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Would these Children’s Classics be Made Today?

"Sesame Street: Old School," the earliest episodes
of the pioneering children’s television show, was just released on DVD, and the
New York Times’ Virginia Heffernan noticed something unexpected – a parental
warning. The shows are "intended
for grown-ups, and may not suit the needs of today’s preschool
child." Times, it seems, have
changed in the nearly forty years since the program launched. 

In addition to characters who live in trash cans or insist
that their invisible woolly mammoth-like pals are real, the Monsterpiece
Theater segments starred Alistair Cookie, who had a pipe. A pipe that he ate! Heffernan quotes "Sesame Street"
executive producer Carol-Lynn Parente: "That modeled the wrong behavior, so
we reshot those scenes without the pipe, and then we dropped the parody

It’s hard not to see this as related to the same revisionist
tendencies that led Stephen Spielberg to digitally replace police officers’
with walkie-talkies for the 20th anniversary edition of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.

Disney’s The Jungle
(1967) and Dumbo (1941) run
the same risk of offending viewers as Song
of the South
, which M. Faust discusses here. In Dumbo,
the crows speak in African American dialect – one is even named Jim Crow, like
the laws that once mandated "separate but equal" treatment in the American
South. Some writers, Richard Schickel
among them
, found the portrayal negative, although others disagreed. Similar criticism was leveled at the baboon
character King Louie in The Jungle Book,
who sings in a scat style (although he’s voiced by Italian-American Louis Prima)
that "an ape like me can learn to be human too."

And a film like Bedknobs
and Broomsticks
, which took a positive, even heroic, view of witchcraft,
would likely rile up certain evangelical Christian factions that find dangerous
pagan influences in the Harry Potter books and films.

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