A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Gumby is a children's show with stop-motion-animated clay figures that's gentle enough for very young viewers, but weird enough for teens and adults. Characters are polite, thoughtful, and kindly; their adventures consist of things like hopping into books to live the stories in them, running for office, or exploring a mystery connected to a Ferris wheel. Some episodes feature vintage racism or sexism -- male characters are at the center of most storylines, and female characters are sidelined; a running storyline about "Indians" has the Native Americans shooting arrows, sending smoke signals, and talking in stereotypical pidgin English. Parents may wish to explain to their children that many of these episodes were made in the 1950s, when people thought differently than they do now. Besides that, Gumby is lots of fun, with no iffy language, no scariness, and imaginative, surreal adventures. It's not educational -- unless you want your children to think they can fly, get stuck in gumball machines, or eat a haunted hot dog -- but it's interestingly odd and innocent.
What's the story?
First aired in 1955, GUMBY still has charms for young children -- and for people of any age with an appreciation for oddball entertainment. Gumby (voiced by Ruth Eggleston in early shows, later by Dallas McKennon, among others) is a green clay figure with many magical abilities, who usually hangs around with a cynical orange pony, Pokey (voiced by Art Clokey, Dallas McKennon, and Norma MacMillan). As the show's early theme song tells us, they can walk into any book -- and frequently do, running into stop-motion claymation figures like knights and dragons, sad kings, lost little girls, and dogs who can talk (but can't say anything besides "Nope!"). It's pretty weird in Gumby's world. And that's just what fans like.
Is it any good?
Colorful, deliciously bizarre, cute, and gentle, this claymation show has an almost mystical ability to enchant people of all ages. A big part of the allure is Gumby's world, which is clearly hand-built and sometimes even a little clumsy. When Gumby wants to take a look at what some faraway friends are doing, he winds up a gadget clearly made from a repurposed cocoa tin, some glued-on bolts, and -- is that? -- yes, painted elbow macaroni. Every frame is alive with weird little details. While your children may be paying attention to a plotline about Gumby's missing ice cream cone, you'll be scrutinizing the edges of each shot for strange things (and finding them).
After watching, it probably won't surprise you to learn that in the 1970s, Gumby's creator Art Clokey took Beatles-like journeys to India to study with gurus (and to experiment with LSD) -- nor that Clokey's other best-known series, Davey and Goliath, was a squeaky-clean lessons-and-morals filled show. You'll see both of these Clokey sides in Gumby, his creator's towering curiosity and imagination, as well as compassion and kindness. The show's classic theme song says it best: "If you've got a heart, then Gumby's a part of you."
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why this particular animated show has endured, while other children's shows of the 1950s have faded into obscurity. Gumby got its start as a segment on the children's show Howdy Doody. Have you heard of that show? Seen it? Why has this show survived to be watched today while the much-more-popular-in-its-time Howdy Doody hasn't?
Some of the stereotypes and characters are somewhat dated today. Which parts of the show still stand up today and which ones are outdated? What can we learn about a particular moment in time from the entertainment it produced? Does this series give you any clues about how people thought and felt during the 1950s and 60s? What do you think people 50 years from now will think of us based on the shows you watch?
For kids who love classic cartoons
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