[19 August 2002]
Maggie and the Ferocious Beast is an innocuously happy cartoon with little to make it stand out, either good or bad. The only aspect of continual interesting is the bizarre and trippy sensibility of Maggie. Nowhere Land, where the stories take place, is meant to represent Maggie’s imagination. Frighteningly, it resembles the land of those freaky little Teletubbies. It is a sparsely populated area with rolling green hills and an occasional tree, where, apparently, anything can happen.
At one point, several jellybeans with arms, legs, and faces ride a giant duck across a river; this is not the main point of the episode, it’s just kind of there. And that goes more generally for the series. Quietly and calmly teaching some useful lessons, it lacks the energy of some other kids’ series. But then, this series is more intent on teaching life lessons than providing visual candy or sheer entertainment; this is granola, not Lucky Charms.
The press literature says the program, which is based on a children’s book, “encourages young viewers to engage in pretend play.” A young girl named Maggie (voice of Kristen Bone) imagines having adventures with her two favorite toys: Hamilton (voice of Michael Caruana), a fussy pig who wears a letter sweater, and the Ferocious Beast (voice of Stephen Ouimette), who is anything but ferocious. Maggie herself is fearless, the leader of her small pack of three. The six episodes included on Columbia’s recently released DVD, Maggie and the Ferocious Beast: Adventures in Nowhere Land, are highly formulaic, with very little that is surprising, including the outcome. Maggie and her two friends encounter trouble, and she deals with it using good, old-fashioned common sense.
At its base, this series demonstrates that different personalities approach problems, and how some people are just better problem-solvers than others. For example, Hamilton is very attached to the endless supply of props he keeps in a cardboard box; he always thinks that material objects enable solutions to problems. The Beast is another personality altogether, quite tentative and afraid of trying new things; he often thinks the best way to deal with a predicament is to avoid it altogether. Maggie, however, always knows the right thing to do—and there always is a “right” thing to do, and she always talks it over with her friends first. It’s refreshing to see kid-oriented cartoon characters not zapping or exploding their tribulations away, but it doesn’t make for very exciting television.
The first episode on the DVD is by far the best, and carries the most interesting “message.” The Ferocious Beast is frustrated, believing he’s as good an artist as his friend Maggie; he has no fingers, you see, and it’s really hard for him to handle a paintbrush. It is reminiscent of the frustration young children display when trying to do things older kids do, and not being able to master what seem like simple tasks. The following episodes, however, are more cloyingly moralistic. For example, Hamilton pretends to be king, and learns that bossing people around is alienating. Or, in another episode, the Beast learns to accept something new, of which he is initially afraid, in the form of a giant duck with a loud quack.
The show is clearly intended for the 6-and-under set, yet, the press literature also says that “older children enjoy” the tales of Maggie. I really don’t see how, unless it’s because it occupies their younger brothers and sisters in front of the TV and keeps the little ones out of the older kids’ stuff. Adults may go so far as wanting to pull their hair out in boredom after two or three of the 8-minute segments that comprise the stories. But taken one at a time, episodes of Maggie show kids and adults valuable problem-solving skills presented gently and without fanfare. Once you accept that in Maggie there are no bells and whistles, no loud noises or stimulating chase scenes, it may start to grow on you.