Welcome To Lazytown Review
Icelandic cuisine is famous for such delicacies as putrefied shark, ram's testicles and singed sheep's head so where so sweet a confection as Lazytown came from I have no idea. So sweet is it that watching it for the first time is like having your eyeballs injected with candy floss with such an intense sugar rush that it ought to come with a health warning for diabetics. Once watched, never forgotten and over the summer months, it took pride of place on CBeebies, morning and afternoon and proved so powerfully addictive that the makers of various snack foods must have wondered if what made it so could be distilled and added to their lines of chocolate products. A shame, then, that it extols a message of healthy eating, exercising and playing outside.
Early one summer, Stephanie (Julianna Rose Mauriello), the niece of Mayor Melford Meanswell, arrives in Lazytown to spend the next couple of months with her uncle. But when she heads outside to play, she finds that she's all alone. Walking around the town she meets Ziggy (Gudmundur Thor Karason), a little kid with a sweet tooth and an active imagination, who tells her that his friends Trixie (Amanda Maddock) and Stingy (Jodi Eichelberger) are at Pixel's playing games on his computer. Calling round to introduce herself, she convinces the other kids to join her in a game of football but their running around the park wakens an ill-tempered ne'erdowell, Robbie Rotten (Stefán Karl Stefánsson). Climbing out of his underground lair, Robbie appeals to the kids' weaknesses, offering Ziggy a handful of sweets, Pixel a new videogame - with 6,000 levels! - Trixie a football to go break windows with and asks Stingy if the videogame that Pixel just left with was actually his game, which leaves Stephanie all alone once again.
But then her uncle remembers that there used to be someone who might help, who lived above Lazytown in a giant zeppelin and who was something of a hero. Writing him a letter and posting it in a tube next to the postbox, mere minutes pass before Sportacus (Magnús Scheving) appears. Explaining himself away as not quite a superhero, more an above average hero, Sportacus rallies the kids for a tidy of the playing field and a game of football, showing that playing outside is much more fun than playing videogames indoors. But Robbie Rotten is awoken once again and plans on getting rid of Sportacus forever and returning Lazytown to its lazy old self. All that it needs is one good disguise and a great plan...
Of course, in the manner of all great villains, it's Robbie Rotten who's the star of Lazytown. Looking like Bruce Campbell at his most manic and wearing a blue and purple jump suit, which cuts the skinny Rotten a less than flattering figure, he's all nervous tics, slapstick comedy and the frustrated ambition, all the while his attempts to eat junk food and sleep all day are thwarted by the running, jumping and backflipping that goes on above ground. Convinced that he's a master of disguise - that episode-by-episode, the kids don't seem to realise that the wicked travelling salesman/pirate/doctor/robot is actually Robbie Rotten does seem to back up his thinking - Rotten hatches a plan in every episode that will allow him to rid the town of Sportacus forever. In Dr Rottenstein, he disguises himself as a doctor to warn the children off eating fruit and vegetables whilst Sportacular has him buying the playground off Mayor Meanswell and threatening to bulldoze it and build a pillow-stuffing factory where it once stood. But the highlight of his appearances is his walking along the various outfits in his underground lair. "Too loony!" he says, pointing at an outfit from the age of Napoleonic France. "Too moony!" he says, cocking his thumb at a space suit. "Too...puny!" he says, looking down at a tiny little outfit before settling on a loud suit and the character of Rob U. Blind, who plans on selling a pair of robot shoes to Sportacus.
It isn't a one-man show, however, but Sportacus and Stephanie can't fail to be a tad underwhelming when compared to Robbie Rotten. Julianna Rose Mauriello is as bright as a button and looks cute in her pink wig, pink dress and pink bedroom - girls will, of course, adore her - but she's a lot more sassy than a girl of her age ought to be. Sportacus suffers slightly from playing the straight man to Robbie's comedy act but taken together, even including Ziggy, Stingy, Pixel and Trixie, what you get is one of the very best kids' shows of recent years. With space for an insanely catchy pop song each episode - think the frothy Europop that wanders into the charts looking a little lost in the weeks after the summer holidays - and the kind of dance moves that will have children pulling their hamstrings as they attempt to do the splits like Stephanie, Lazytown is full of good intentions. It may not ever convince a child to each a carrot - or sports candy as Sportacus would have them - over a lollipop but all credit to it for trying. Me? I'll stick to the occasional Twix bar.
Lazytown struggles on CBeebies. Even on a small television, the digital noise in the image is obvious whilst on a big television, one has to look past that to get anything out of it. On DVD, the picture is a big improvement but with it being interlaced, the problems still exist. Of course, it's likely that there were always going to be problems - the backgrounds and sets look to be mostly computer generated but Lazytown's budget falls far short of the millions that Lucasfilm has to do the same, leaving it with good intentions but lacking detail in the picture. Add a digital transfer onto that and the image could have been a good deal better than it is. However, my watching it wasn't improved by it being shown on a big screen. Let it play on a portable television in an upstairs bedroom and the kids may not notice. As for the DD2.0 audio track, it's fine and exhibits no faults but it's largely ordinary. Finally, there are English subtitles.
There isn't a great deal here, which is fitting to the lack of interest that children generally show to bonus features. Indeed, if my own children are anything to go by, they're treated as little more than a means to extend the viewing experience. Welcome To Lazytown only includes a Sing-A-Long to Bing Bang - sadly no You're a Pirate or Cooking by the Book - as well as Introducing..., which offers the favourite saying, habits and actions of Sportacus, Stephanie and Robbie Rotten.
What Lazytown does very well is to persuade children of the importance of playing outside and how much more enjoyable it is than watching television. How long its influence will last is debatable but for a few years at least, it's quite an admirable show, released here on a DVD that's largely acceptable.