My wife, daughter, mother, father and I had wholesome family fun at the Murat Theatre in Indianapolis last Sunday, where we saw a production of Elmo's Coloring Book. The last time we were at the Murat was to see Chris Rock's Black Ambition Tour in 2004. Neither daughter nor parents were with us for that.
People who don't have kids probably see going to things like this as a good reason not to have kids, but all in all, it was a well-done production featuring nice sets, much dancing and decent music, although I suspect Elmo was lip-syncing.
Actually, a nice thing I noticed about ECB, as those in the know refer to it, was it didn't throw in a lot of half-assed pop-culture references to try to reach the parents. This seems to be a welcome trend in kiddie entertainment away from the 'Robin Williams as the Genie does impressions of 80's celebrities' thing that was big for a while, as Curious George the Movie didn't pull any of that shit either, aside from the King Kong references, but how do you expect them to do a monkey movie without throwing in a nod to King Kong? Actually in this case, there was an interesting subtext having to do with Imperialism and the White Man's appropriation of other cultures. It was a message similar to that put across by Gil Scot-Heron and the Last Poets in their track 'It Ain't No New Thing' ('release the album 'John Wayne sings the Blues'/release the album 'J Edgar Hoover sings James Brown'), but in this case presented in a fashion that would entertain toddlers, and definitely would not require you to explain to them what 'cultural rape' means.
In the story, Professor Art, the only human cast member, creates a device that enables the characters to put themselves inside coloring books depicting scenes including ancient Egypt and Dinosaur times (in a bold move, during this sequence they acknowledge that yes in fact the Earth is more than 5000 years old, which would have enraged the IDers if there had been any there (nobody walked out angrily)).
Colors start missing from scenes, and even Oscar the Grouch loses his color, becoming as white and clean and annoyingly cheery as the Snuggle Bear. The culprit turns out to be a Polar Bear named Blanche, who lives in the color starved (except for the Northern Lights I suppose) Arctic, and thus has to resort to stealing colors from others to enhance her environment. Obviously there are direct parallels to White America's appropriation of blues and later hip-hop from African Americans here, as well as the British Empire's appropriation of elements of the various cultures it conquered in its Colonial days. It's an interesting message, but of course to the kids it's all about singing and dancing Dinosaurs that look like they rolled in a bowl of Skittles and seeing the Sesame Street gang pretty much Live On Stage.
At the end, everyone reconciles and all is well. Then confetti cannons go off on each side of the stage, startling especially small children and reminding the rest of us that even when peace and harmony are achieved, they are fragile things that require constant attention and care, with the possibility of war and violence always lurking in the background.
Overall it was quite thought-provoking, and the kids dug it too. My daughter was sad it was over and wanted to see it again, and it seemed the production was well-received by other children in attendance.
Recommended for people wanting to entertain people who can't read this sentence.