Nick Jr. is understandably proud of the precedent-setting elements within this preschool series — the first to regularly feature Mandarin words and phrases, as a bilingual Chinese-American girl periodically translates her brightly colored adventures. As for the series itself, it’s one of those tedious exercises that the smallest of kids might endure but which parents will have trouble sitting through without a stiff drink — or at least a glass of rice wine.
Filled with songs and planned pauses so kids can participate in the educational “think-along, play-along” moments, there’s precious little to “Ni Hao, Kai-lan” beyond repetition of its title catchphrase. Mostly, 5-year-old Kai-lan bounces around playing with her grandfather and an assortment of animal friends, including a monkey, tiger and koala bear.
The first half-hour focuses on a dragon-boat race and contains a little ditty that encourages kids to jump, crouch, wiggle and flap “like a dragon,” while incorporating feel-good platitudes and pro-social messages about what children should do if they begin to get angry or frustrated.
Granted, preschoolers need things kept simple, but gearing programming toward the under-5 set remains a rather dubious business trend, which has flourished thanks to the lure of licensing booty for properties like “Barney,” “Blue’s Clues” and the mind-numbing “Teletubbies.”
Even so, when preschoolers are targeted parents are also part of the intended audience, and absorbing “Ni Hao, Kai-lan’s” limited animation and simple design (mostly round-headed characters with enormous oval anime eyes), it’s difficult not to yearn for the day when kids age zygote-to-5 were either shielded from TV or muddled by viewing vastly better Warner Bros. or Disney cartoons that aimed well over their heads.
Today, the strategy is more about stooping to conquer — or rather, profit. Featuring animation produced in China, the series premiere coincides with Chinese New Year, and Nick has ordered 20 episodes. For those rusty on their Mandarin, by the way, “Ni hao” means “Hello,” but anyone older than 5 won’t be able to say “Zai jian” (goodbye) fast enough.