First cartoons for young toddlers
December 3, 2014 6:14 AM   Subscribe

Our little big boy is 1.5yrs old and we think it's time to relax the "no TV" rule and let him start watching cartoons. Please give us your recommendations!

He likes: cars, trains, planes, music and dancing, food. He dislikes: too much going on at the same time (loses interest quickly), things that are not "real" or do not translate into what he knows (e.g. he kept pointing out that the plane in a cartoon was wearing a hat and seemed to be confused and bothered by this - why should a plane, a thing which is flying around in the sky, wear a hat, a thing which people wear on their heads?).

He's a big fan of the Big Bugs Band series and we all liked it: he likes music, there aren't too many things happening at once, I can point out things/concepts he knows (like car, ladybug, flower, singing, dancing, flying, etc), and there's no talking.

English is a foreign language for us (and the country we live in) so we'd prefer suggestions where there's not much talking (except if we can source a version in the local language) or it's not central to the story. On the other hand, it wouldn't be bad for him to be exposed to English, it's just that he won't understand much/at all.

Thanks in advance!
posted by gakiko to Media & Arts (39 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Yo Gabba Gabba is awesome and just right for his age. It's light on talk and there is also also lots of dancing and music.

Leap Frog learning cartoons are unbearable for adults to watch but he will love them, and learn letters and numbers in the process. It will lay a good foundation for English as a second language too (but not in a way that's overwhelming - everything is veeeeeryyyyy sloooooow).
posted by rada at 6:26 AM on December 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Pocoyo is a very sweet little cartoon; we watched it in English but I think it was originally Spanish, and the language is simple enough that I bet it's available in other languages.

And I always recommend Shaun the Sheep in these types of threads. Fun for kids, fun for grownups, not a single word is spoken.

A slightly-left field suggestion: grownup cooking shows. My son loved being with us while we cooked but it was tricky with the heat and knives. He liked seeing people make food, and also acted less creepily addicted to the shows themselves.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:26 AM on December 3, 2014 [7 favorites]

Another left field suggestion... are you able to cast videos from your computer to your TV (e.g. Chromecast)? If yes, little ones love watching gameplays (example).
posted by rada at 6:37 AM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yes to Shaun the Sheep and also Timmy Time.
posted by billiebee at 6:39 AM on December 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

Would Thomas the Tank Engine work? Those trains talk and have personalities, so he might not like it, but the stories are all easy to follow for kids and have good lessons.

Also, do you have Sesame Street in your native language? 1.5 might be a bit too young, but it's been around for so long because kids really do love it and it really helps them learn.
posted by trivia genius at 6:40 AM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

We LOVED Kipper the Dog cartoons. Very sweet & gentle, without a lot of talking.
posted by belladonna at 6:41 AM on December 3, 2014 [5 favorites]

My favorite for that young is Oswald. Slow, sweet, calming... and Fred Savage, Laraine Newman and Squiggy!
posted by beccaj at 6:46 AM on December 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Another vote for Shaun the Sheep!
posted by pemberkins at 6:51 AM on December 3, 2014

Curious George, Winnie the Pooh were our first two (in that order). I'm not sure if they'd be available in translation, but they have both been around a long time. He also now watches Thomas the Train with grandparents, Mickey Mouse occasionally and Callilou (PBS).
posted by typecloud at 6:51 AM on December 3, 2014

There's a show called Zerby Derby in which the characters are all remote control cars and equipment who do things that are very remote control car-like. I find it astonishingly annoying, but I'm not 18 months old and into cars.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:53 AM on December 3, 2014

I think Yo Gabba Gabba is better suited to an older child, like preschool age. It's fast-moving and sort of crazy, there are some very nice skits and dance sequences but I don't think this is an ideal show to start with (and I'm a fan).

Kipper is really great, slow moving, very sweet/non-violent, and very clear without language.

Pingu for sure.

Some people are not a fan but we really liked "In the Night Garden", it's fantastical (in setting and character) but deals with very concrete and everyday situations (washing faces, brushing teeth, playing catch, getting lost etc.). It uses a lot of funny noises and doesn't use much talking.
posted by lafemma at 6:53 AM on December 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Our daughter's first tv was Baby Signing Time.

It's very visual although they are, clearly, speaking English. (There is a Spanish option too - no Slovenian that I know about.)

It has the bonus of your kid being able to sign stuff to you. :)
posted by HopStopDon'tShop at 6:55 AM on December 3, 2014

Peep in the Big Wide World is a clever, funny, non-noisy series that celebrates scientific curiousity. Wonderfully narrated by Joan Cusack. All the shows are available online, but with a different 7 episodes each week. (We also ordered the DVDs)

Charlie & Lola is in a class of its own. The voice actors are actual children, and it's one of the few childrens' series that honestly reflects what childhood is like – while simultaneously being genuinely funny and entertaining. I'd strongly recommend ordering the DVDs.

Another vote for Kipper the Dog. Original, gentle, and with a lovely soundtrack.

More votes for Shaun the Sheep and Timmy Time (Shaun is aimed at slightly older kids, but ours watched it since they were 2ish)

Pingu is a sure hit, although the soundtrack can grate on grown-up nerves somewhat.

One I won't recommend is Peppa Pig, despite its wide popularity. I find it lazy, unoriginal and condescending, and personally annoying.

Not a TV series, but both our children have watched My Neighbour Totoro dozens of times since they were toddlers. Usually just sections, rather than the whole thing, and with the Japanese soundtrack which they don't understand, so the effect is soothing, in a similar way to In The Night Garden. (But less annoying to grown-ups.) Yeah, toddlers don't need to understand the words to enjoy cartoons.

If he likes trains, try out the old classic Ivor the Engine - primitive by today's standards, but children don't mind that.

Without words, try Dip Dap. Guaranteed absorption.

All the things I recommend above have been watched hundreds of times by both my daughters between 1 and 7 years of age, without me getting sick of them.
posted by snarfois at 7:20 AM on December 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you want to encourage highly entertaining bad behaviour which needs no translation, there's always Masha and the Bear.
posted by clawsoon at 7:35 AM on December 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Seconding Thomas the Tank Engine, especially the original "Thomas & Friends" series, which has nicely done model-work, voice overs, and music. It's much less shrill and jump-cut riddled than a lot of current kids television.

The caveat being that it will almost certainly open the door to your buying a bunch of Thomas gear. In our case, though, my 3.5 year started watching them around 2, and at this point has spent dozens of hours playing out and drawing his own Thomas-related stories and building elaborate track set ups with me.

It has also led to an even broader (and more detailed) interest in trains and other vehicles that has sent us on museum trips and subway and historic railway rides. I was initially totally opposed, but Thomas is apparently a great gateway drug to serious transit geekery.

Following up on Totoro, our son also loved "Kiki's Delivery Service".
posted by ryanshepard at 7:38 AM on December 3, 2014

Classical Baby is the best thing ever. I'll still watch it today, even if the kids aren't around. It's amazing. Also from HBO is a great special based on "Goodnight Moon," which is in a similar vein ("ambient kids animation/music").
posted by jbickers at 7:45 AM on December 3, 2014

All of these suggestions are GREAT!! (Oh, how you will love Shaun The Sheep:))


I want to recommend you stay far far the hell away from Fireman Sam. OK?

Basically, this one little boy continually disobeys the older people in the village, danger ensues, and Fireman Sam comes to the rescue. The subconscious take-away is that if you act out, you'll get ALL the attention, and everything will turn out OK, anyway. This obviously is not good.

We loved Thomas because: TRAINS! I loved Thomas because any dramatic conflict between the characters was very gentle, ultimately no one was ever a "bad" person. Heavy emphasis on life lessons in a fuzzy feel good Mr. Rodgers-type of way. All of the "danger" was age appropriate and not overly dramatic.

There isn't a single recommendation in this thread thus far that isn't absolutely stellar as far as tone and message for your 1.5 yr old.

Keep an eye out, tho. Like Fireman Sam, there's inappropriate stuff out there.

I used Fureman Sam to teach my kid he doesn't want to watch stories that aren't "nice" and at 3.5, the message still "sticks" and he gravitates towards appropriate content on his own, now. So that's huge.

If you notice anything untoward does sneak in there, I HIGHLY recommend explaining why you are turning the cartoon off, but in "toddler speak."

"Oh, yuck! We're going to turn that off because trucks and cars should always be nice to each other!"

I really liked In The Night Garden, fwiw.
posted by jbenben at 7:49 AM on December 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

Others have already mentioned these, but, our 21month old loves Caillou. Loves it. He is also enthralled by, and sometimes dances to, Yo Gabba Gabba. I find the later more interesting, it's such a mix of guests - the art guy is the lead singer from Devo, Biz Markie has a regular spot. They are both very sweet and nice shows.
posted by pennypiper at 8:09 AM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

In the night garden, right before bedtime. Soo relaxing.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:11 AM on December 3, 2014

Oh and we tried peter rabbit because he saw a short that made him giggle uncontrollably, but the full show actually seemed to scare him (which is very unusual for him).
posted by pennypiper at 8:12 AM on December 3, 2014

Yes, Timmy Time is the BEST. I also love Tumble Leaf, but there's only one season and it's only available through Amazon.

Oswald is great for young kids (very gentle), but your kid might be weirded out by the dog who looks like a hot dog, the flower person, and other weird, not-real things.

Thomas is the stand-by for kids who like trains, and the great thing about it is the many, many, many episodes and movies available everywhere. I personally hate it (I find the "messages" to be off-putting, they're often along the lines of "learn your place"), but my two-year-old is obsessed with it.
posted by Safiya at 8:28 AM on December 3, 2014

Thomas.... (I find the "messages" to be off-putting, they're often along the lines of "learn your place")

I find it interesting that the newer American episodes seem worse in this regard than the older British episodes. In the British episodes, the head of the railway is always "the fat Controller". In the American episodes, he's always "Sir Topham Hatt", and the Duke of Sodor (who I swear is styled on Richard Branson) shows up a lot more often.
posted by clawsoon at 8:49 AM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

When my son was his age, he was all about Yo Gabba Gabba and anything Leap Frog related. He actually learned his colors and numbers much faster after introducing Leap Frog. They have wonderful educational songs that he picked up quickly.

Now, at 3, he's very much into Thomas the Train.

Teletubbies is good for that age as well - the language isn't really language at all as much as suggestion, and my nephews loved it when they were younger. It would be a good starter for him.
posted by Sara_NOT_Sarah at 8:57 AM on December 3, 2014

Thirding Thomas "messages" being off-putting. Most episodes revolve around Thomas getting in trouble for creative problem solving, helping out friends, or not snitching on everyone around him.
posted by rada at 9:42 AM on December 3, 2014

I recommend Maisy, a discontinued series that's very friendly, simple, but sweet. Plus catchy songs. Worth the low cost of a set of DVDs to see -- my daughter is still fond of them at almost-7!
posted by acm at 9:48 AM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Fourthing the dislike of Thomas. My kids and I really enjoyed Little Bear, it has simple story lines and the characters are innocent and endearing.
posted by doctord at 9:49 AM on December 3, 2014

I hate to say it, but my kiddos love Barney, and I can't really argue with it - lots of music, lots of pretend play, good themes. Also Bob The Builder and the Signing Time/Baby Signs videos. A dvd of Hap Palmer songs got a lot of showtime here at that age, despite it's 1980's vibe musically and production level. My 3 year old really relates to Caillou, my daughter is just starting to have patience for it (not quite 2). She really likes the Hive, Pengu. There was also this cartoon for a while on Netflix that I can't remember the name of but maybe someone else can...I think is was italian, no talking, just instruments playing. The kids were mesmerized by it.
posted by snowymorninblues at 10:00 AM on December 3, 2014

At that age, my son adored simple videos of tractors (like this one) and loved to watch videos of RC trucks and planes. He also really liked this video of some little boy named Wade showing off his trucks. It (shockingly) has 13 million views, so apparently, my son isn't the only one who found it interesting.

Other favourites included 'toy adverts' such as this, this, and this. . These claymation videos are nice, too. Bizarrely, 'unboxing' videos like this and this are really popular with kids [seriously].

While we're talking about tractors, this song and cartoon about driving a tractor is only mildly annoying and much beloved by the little brambory. Little Red Tractor is quite nice and might even be dubbed in your home language. Tractor Tom is less well-animated, but ok. Postman Pat and Bob the Builder were popular once my son got a little older and I don't mind watching an episode or two with him.

AVOID: Fireman Sam (much more annoying than I remembered as a child and a little like toddler crack ('AGGGGAIN Fireman Sam! AGGGGAIN!'). Fergie the Tractor was also a mistake. Oh god. Such a mistake. Like fingernails on a chalkboard.

Peppa Pig is funny at times and I find it survivable.

I really love the animation and humour of Masha and the Bear, and we generally watch it in the original Russian since dubbing isn't really necessary.

[And finally, contrary to evidence, I would just like to point out that we really do more than just watch YouTube videos in the Brambory Household]

posted by brambory at 11:15 AM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

My 3 y.o daughter watches Peppa Pig which I find tepid but enjoyable, and Peg+Cat which is fun and problem solving oriented. For a while we were on a Masha and the Bear kick as well.
posted by nickggully at 11:16 AM on December 3, 2014

Oh, ha ha!!

I totes noticed the class bullshit in Thomas. That's a pretty persistent feature of British society, tho, and something very much going on where my family lives in LA.

I just figured it opened the door for some interesting conversations between me and my son down the road on the subject, TBH. The depiction of this dynamic in Thomas gives us common ground for when he's older and those sorts of conversations become possible.
posted by jbenben at 11:39 AM on December 3, 2014

Peppa Pig
Caillou (ugh i hate that show!)
Pajanimals (by Jim Henson of muppets fame) - technically not a cartoon but my young ones love it, and the music is fun.
posted by ramix at 11:48 AM on December 3, 2014

Teletubbies is teethgrindingly awful for adults but rapturous for very young children; I'd personally skip it and go for the wonderful In the Night Garden... which has the same gently surreal vibe but is just a much better put together package and has the orotundly Shakespearean Derek Jacobi gravely intoning nonsense over the whole thing as a bonus.
posted by Sebmojo at 1:04 PM on December 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

I loathe In The Night Garden, primarily for the anti-language elements. Made up noises like Pingu? Fine for me. Warbling pseudo-language nonsense? Really not fine for me. That was primarily because my kid did have language issues and there was nothing actually helping her learn language in the show while actively encouraging non-language. Plus she was just creeped out by it at first.

Timmy Time, like Peppa Pig, is really very well situated in little kid behaviours. Same with Charlie and Lola as well. And Miffy!

If you can geohack around it, hit up and find Play School. It's sort of an Aussie version of Sesame Street, less about 'lessons' and more about play and art and craft. So it's usually two or more adults playing pretend, singing songs, doing art stuff. Some short animated parts as well. The read stories too. It's very gentle, very real.
posted by geek anachronism at 2:38 PM on December 3, 2014

I really loved The Magic Roundabout when I was a kid: it's very charming, there's rarely more than one thing happening onscreen, and it's also entertaining for adults. (plus, the episodes are only around 5mins apiece.)
posted by littlegreen at 2:59 PM on December 3, 2014

Rolie Polie Olie.
posted by erebora at 3:26 PM on December 3, 2014

Oh, and my husband was delighted to discover that our son (again, 21 months) likes Top Gear! Jackpot!
posted by pennypiper at 3:40 PM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

[whoops, just reread and realized that it's not a cartoon, but it is enjoyable for adults!]
posted by pennypiper at 3:40 PM on December 3, 2014

My 20 month old watches a really dumb show called "color crew" where crayons color a picture.

He loves trains but Thomas can be a bit intense for him sometimes. He burst out crying the first time he saw a train get paint dumped on it (which is pretty much the plot of every episode).

There's also the very hungry caterpillar and other stories on Netflix and we usually start with that if he wakes up really early and won't go back to sleep but isn't ready to play yet. That's really mellow and actually beautiful to look at.

We also do a lot of fire truck compilation videos on YouTube.

At this age, you can just find a couple shows or episodes that hold his attention and rewatch those over and over.

My favorite is yo gabba gabba but it's a bit busy for my guy right now.
posted by betsybetsy at 5:40 PM on December 3, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great suggestions! So far, the new favorites are Angry Birds (watching Dad play) and TuTiTu - an absolute hit. "Proper" cartoons with a story are still too complex for him, I guess, because he didn't like any we tried watching. But at least now I have lots of material for when he gets older!
posted by gakiko at 1:55 AM on December 17, 2014

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