PBS' 'Let's Go Luna!' takes kids on a globe-spanning tour
LOS ANGELES -- Carmen, Leo and Andy are globe-trotters to envy, jumping from Paris to Nairobi to New Orleans and beyond in the company of a tour guide who knows her way around: Luna the moon.
PBS' animated series "Let's Go Luna!" is a road trip aimed at giving viewers age 4 to 7 a glimpse of the world's people and cultures beyond their own familiar corner.
The series, which debuts Wednesday (check local listings for times), will visit all seven continents and 19 cities. Antarctica is the stop for a special Christmas episode airing Dec. 10.
PBS joined with Emmy Award-winner artist and writer Joe Murray ("Rocko's Modern Life," ''Camp Lazlo") to fill a social-studies need for its young audience, and the result is lively, fun and - don't tell the kids - educational, since it's public TV.
Carmen, a butterfly from Mexico, Australian wombat Leo and Andy, a frog from the United States, are buddies traveling with Circo Fabuloso, a performance troupe run by their parents. The group's fourth wheel is Luna, whose nightshift duties makes her available for daytime adventures. As created by Murray and voiced by Judy Greer, Luna is a joyful - even madcap - companion.
In the first episode, her exuberant dancing unleashes minor chaos in Mexico City as she joins the children's emergency search for a substitute band to entertain the president.
There are mariachis to meet, a tour of the city and a dash of hiccup-causing salsa flavoring the story, a taste of what's to come as the series hopscotches around the world with clever, engaging animation.
Skeptics contended that young viewers would be at sea over the show's concept, said Linda Simensky, vice president of children's programming for PBS.
"We've been told a number of times that kids wouldn't really understand global awareness," with a perspective limited to their town and perhaps where relatives live, she said, adding, "We took that as a challenge."
While history, geography, anthropology and more are folded into the series, the result is what Simensky calls a "very simple" concept: People do a lot of the same things all over the world, just in different ways, or they do different things to get to the same point.
"That sort of compare-and-contrast approach works well for this age group," said Simensky, who knows her audience. She's been at PBS since 2003, developing series including "Wild Kratts" and "Odd Squad," and previously worked at the Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon.
Murray made the jump from network to public TV for "Let's Go Luna!" and found it a welcome change. As the father of a toddler and a 5-year-old he's familiar with the barrage of ads targeting young TV viewers, and as a creator recalled one network's request that he work on a fast-food spot (he said no).
"I started feeling more and more that this wasn't really the place for me at this point of my career," he said of network TV.
For "Luna," produced by 9 Story Media Group, Murray has resources, including early childhood advisers, an anthropologist to vet cultural depictions and composers schooled in international music.
Each of the central characters was given a specific interest to explore in their travels. Carmen, whose mom conducts the circus orchestra, is musical; Leo, a chef's son, is a foodie; Andy is an artist.
Episodes will be available across PBS Kids streaming platforms, including the PBS Kids video app. The series, in the works for about three years, was inspired by Murray's own family travels.
"My wife is from Belgium and my kids have spent a lot of time in Europe. We could see the advantage of having kids be more exposed culturally to other places," he said. "I thought America was especially kind of sequestered."
Lynn Elber can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/lynnelber .