Arthur (TV series)
Arthur is an American-Canadian animated educational television series for children ages 4 to 8, created by Cookie Jar Group (formerly known as Cinar) and WGBH for PBS. The show is set in the fictional American city of Elwood City, and revolves around the lives of eight-year-old Arthur Read, an anthropomorphic aardvark, his friends and family, and their daily interactions with each other.
Slice of life
|Created by||Marc Brown|
|Developed by||Kathy Waugh|
|Directed by||Greg Bailey|
|Theme music composer||Judy Henderson & Jerry de Villiers Jr.|
|Opening theme||"Believe in Yourself" by Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||23 (2 upcoming)|
|No. of episodes||246 (480 segments) (list of episodes)|
|Executive producer(s)||Marc Brown (Season 10–present)|
Micheline Charest (seasons 1–4)
Peter Moss (seasons 5–6)
|Producer(s)||Ronald Weinberg (seasons 1–4)|
|Running time||20–29 minutes|
|Production company(s)||Cinar (seasons 1–8)|
Cookie Jar Entertainment
9 Story Entertainment (seasons 16–19)
Oasis Animation (season 20–present)
|Distributor||PBS (All seasons, US only)|
DHX Media (Cinar/Cookie Jar seasons)
9 Story Media Group (9Story/Oasis Seasons)
|Picture format||SDTV (480i) (seasons 1–13)|
HDTV (1080i) (seasons 14–present)
|Audio format||Dolby Surround|
|Original release||October 7, 1996 –|
|Related shows||Postcards from Buster|
|Official Website on PBSkids.org|
The television series is based on the Arthur Adventure book series, written and illustrated by Marc Brown. WGBH Boston along with Cinar (now Cookie Jar Group) began production of the animated series in 1994, and aired its first episode on October 7, 1996. Since its debut, the show has broadcast 246 half hour episodes.
A pilot for the spin-off series Postcards from Buster aired in December 2003 as a season 8 episode of Arthur. Postcards from Buster aired from October 11, 2004, to November 21, 2008; the series faced several years of hiatus, until a brief revival in February 2012, only to be cancelled after airing three unseen episodes that had been held over from the show's third season.
Arthur often deals with important issues families face such as asthma, dyslexia, cancer, diabetes, and autism spectrum disorder. It also encourages reading and relationships with family and friends by explaining that people have different personalities and interests.
Arthur became one of the highest-rated shows on PBS Kids for several years since its debut, averaging almost 10 million viewers weekly in the U.S. It is aired in a total of 83 countries, including on: PBS in the United States; Radio-Canada, Knowledge Network, TVOntario, and CBC in Canada; several ABC channels in Australia; and BBC One/CBBC in the UK. It is the longest-running children's animated series in the U.S., and the second longest-running animated series in the U.S., behind The Simpsons. In June 2018, it was announced that Arthur was renewed for four additional seasons, up to Season 25, continuing through at least 2020.
Arthur Read, the series's titular character, is an anthropomorphic eight-year-old brown aardvark who lives in the fictional town of Elwood City. He is a third-grade student at Lakewood Elementary School. Arthur's family includes two home-working parents, his father David (a chef) and his mother Jane (an accountant), his two younger sisters, Dora Winifred (D.W.), who is in preschool, and Kate, who is still an infant, and his dog Pal. Arthur also has several friends who come from various ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, and he also occasionally meets with members of his extended family.
Elwood City is portrayed as a largely suburban area which bears a strong resemblance to the Boston area; the TV series is partially produced by WGBH. Furthermore, Elwood City's professional baseball team, the "Elwood City Grebes", appears to be a fictional representation of the Boston Red Sox. The episode "The Curse of the Grebes" in Season 10 clearly references baseball lore such as Curse of the Bambino. The same episode also refers indirectly to the rivalry between the Red Sox and the New York Yankees, as the Grebes have a fierce rivalry with the Crown City Kings during the World Championship, the show's version of the World Series. Crown City, as featured in other episodes, is apparently a fictional representation of New York City. In one episode, it is implied that an ice hockey team wearing the WGBH logo and the Boston Bruins' team colors on their uniforms are Elwood City's professional (possibly NHL) hockey team.
There are also firm references to Brown's hometown of Erie, Pennsylvania. Most notably, the local shopping mall in the TV series is called "Mill Creek Mall," a reference to Millcreek Mall. Brown himself stated that the series is influenced by his upbringing as a child in Erie, and specifically noted that Mr. Ratburn is based on a middle-school algebra teacher he had at Westlake Middle School.
In 1994, Marc Brown was approached by WGBH and PBS about the possibility of adapting the Arthur books into a television series. Brown was reluctant at first to become a part of a medium for which he had little respect, but soon agreed when he learned that the objective of the television series would be to use the powerful medium of television to promote children to reading books.
Although the program is primarily written and produced by WGBH of Boston, the production of the animation and voice acting are done in Montreal, Toronto, South Korea, and Hong Kong. The animation of the show was done at AKOM Production Company from season 1 to 11, then at Animation Services (HK) Ltd from season 12 to 15. The entire cast of Arthur lives in Montreal or Toronto, where Cookie Jar Entertainment's studios are located. The only segments of the show that are filmed outside Canada are the "A Word from Us Kids" interstitials, filmed at elementary schools or other educational sites in the Boston area. Beginning in Season 11, the "A Word From Us Kids" segment was replaced by a segment called "Postcards from You", where live action videos sent in by young viewers were spotlighted per episode, and then replaced with "A Word from Us Kids" in season 12. The segments are omitted from all airings outside the US.
Marc Brown's children, Tolon, Eliza, and Tucker, are referenced in the show many times, just as they are in the Arthur book series. For example, the town's moving company is called "Tolon Moving", and everyday items such as cups or pencil sharpeners have the word "Eliza" printed on them. References to Cookie Jar Entertainment and WGBH also appear often on the show. In one episode, Francine and Buster are shown playing a table hockey game in which one team's players wear shirts in the Montreal Canadiens' signature colours with Montreal-based Cinar's logo on them (Cinar was the predecessor to today's Cookie Jar Entertainment) and the other team's players wear shirts in the Boston Bruins' colors with Boston-based WGBH's sting logo on them. Subsequent episodes that involve hockey also depict players wearing these sweater designs. Also, in the episode "The Big Blow-Up" in Season 2, a racecar driver wears a jersey with "Cinar" written on it and a car with "WGBH" written on it. In the episode "Prove It" in Season 4, Brain introduces D.W. to science while watching a non-animated episode of Nova, a science series also produced by WGBH. Brown's son Tolon, for whom Brown first invented the character of Arthur the Aardvark in a bedtime story, is the executive director of the show.
In October 1999, Cinar was investigated for tax fraud. It was revealed that both the chairman Micheline Charest and president Ronald Weinberg invested $122 million (US) into Bahamian bank accounts without the board members' approval. Cinar had also paid American screenwriters for work while continuing to accept Canadian federal grants for content. However, Arthur itself was not involved in the scandal as it was publicly known to be co-produced with an American company. Head writers Joe Fallon and Ken Scarborough left around that time, but not because of the scandal; Fallon left about a year before the investigation began.
In season 12, the series began producing and airing episodes in 1080i HD. However, until January 2013 in the U.S., the episodes still aired in 4:3 aspect ratio, with the left and right sides cropped out. They have since begun airing in 16:9 in January 2013. Season 12 also marks the switching of animation studios from AKOM to ASHK. Starting with season 16, the series was produced by 9 Story Entertainment (now 9 Story Media Group) and airs in 16:9 aspect ratio. Along with this change, 9 Story produced a re-mastered opening theme for the series in 16:9, and animation was moved in-house using Adobe Flash. Season 19 was the last season to be produced by 9 Story, with Montreal based-Oasis Animation taking over starting in season 20. In November 2018, Bruce Dinsmore revealed that he has finished recording his final episodes in advance.
The TV series' reggae-style theme song, "Believe in Yourself", was written by Judy Henderson and Jerry de Villiers Jr. and was performed by Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers. A remixed techno version of the song has been officially released on the third album and a shortened version has been played during the closing credits for the sixth season. The Backstreet Boys covered the song with the original instrumentals for the ending credits of television special Arthur: It's Only Rock 'n' Roll.
The original music score was produced by Ray Fabi.
In season 2, the song "Crazy Bus", written and performed by then-head writer Joe Fallon, was introduced. It served as the alternate anthem of the television series. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma and jazz composer Joshua Redman covered the song on the ending credits of the season 4 finale episode, "My Music Rules". When Joe Fallon left Arthur after season 4, the song was officially retired from the show. The show alludes to this on the television special Arthur: It's Only Rock 'n' Roll when D.W. says, "Crazy Bus is for babies; I know a million better songs."
Many celebrity guest stars have appeared on the show, each providing the voice for their anthropomorphic animal counterpart, excluding Joan Rivers, who played as Francine's maternal grandmother. Lance Armstrong and Joan Rivers are the only guest stars to make more than one appearance on the series.
Cast and characters
Arthur's immediate family is the focus of the series, with most episodes involving Arthur, his younger sister D.W., their parents David and Jane, Baby Kate, and their dog, Pal. Arthur's closest friends include Buster, Francine, Muffy, Binky, and Brain, along with Sue Ellen, Fern, and George as frequent supporting characters.
The adults in Arthur play important roles: Mr. and Mrs. Read display a significant amount of stress from parenting, Arthur's friends' parents are shown struggling in middle-class jobs, and Mr. Ratburn endures the demands and expectations of teaching elementary school. Even in difficult, adult situations, these grown ups maintain a cheerful attitude. Arthur, D.W., and Kate also visit their paternal grandmother, Thora Read, and maternal grandfather, Grandpa Dave.
Unlike most animated television series, Arthur showcases a wide range of voice actors. While a majority of characters such as Jane, David, Buster, Francine and Binky have been voiced by certain voice actors that have voiced them since the beginning of the series, Arthur, D.W., Brain, the Tibble Twins, and James have each had several different actors throughout the seasons due to the producers employing young males for these parts. The resulting effects of voice changes have been particularly criticized by viewers.
- Jack Prelutsky – Appears as himself on the episode "I'm a Poet".
- Fred Rogers – Appears as himself in a surprise visit to Elwood City in the episode "Arthur Meets Mister Rogers".
- Art Garfunkel – Appears as "the singing moose" in the episode "The Ballad of Buster Baxter".
- Yo-Yo Ma – Appears as Redman's rival in "My Music Rules".
- Joshua Redman – Appears as himself as Francine's uncle in "My Music Rules"
- Alex Trebek – Appears as "Alex Lebek," a game show host, in "Arthur and the Big Riddle".
- Michelle Kwan – Appears as herself, teaching Francine how to skate in "The Good Sport".
- Backstreet Boys – Appear as themselves in the hour-long special, "Arthur - It's Only Rock 'N' Roll".
- Larry King – Although King does not appear on the show itself, he interviews the Arthur characters during the interstitial on PBS's telecasts.
- Tom and Ray Magliozzi – Both appear in the episode "Pick a Car, Any Car" as Click and Clack from the "Car Talk" radio show.
- Arthur Ganson – Appears as himself in the episode "Muffy's Art Attack".
- Koko Taylor – Appears as herself in "Big Horns George".
- Taj Mahal – Appears himself who helps George write music in "Big Horns George".
- Frank Gehry – Gehry appears as an architect who helps the gang build the new treehouse in "Castles in the Sky".
- Rodney Gilfry – Appears as a player in the episode "Lights, Camera... Opera!"
- Johnny Damon – Appears as a player for the Elwood City Grebes.
- Édgar Rentería – Appears as a player in "The Curse of the Grebes".
- Mike Timlin – Appears as a player in "The Curse of the Grebes".
- Ming Tsai – Appears as a judge for a cooking contest at the Lakewood Elementary school in "What's Cooking?".
- Matt Damon – Appears as himself in "The Making of Arthur".
- Lance Armstrong – Appears as himself to help Francine deal with cancer on "The Great MacGrady".
- Joan Rivers – Appears as Francine's Grandmother, in both season 12's "Is That Kosher?" and season 15's "Grandpa Dave's Memory Album".
- Philip Seymour Hoffman – Appears in "No Acting Please" as Will Toffman.
- Neil Gaiman – Appears in "Falafelosophy" as himself.
- Michael Fincke – Appears as himself in "Buster Spaces Out" as himself, credited as Mike Fincke.
- Alan Cumming – Appears as Sebastian Winkleplotz in "Show Off".
- Idina Menzel – Appears as Dr. Paula in "Shelter from the Storm".
- B. J. Novak – Appears as Mike "MC" Cramp in "The Last Day".
- John Lewis - Appears as himself in "Arthur Takes a Stand".
- Jane Lynch - Appears as Mr. Ratburn's older sister Patty in "Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone".
Each episode of Arthur runs for half an hour. Episodes usually consist of two completely self-contained 11-minute stories. The episodes usually start off with one of the characters (usually Arthur) speaking towards the audience about a situation within the story followed by the title card. The episodes are separated by a one-to-two-minute live action interstitial called "And Now a Word from Us Kids" (or, in some cases, a variation of that title more specific to its contents). The live action segments almost always feature children from elementary schools (generally in the Boston area) presenting subjects they are currently learning about or projects they have been working on in their classes (the subjects covered here relate to the first cartoon segment in the half-hour). This segment is seen exclusively on PBS telecasts of the show, filling space otherwise used for commercials, which are generally forbidden on PBS. There is also a segment that sometimes appears at the end of the second 11-minute episode called "And Now a Word from Marc Brown" where he shows the viewers how to draw various main characters from the show. In 2007, the show began encouraging viewers to send in "video postcards" (similar to those used in the spin-off show Postcards from Buster), which were shown in the interstitials of episodes until the middle of Season 12. Beginning with Episode 151, the show reverted "And Now a Word from Us Kids".
Set in a realistic environment (as opposed to the more fantastical settings prominently featured in children's programming), certain stories (often in the second half of the episode) may not necessarily focus on the titular protagonist's point of view and may instead detail the experiences and viewpoints of surrounding characters, usually Arthur's schoolmates. Often such episodes will depict those characters handling situations often faced by children in actuality as a means of guiding audiences through those situations, including bed-wetting, asthma, or dyslexia, and Arthur's character sometimes may see a reduced role (in some episodes, Arthur himself does not appear in the story at all). Stories in later seasons dealt with more serious issues or subjects, such as cancer, autism spectrum disorder, or same-sex marriage, although numerous episodes simply address topics including childhood fears, trends, or fantasies. Occasionally, some episodes might offer very little educational value at all. In spite of the realistically designed environment, the series may showcase the fantasies or daydreams of a few characters on a number of occasions, and a few episodes feature supernatural elements such as ghosts or secret situations unknown to other characters such as Kate and Pal's friendship.
In May 2019, Alabama Public Television withheld the airing of "Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone", where Arthur's teacher, Mr. Ratburn, married another man named Patrick. The station had also declined to broadcast a 2005 episode of the spin-off show, Postcards from Buster, where a friend had two mothers.
In addition to the television series, the Arthur franchise has spawned three hour-long movies, which are often run on PBS during pledge drives. The latest, Arthur's Missing Pal, was produced by Mainframe Entertainment and is the first animated Arthur project to make use of three-dimensional computer-generated imagery. Arthur's success has also led to the spin-off series Postcards from Buster. Postcards from Buster premiered on October 11, 2004 with several returning characters, and aired its final three episodes in 2012.
The program's official website has been given a rating of 5/5 stars at website Common Sense Media, and has been advised for viewers 5 and up. The site described the show as being "one of the Internet's best offerings for kids". It also advised that "there are links to PBS sponsors but other than that, there is no commercial marketing to kids." The review added, "The games are actually teaching your kids something for example The Music Box combines music and learning, so much so that kids won't even realize that they're figuring out space relations, hand–eye coordination, and mousing skills as they jam along to upbeat tunes."
Arthur has released three music albums. The first album, Arthur and Friends: The First Almost Real Not Live CD, contained songs that were played throughout the TV series and original songs for the album. The second album, Arthur's Perfect Christmas, contained songs that were played during the television movie of the same title. The third album, Arthur's Really Rockin' Music Mix, contained only original songs, including a remix of the theme song which was played on the credits of season 6 as a promotion for the album.
In 1998, both Arthur and D.W. were made into Microsoft ActiMates, sophisticated toy dolls who could interact with children, with each other, with certain computer software and the Arthur website, and also with the Arthur television show and videos.
Microsoft discontinued the ActiMates line shortly before season 5 aired, most possibly due to a lawsuit pertaining to patent infringement and the fact that sales were dropping. It has been noted[according to whom?] that post-season 4 episodes of Arthur have not included any ActiMates code. Newer videos and DVD releases of the show does not carry ActiMates code either. The enhancements on the website were removed when the site was redesigned in 2002 and thus the ActiMates would no longer interact with the website. Likewise, re-releases of the ActiMates software by Creative Wonders do not interact with the ActiMates because the library that controls the PC Pack has been replaced with a dummy library file.
Home media releases
Selected episodes were distributed on VHS and DVD by Random House. Each tape had two or three episodes dealing with similar subjects. WGBH Home Video also released two Region 1 Arthur season sets; they released Season 10 on March 25, 2008 and Season 11 was released on September 2, 2008. Seasons 10–19 are available to download on the iTunes Store and Amazon.com. The first three seasons were released over four collections (the second season was split into two volumes) on DVD in Europe only.
|DVD Name||Ep #||Region||Release date|
|Season 1||30||Region 2||April 7, 2008|
|Season 2||20||Region 2||November 3, 2008|
March 23, 2009
|Season 3||15||Region 2||August 4, 2009|
|Season 10||10||Region 1||March 25, 2008|
|Season 11||10||Region 1||September 2, 2008|
The series has been acknowledged with the George Foster Peabody Award and four Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Children's Animated Program. In 2002, TV Guide ranked Arthur Read No. 26 on its list of the "50 Greatest Cartoon Characters of All Time." The show has also won a BAFTA and was nominated for 17 Daytime Emmys.
Ostrov, Gentile, and Crick (2006) write that "our viewing of many educational programs such as Arthur. suggests that relational aggression is modeled at a fairly high rate. For example, children may be shown excluding and ostracizing friends or peers on the playground as part of the TV show." (p. 622). They go on to theorize that preschoolers, due to their developmental stage, may have a hard time fully understanding conflict resolution, which typically occurs at the very end of a show. Shows like Arthur typically spend most of their time building up conflicts and this may impact the type of learning that is occurring while watching shows. Moreover, they cite research suggesting that the impacts of modeling relational aggression may be especially strong for girls. This research was elaborated on in the New York Times best-selling book on parenting NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Bronson and Merryman (2009). Their punch line is: "Essentially, Ostrov had just found that Arthur is more dangerous for children than Power Rangers" (p. 181).
A review at MommyPR concluded by saying "My boys were able to preview "The Wheel Deal", "The Buster Report", "Falafelosophy" and "The Great Lint Rush". As soon as my boys were finished with these episodses (sic) they begged to watch them again!"
Dad of Divas' Reviews explained that Executive Producer Jacqui Deegan said of the 14th season:
This season, we're hoping to empower our young viewers to go after their goals and dreams. Whether that means becoming a wheelchair basketball champion, or expressing yourself through writing, drawing, and making movies, Arthur and his friends show kids that determination and hard work really pay off. Both Lydia and Neil serve as great role models, and we're excited to have them to reinforce these important lessons for our audiences.
About.com gave the show a rating of 4.5 stars. The series described Arthur's assets:
The Arthur series has won several awards including the George Foster Peabody, and for good reason. Arthur presents issues and situations kids can relate to, and teaches positive behaviors and responses to these issues in a genuine and comical way. The series is fun and engaging to the target age group. Kids will relate to the storylines and characters, and will therefore give thought to the responses the characters demonstrate and outcome of those responses. Because "Arthur" presents real childhood issues, the show contains some imitative behavior such as name calling or bickering, much like children experience in their own lives. Kids might hear words like "sissy" or "stupid" and see Arthur and D.W. argue. Should children mimic some of these phrases or tactics, the show provides a good springboard for parents to talk about the issues with their children and point out the importance of considering others' feelings.
The review continued by citing many ways in which children could extract more from the series, for example by encouraging kids to write stories based on their own families (in much the same way Arthur was first realised) or by Kim Brown, Marc Brown's sister, teaching kids to draw Arthur while on tour.
In popular culture
Arthur regularly incorporates parodies of and references to pop culture including (but not limited to) South Park, Jeopardy!, The Waltons, The Sopranos, Beavis and Butt-head, the Indiana Jones films, the James Bond films, The Adventures of Tintin, Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, The Jerry Springer Show, Oprah, Law & Order, Charlie Rose, Antiques Roadshow, Mystery!, The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, Macbeth, Planet of the Apes, The Matrix, Star Wars, Titanic, The Wizard of Oz, Jaws, That '70s Show, Harry Potter, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, This Old House, The Happy Hollisters, and Percy Jackson & the Olympians.
In and leading up to July 2016, Arthur regained attention from users of Black Twitter, where stills from the series have become explicit and comedic internet memes, often using an image of Arthur's clenched fist from the episode "Arthur's Big Hit." WGBH said, "We appreciate the memes that have been created and shared in good fun, we are, however, disappointed by the few that are outside of good taste."
- "The First Almost Real Not Live CD (or Tape)" (1998)
- "Arthur's Perfect Christmas" (2000)
- "Arthur's Really Rockin' Music Mix" (2001)
- "Boogie Woogie Christmas" (2000)
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