Little Dogs on the Prairie
A Rollicking Time in the West

One of the great hazards of being a critic is wading through a lot of programming that rarely sees the light of day.  After all, there’s usually a good reason a given film or show remains obscure.

Very often, though, this is also one of the great joys of being critic, for there are a great many gems out there just waiting to be discovered.  Little Dogs on the Prairie is one such unexpected treat.

The brainchild of Fancy Monkey Studios—a group of artists connected to other, better-known series such as Adventures in Odyssey, Jungle Jam, VeggieTales, and 3-2-1 Penguins!Little Dogs is essentially an animated children’s serial of the best type: fast-paced and light-hearted enough to keep children absorbed, and quick-witted and sophisticated enough to keep their parents perhaps even more so.

Gilroy in Little Dogs on the PrairieThe basic setup for the series is an Old West prairie dog town, modeled on something like a combination of the Gunsmoke and Little House TV programs—only funny rather than dramatic.  Widely appealing by structure, the series allows the younger set to glom onto pups Darcy, Scout, and Sport. For the parents and grandparents, there’s Gilroy, a “sweet, lovable old” toy-factory owner (whom you might be surprised to learn “can tie his own shoes”); his pal-of-sorts Hollister, a crotchety general store operator who “just likes owning things… lots of things”; and Miss Kittey (pronounced Kit-TAY), who is, in fact, a cat—who naturally has trouble fitting in because “most things are shorter and involve more tunnels than she’s used to.”

Fancy Monkey has thus far produced eight Little Dogs episodes, packaged two or three episodes per DVD or VHS tape. Each ten-to-fifteen-minute episode teaches kids—and, I’ve gotta tell you, adults too—some pretty decent lessons about very Christian values.

Now, this is an important point.  Very often family-oriented programming trumpets what we tend to call “All-American” or “Judeo-Christian values,” which is code language for “basic morals we can all pretty much endorse, but not religious enough to offend anyone.”  Little Dogs is a little more specifically Christian than that—though the values talked about are generally Old Testamentish enough—because writer/director Jeff Parker has thrown in the occasional reference to Jesus as Lord.  Significantly, though, the references are far less heavy-handed than the Eastern mysticism of, say, The Last Mimzy.  Kudos to Fancy Monkey for being true to the faith without forgetting that they’re making programs for kids.

But even more congratulations are due for the animation design and the writing.  This is old-school programming of the sort that Pixar’s whiz-bang approach has made all but sadly obsolete.  The water-color palette and backdrops are some of the most charming I’ve seen in TV-format animation, and the sheer wit of Parker’s direction and wordplay had me laughing almost nonstop through the story segment of each episode.  I’ve seen all but three of the Little Dogs episodes, and everything I’ve seen has been first-rate.

Better yet, each episode concludes with a dynamite little musical number penned and performed by Buddy and Julie Miller.  Fancy Monkey sent me a copy of an audiocassette with a collection of the songs and—no lie—it hasn’t been out of the tape player in my car since the first listen.  It’s that good.

The programs were initially released on VHS over the last few years.  Earlier in 2008, they also came out on DVD and have already almost sold out of their initial production run.  You can still get tapes and some discs at Fancy Monkey’s website, though, and might even be able to track them down at your local Christian bookstore.  (Do ask around.  It’ll help to get the word out about these very excellent programs.) 

And have no fear: Fancy Monkey is committed to the future of Little Dogs, and plans to roll out downloads and more episodes starting next year.  Check back next week for my interview with director Jeff Parker.

If you take any children’s programming recommendation seriously, take this one: forget about Wall-E and Despereaux.  Little Dogs on the Prairie is where the action is at, and you’ll feel a whole lot better about where your hard-earned cash is going.

The Little Dogs episodes are unrated; but this is G material all the way… and G material you can actually feel good about, not just put up with!

Courtesy of the publisher, Greg screened promotional copies of the Little Dogs tapes and DVDs.