Directed by Kelly Ward. Disney Junior, 22 minutes. Walt Disney Studios. 2011
Recommended for ages 2-5
Jake and the Neverland Pirates is Disney Junior’s answer to Dora the Explorer. Jake (voiced by Colin Ford) and his friends, Izzy (voiced by Madison Pettis) and Cubby (voiced by Jonathan Morgan Heit), are a multicultural group of children playing pirate games along with their parrot friend, Skully (voiced by David Arquette). Disney favorites Captain Hook and his mate, Smee, always seem to find a way to show up and meddle in their fun. Each 11-minute episode involves a quest of some sort, and Jake and his friends interact with the viewer by asking them to help out and solve problems and cheer them on. Each episode’s close rewards the team – and the viewer – for their teamwork by providing them with “pirate doubloons” that goes in the group treasure chest, which the viewers help Jake count. In The Golden Egg, Jake and his friends find a gold-colored egg, and set off to find who it belongs to. Captain Hook (voiced by longtime Captain Hook voice actor Corey Burton) and Smee (voiced by Jeff Bennett) are hot on the team’s trail, thinking the egg is an actual gold egg. Huddle Up finds Jake, Izzy and Cubby playing a game of “pirate football” until Captain Hook steals the ball, believing it has special powers. Jake and his friends set off on a quest to get the ball back from Hook.
The series is highly interactive, and children familiar with Dora will enjoy the familiarity. Like Dora, each episode resembles a video game, with tasks to complete; the team collects gold doubloons that float in the air to put in their treasure chest at the end of each episode. Members of the pirate rock band, Captain Bogg and Salty, end each episode with a pirate song.
Captain Hook and Smee are similar to Dora’s Swiper, the wily fox who tries to swipe Dora’s objects. Jake and his friends go on quests and provide the viewers with prompts to help them along; there are musical interludes throughout each episode, and a celebration at the end. It’s a good introduction to mainstay Disney characters – Peter Pan has appeared in at least one episode – for younger viewers, and Captain Hook and Smee are goofy here, less threatening than they are in the movie Peter Pan. Each episode emphasizes the importance of teamwork. With the Disney name on the cartoon, caregivers know the production values will be high. The animation is computer-generated, with bright colors and fluent action to keep viewers’ attention. The main characters have expressive, happy faces while the antagonists have exaggerated features that make them less menacing, more caricature-like.
Each episode runs roughly 11 minutes, which makes this a good addition to a pirate story time or a teamwork story time. The show is a pleasant way to keep children entertained while reinforcing lessons on preschool basics and teamwork, and the musical ending provides an opportunity to get the kids up and dancing. Learning a pirate jig would be a fun way to conclude a library program showing a Jake and the Neverland Pirates episode. The Jake and the Neverland Pirates section of the Disney website offers free printables that attendees can color and take home, and the Oriental Trading catalog and website has a wealth of pirate supplies that can be bought in bulk for relatively low cost, including fun pirate eye patches to hand out.