Korean horrors, dramas, romances and comedies have all achieved international success and critical acclaim. An up-and-coming albeit less-renowned genre is children’s film and television. Whether you are a parent, guardian, grandparent, auntie, uncle, teacher, or big kid yourself, here’s a look at some children’s K-film to be watched, adored and cherished. Which will become your new favourite?
Pororo the Little Penguin (뽀롱뽀롱 뽀로로)
First screened 2003
Graphics: CGI, bold, expressive.
Characters: Animals including Pororo and Petty the penguins, Poby the polar bear and Loopy the beaver.
Tone: Light, funny, cute, endearing.
Trailer (for film):
“Far far away, unknown and untouched by human civilization, lies a peaceful island covered in snow and ice. On this white island, deep inside a small secluded forest, is a tiny village inhabited by little animals.”
(From Pororo website)
With his unbelievably cute appearance and annoyingly catchy theme tune, Pororo provided my first insight into Korean children’s television back in 2008. In Korea at that time, this TV series seemed to be perpetually aired, and its protagonist’s image omnipresent in the form of plushies, souvenirs and every type of merchandise you could care to dream up. What’s more, everyone from my 30-something Korean friends to their toddling children, and even my little nephew back in England (who caught the bug after I bought him a toy) loved Pororo. All of this led me to assume that I was amidst Pororo in its heyday. Little did I know, though, that 2013 would see the release of feature-length film Pororo: The Racing Adventure (Dir: Park Yeong-gyoon) which sees characters leave their idyllic island for the first time. Though not a ground-breaking movie, it’s charming, fun and feel-good; just like a family film should be.
Leafie, a Hen into the Wild (마당을 나온 암탉)
2011, Dir. Oh Sung Yoon
Graphics: CGI /hand-drawn, artistic, poetic, detailed.
Characters: Animals including Leafie the hen, Rooster, Greenie the duck, Wanderer the duck, Mr. Otter and One-Eye the weasel.
Tone: Intelligent, moving, dramatic.
IMDB page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1971466/
“On a chicken farm among hundreds of hens is Leafie, one amazing hen who dreams of a life outside her cage. She manages to escape from captivity using her wit only to find herself […] surrounded by danger. Especially when she becomes the adoptive mother of a duckling.”
(From London Korean Film Festival website)
When Leafie screened at international events including London Korean Film Festival to critical acclaim, I simply had to check it out. What I found was far from “just another animated film”. Leafie is an important, thought-provoking, well-executed and beautiful piece, based on the best-selling book by Hwang Sun Mi. Themes of unconditional love, parenthood, freedom and acceptance chime with teenage and adult audiences on a genuine level, whilst retaining charming child-friendly characters and enchanting animation.
Dooly the Little Dinosaur (아기공룡 둘리)
First screened 1983
Graphics: Cartoon, cute, colourful.
Characters: Dinosaurs, aliens, animals and humans including Dooly the dinosaur, Douner the alien, Ddochi the ostrich and (human) dad Kildong.
Tone: Imaginative, humorous, magical, slapstick.
“Dooly is a baby dinosaur that was kidnapped by aliens, who had been experimented to give him magical powers. When he returned to Earth, he was trapped in the ice glacier causing him to faint during the Ice Age. About 10 million years later, one of the glaciers broke off and he came to Seoul.” (From Dooly’s wikipedia page)
I was first introduced to Dooly through my junior-aged Dooly-obsessed hagwon students, who were adamant that I had to check it out. On doing so, I was somewhat surprised to find out the baby dinosaur’s age. Being conceived in the 1980s and so popular well into ‘00s proved that the character had stood the test of time, and it’s not difficult to see why. Dooly achieves the perfect combination of imaginary worlds (dinosaurs, aliens and superpowers) with everyday real life. Hence, children really relate to him whilst being fascinated and wowed. As well as the addictively fun series, there is also a Dooly movie Little Dino Dooly, the Great Adventure on Iced Star (1996, Dir. Soo Jung Kim). Dooly is an institution loved by generations, and a must-see for any K-lover.
Tayo the Little Bus (꼬마버스 타요)
First screened 2010
Graphics: CGI, colourful, bright, simplistic.
Characters: Vehicles including Tayo, Rogi, Lani and Gani the buses; and humans that share their world.
Tone: Educational, moralistic, gentle, unpretentious.
“The metropolitan city, where most of the stories are set is inhabited by cars like the young bus ‘Tayo’ and his friends, as well as people of diverse occupations who live a harmonious life helping each other out.”
(From Tayo website)
Tayo is a relatively recent addition that is already a firm favourite with infant-aged children. Its fun style, expressive characters and clear-cut storylines captivate young viewers and delight older audiences .The episodes always include learning on many levels, and morals play a big part. Tayo’s tone and reception, as well as its subject matter, inevitably lead to comparisons with Thomas the Tank Engine here in the UK. Its sugary enjoyability and growing popularity certainly suggest that we’ll be seeing Tayo for years to come.
I’m just dipping my toe into the world of Korean children’s film and television and am sure that there are omissions from this post that I look forward to discovering soon (all recommendations are very welcome!) However these examples of Korean kids’ film and TV have been recommended by the best critics that I know- children themselves. So if you’re looking for an enjoyable, entertaining and charming watch, prepare a place in your heart for the likes of Pororo, Leafie, Dooly and Tayo.