lend themselves to the quick and interactive plots. I won’t bore with the list of awards this show has won, but the folks behind this (Spanish producer Zinkia Entertainment) have some serious talent.

Be on the lookout for this must-see preschool TV.

More info @ The Toybook.com

More info @ The Hollywood Reporter

By default, we are a Nick Jr. family.  If I ever do have to choose an on-demand category or buy a DVD, I tend to turn to Nick Jr. My daughter Maia’s favorite shows have always been under the Nick umbrella, including Wonder Pets!, Ni Hao, Kai-Lan, Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!, Yo Gabba Gabba!, Olivia, Max & Ruby and, yes, The Fresh Beat Band. So, most likely I would have missed the debut of Playhouse Disney’s new preschool property Chuggington. However, a review copy was sent my way and Maia and I had a chance to play critic and see what the other stations had to offer.

For those outside the industry, Chuggington is, in fact, not a new show. This train-themed series has actually been a global phenomenon since it made its debut in the UK in September 2008. Since then, it has also found a place on programming blocks in countries like France, Australia, Germany, Japan and Canada. The show was also produced by pedigreed talent with experience in locomotive-themed entertainment. Created by London-based Ludorum, this company was founded by former CEO of HIT Entertainment, rights holder to Thomas & Friends. The other Ludorum co-founder was the former CEO of Learning Curve, the license holder for Thomas & Friends toys. Clearly these guys know their trains.

However, Chuggington is definitely not a Thomas rip-off. This series is completely CGI 3D and with faster-paced plotting than the blue locomotive. The show focuses on three colorful “trainees,” Brewster the diesel-electric train, Koko the electric locomotive and Wilson the red engine train. The characters have their own distinct personalities, as well as individual strengths and weaknesses, as they prepare to become full-service trains. Each episode has them traveling the rails through different locales and meeting reoccurring human and train characters, while learning real-life lessons that will resonate with the preschool audience.

The Chuggington crew
Brewster, Koko and Wilson take to the tracks

My initial thought on watching the Chuggington screener was: “I wish they had this when I was a kid!” A lover of trains as a youth and an adult, watching the trains glide along the roller-coaster like tracks is a locomotive-lovers delight. The show also manages to integrate specific, relatively technica,l day-to-day operations of trains throughout the stories, sure to entertain and educate parents as well. It does this while cleverly mixing the “social-emotional lessons” promised in press materials.

My co-critic, though, is a three-year-old girl. I was excited about the show because of my own personal interest in trains, but I actually doubted that Chuggington would have female toddler appeal, despite the press release’s suggestion that it targeted both demographics. However, to my surprise, Maia seemed to take to it right away. Her first question when watching a new show or film is usually “is there a girl in it?” So, she was quite happy to see Koko, the green and purple bullet-train. She also seemed particularly interested in watching how the trains would resolve each problem, and even enjoyed the “suspense” element which was refreshingly heightened for a preschool show. Most of all, she has been singing the theme song non-stop, something you will find yourself doing whether you like it or not.

Based on Maia’s reaction, and its global success, I have a feeling this show will build a following Stateside as well. With a robust supporting website, toy deals in place, and a big PR and marketing push underway, we won’t be the only home singing “Chuggington!”

Chuggington debuted January 18th on Playhouse Disney and airs Tuesday through Fridays at 10:30 a.m. and weekends at 7:30 a.m.

While some people may be able to nobly claim “we are not a TV family,” here in the Siden household, we cannot utter this phrase. However, we do watch in moderation, limiting Maia’s intake to set times of day and to programs that provide some type of educational value. TV is not a babysitter in our house and Maia is not watching Licensed Toy Cash In: The Series. As she is an early riser, she will often hop in bed with us and watch the latest DVR recording. While she has her own show preferences – usually programs that aren’t exactly the type of fare you want to see first thing in the morning – I have been slowly gravitating her to a preschool property that is fast becoming a family favorite.

Olivia and Her Family
Olivia and her family

Olivia, airing on Nick Jr, is 3D CGI series based on the award-winning and much beloved book series by Ian Falconer. The first Olivia book was released in 2000, and the series has since sold six million copies worldwide in 20 languages. Brought to life on TV by children’s media company Chorion and animation studio Brown Bag Films, Olivia centers around a 6¾-year-old girl, who happens to be a piglet. Each episode features two Olivia tales, focusing on both her real-life interactions with family and friends as well as her imaginary adventures.

I realize most families already have a few shows they have committed to, and may not be willing to take on a new one. However, I strongly encourage you to give this show a viewing or two. Taking my “sales pitch” a bit further, here a few solid reasons to consider adding this piglet to your media mix.

Adapted from beloved, award-winning source material

Olivia comes straight from from a trusted and Caldecott Award-winning property.  Also,  the Olivia property was an organic creation born out of Falconer’s homegrown idea to create a book for his own niece (named Olivia).  Olivia wasn’t dreamed up in a boardroom as a multimedia franchise. The TV series stays true to the spirit of Falconer’s 10-year-old picture book series. While the adaptation expands upon the minimal colors used in the book, the same energy, heart and humor is felt in each episode.

Olivia dreams big, but lives in reality

Like any child, Olivia loves to dream big. Whether imagining herself as an astronaut, mommy, restaurateur or star in a concert hall, this piglet has big plans for herself and takes audiences along for the ride. But she also deals with the day-to-day challenges every kid faces. While Maia certainly loves the fantastical worlds of Disney Princesses and even the candy-colored otherworldliness of Yo Gabba Gabba, it is great to balance these properties with the reality/fantasy mix that is Olivia.

The humor is intentional

On occasion, I have found some unintentional humor in some of the preschool shows I have been forced to watch. Whether it is their corniness, condescending dialogue or just overt ridiculousness, it is hard not to have a go at some shows in order to survive the 22-minute block. During Olivia, you will find yourself laughing with the show. Be it Olivia’s dog Perry tearing up the house, her teacher Mrs. Hoggenmuller having her patience tested, best friend Julian muttering his favorite saying “I just try to get through a day at a time,” or Olivia taking on her latest pet project, all of the characters make it impossible not to enjoy the comedy in this show.

A realistic portrayal of family life…by pigs

Olivia on stage
Olivia dreams up her big debut

Too many times I have watched a preschool show and been turned off by the sickly sweet, unrealistic portrayal of family life. Olivia finds a way to take a family of pigs and make it feel realistic. Surrounded by her parents and two younger brothers Ian and William, she lives in a home that will feel familiar and realistic to most kids. Olivia has a working-mom who owns her own party planning business and finds time to manage a family of 3 kids, despite being spread a bit thin at times. Her fun-loving dad is the more absent minded of the two, but is always there to offer the “little talks” and help clean up messes. However, both parents run low on patience, make mistakes, and represent a parental unit that is more true to life than most I’ve seen, even with their snouts. With occasional visits from her free-spirited grandmother and the escapades of her two pets, these pigs have more in common with the average household than the homosapiens seen on your child’s other favorite family show.

A realistic glimpse into the life of a six-year-old girl

This little piggy spends her day in a world that is quite familiar to the average six-year-old. Surrounded by friends and family, each episode centers on relatable occurrences such as visits to grandma’s house, class plays, snow days and field trips. The experiences and emotions Olivia goes through during these events, such as sibling and friend rivalry, boredom, and disappointment, are ones that are sure to touch young viewers on a daily basis. Sure, many shows cover off on typical childhood events, but Olivia brings a realistic approach (swine cast excluded) that brings a gravitas to it.

An independent, confident role model…with faults

Whether taking it upon herself to put on her own ice skating performance, deciding she will sell the most Young Pioneer cookies or taking on a big project like a video diary, Olivia is an independent girl who sees herself as a leader and the best at whatever she does. She isn’t afraid to chase down her goals, even to a fault or to utter failure. Olivia isn’t perfect, but she is persistent and determined to get things done without the aid of a knight-in-shining-armor or a magical sidekick.

Gender-neutral

Olivia and Julian
Olivia with BFF Julian

While some of Maia’s favorite characters stick to their gender roles (pink, dresses, tea-drinking), Olivia is not afraid to dabble in both. Sure, she loves her pink hair ribbons, ballet, and baby dolls, but she also loves soccer and dirty camping trips. She is a post-modern role model that shows it is okay to love pink girly-girl stuff, but still kick butt on the soccer field, too.

Still not convinced? Check out Olivia for yourself on Nick Jr. and you will surely want to add this pig to your TV schedule.