You know how some movies and TV shows really work because they have one character who is constantly poking fun at the whole thing? It’s like they are in the joke, and have been written, with a little help from the actor/voice actor, so that they almost know everything around them is completely made up. Kid’s shows are especially good at this as they often want to have something in there for the adults to enjoy.
In that regard, Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom is mightily successful, with every episode having at least one character who calls out the story for being stupid, or another character specifically. Despite my reservations, which I will get to in a bit, it works, especially because of one character in particular: Nanny Plum. Why? Well because she is Han Solo, and once you realize that, everything else clicks into place.
Everyone’s favorite smuggler is probably one of the most enduring characters of all time, let alone just the Star Wars franchise. Hell, he is even getting his own origin movie later this year in Solo: A Star Wars story, such is his appeal. The thing that made him this way,however, was the fact that he was in on the joke. Throughout all four Star Wars movies he appeared in, the character is poking the whole premise with stick going “You guys know this is stupid, right?”
He does things like run round corners on the Death Star set on killing all the bad guys, until he realizes there are more of them than he first thought and he just can’t do it. He charges around space in a ship that everyone thinks is a hunk of junk because well, it is, but Han loves that ship almost as much as he loves Leia, and ends up using it to help save the galaxy multiple times.
When discussing the force with a bona fide Jedi Knight, he says he has never seen anything to make him believe in any of that mumbo jumbo. He is swarve, dashing and more than a little dangerous. He shoots Greedo first (yes he does, get over it!), then pays the barman for the trouble. All these things contribute to making him one of the best characters ever put to film.
So how is Nanny Plum the same as the captain of the Millennium Falcon? Does she shoot bounty hunters? Maybe completes a entirely fictional run in what sounds like a unit of time but is actually a unit of distance? No, none of that. Nanny Plum simply points out that everything in the little kingdom is insanely dumb.
There are two races who live there: elves and fairies. Nanny Plum and Holly, one of the title characters, are fairies, while Ben is an elf. Already you can see not everything is normal, and as the title sequence informs you, it is a little kingdom, hidden among thorny brambles. Strangely though, the elves have very advanced technology, including but not limited to: trucks, computers, helicopters and rockets. They even have their own version of the Thunderbird's.
Nanny Plum is therefore set. She isn’t even as subtle as Han, literally something will happen and she will just look at it and go “This is ridiculous!”. It constantly gets her into scrapes, but never does it fail to entertain. The best kids shows do this, they have something for the adults too, and the current epitome of this is the awesome Nanny.
It extends to not just point out the ridiculous so overtly though, there is an episode where Queen Thistle, Holly’s mum, goes out for the day, leaving her twin daughters in the care of their Dad, Holly, Ben and Nanny Plum. They tell her that she is the only one who can control the little girls, but she leaves anyway with instructions to let them play but not do magic. Nanny Plum can see what is coming however, and with a not so subtle “I have something very important to do…” slinks off the the kitchen, leaving the troublesome twosome in the care of King Thistle, Holly and Ben. It is kinda of hilarious, just seeing her basically go “Fuck no!” and run off.
The fun stops however, when the shows fundamental problem rears its head. Star Wars was never deemed racist, not really. There were comments about most of its cast, especially in the original trilogy, being white men but that's about it. Those comments are fair, but also a product of the time it was made. The movies made after definitely made a concerted effort to correct this, and I have never seen anything in the movies that would make me think otherwise.
Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom doesn’t do that. It throws casual racism about with wanton abandon. Is it downright offensive? Probably not, but that's not the point. This is a show aimed at young children, and the first two episodes I watched had both Nanny Plum and the Wise Old Elf decree that elves don’t do that or fairies can’t do this, with the emphasis on the race name just to make sure you as the viewer know that once race does things better than the other.
It’s the biggest knock against the show, and I couldn’t get past it for the longest time. Once I figured out the admittedly tenuous link to Star Wars, being the huge nerd that I am, I started to click with the show, but still that racism keeps coming back. It is in almost every episode in some form, and the way the dialogue is spoken by the voice actors really does border on ‘not cool’.
I bring this up because my daughter is growing up an world with a sexist, racist idiot in control of the most powerful nation on the planet, and she is becoming more self aware with each passing day. I have to think about how I am going to teach her that this isn’t cool, and that it isn’t OK to be like that in the modern age, that society is trying to get better and be more inclusive of everyone. It doesn’t work perfectly by any stretch, but it is getting there.
It is the science fiction, games and geeks of the world that are leading the way on this. The recent outpouring of support for the #Metoo campaign from across the games industry show this change is starting. Sci-fi has long gone in for the Utopian future where racism and sexism have been all but abolished, and while yes, the Empire and First Order in Star Wars are xenophobic space Nazi's, the movies never really go deep on this, choosing instead to portray them as the all purpose ‘bad guys’.
As for games, well there is a recent movement to have them tackle more prominent issues in society at large. It doesn’t always work, but the desire is there and some of those games have been fantastic. There is still a prevalence of not thinking about it, but it's an industry that is still a) young and b) taking its first steps in this space.
As I navigate being a Dad in the modern world, a world at times even I don’t fully understand, I take heart in the fact that my fellow geeks are paving the way for this sea change, and hopefully my daughter will take notice that people like her Dad changed how the world thinks of different races, genders and sexuality. Maybe, as is my greatest wish, she will be someone who stands up and fights for this change, or she may just choose to treat everyone the same, either way she will be part of the movement.
Also, once again, it is entirely possible I am overthinking things, interesting point though isn’t it?