If you’re a parent, there’s a good chance that your family TV is set to cartoons more often than it’s set to crime dramas or reality shows. There’s no question that having kids results in a swift transfer of television power, in which parents surrender to their mini me’s monopoly of household entertainment.
So when your kid finds a show you can actually both enjoy, it’s a win-win. In 2017, Disney Junior introduced a new animated series called Puppy Dog Pals, created by comedian and dog lover Harland Williams. The show focuses on a loveable, lanky bachelor named Bob (voiced by Williams) and his puppy dog pals Bingo and Rolly, two talking pug brothers who set out on daily missions to help their owner. Bob and his pet family live in an adorable, wish-it-existed neighborhood in an unnamed city that seems to be San Francisco, evident by the trolley track-lined hills and painted-ladies style house which the main characters call home.
The show’s continuous success has resulted in tons of merchandise, popular theme music, and multiple season renewals, with Disney already ordering a fifth season before Season 4 had even begun. (In fact, the show has gone on so long that it recently changed the puppies’ young voice actors after the original boys were noticeably sounding like nearly grown men.) The pups’ popularity is likely due to its perfect balance of kid and grown-up appeal, making it one of those rare kids’ shows parents actually find entertaining.
As the mom of a 6 year old, I’ve spent more time exposed to children’s cartoons than I care to admit. And after a year and a half into a pandemic, I could easily win Kids’ Media Jeopardy with my Google hand tied behind my back. I have a secret list of cringeworthy shows that I steer my son away from, as well as a list of personal favorites that I believe are made by empathetic fellow parents who aim to entertain kids while keeping the non-Gen-Z crowd in mind.
Puppy Dog Pals is one of my personal favorites, as it includes just as much content for parents as it does for kids. From awesome music to familiar voiceovers from the likes of Spartan Cheri Oteri and The Office grouch Leslie David Baker, there is so much in this cartoon that truly delights adults.
Among the many aspects of this show that are over kids’ heads are the sublime pop culture Easter eggs. There are clever episode titles like “Hawaii Pug-Oh” and “Raiders of the Lost Bark.” There’s an entire Gilligan-spoofed episode entitled “Pupigans’ Island” and one called “Won’t You Be My Puppy” about the beloved cardigan-wearing host of “Mister Kimball’s Community.” There’s an episode where Bob oversleeps on a cruise and the pups prop him up total Weekend at Bernie’s style. They’ve given us Steve Urkel imitations, pets dramatically riding on a sail to Titanic music, and a game show called Double Doggie Dare hosted by Hal Summers. There’s even the three golden-girl horses who just happen to be named Bea, Betty, and Rue. All of these Easter eggs stop snack-bearing parents in their tracks and give us quite the chuckle as we feel the show’s nod to our generation.
But perhaps most importantly, the humanness and continuity of the show’s characters and plots appeal to adults. Gone are the days of anti-climactic, slapstick cartoons from our childhood; Puppy Dog Pals has created ongoing storylines led by characters viewers are invested in — as crazy as it makes us feel when we really think about it.
In season 2, the series introduced a new character named Ana (played by voiceover legend Cree Summer) who became fast friends with bachelor Bob. While kids were enjoying Ana’s new puppy Lollie, we grownups were speculating a budding romance between sweet Ana and our boy Bob as the pair shared their first date seated several appropriate feet away from each other on the couch. Parents like me even took to Twitter to weigh in on the romantic rumors.
In an exciting story development, Puppy Dog Pals delighted all of us grownups by making Bob and Ana get engaged in a recent episode! (Not to brag, but the above tweet clearly shows I called this back in ’19.) Disney Junior was abuzz on social media, filled with reactions from parents like me who were excited about the character development that’s actually interesting to adults. The episode features a blissfully happy couple who — in a nod to modern-day gender equality — propose to each other, share a G-rated hug, and embrace their blended pup family who are excited to start their new life together. I grinned ear to ear watching this long-awaited, happy scene…refusing to acknowledge that these are fictional animated characters.
Children’s media is a powerful force in today’s entertainment. Ideally kids’ television time can involve parents, which is why shows like Puppy Dog Pals that are enjoyable for the whole family are so special. The grownup appeal on this show is strong, and there’s no doubt we’ll be more invested as the series continues and features Bob and Ana’s wedding. So nobody tell me they’re “just cartoon characters.” If I can find their registry, I’m sending a gift.
Photos courtesy of Disney Junior.