Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego?

TV review by
Emily Ashby, Common Sense Media
Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego? TV Poster Image
Smart series teaches kids about geography, world cultures.

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Kids say

age 2+
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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Educational Value

This series packs a punch of smart content, teaching kids about world geography, history, and cultural appreciation. Typical episodes include references to art history, literature, political structures, and languages from the different countries featured in the story.

Positive Messages

The series encourages kids’ curiosity about diverse places, cultures, and historical events. Although Carmen’s thieving ways make her a villain, she’s not out for greed or power, she never wants to harm her pursuers, and she shows great respect for artifacts and their place in history. At times it’s difficult to separate villains from heroes, and occasionally the show’s protagonists seem to work with Carmen.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Zack and Ivy are motivated to learn about history, geography, and world cultures, and they use their knowledge to piece together clues to Carmen’s crimes and protect the world’s artifacts.

Violence & Scariness

Violence isn’t central to the plot, but there are some explosions, death-defying falls, and spectacular crashes, although injuries are rare. Stories rooted in historical times (the American Revolution, for instance) may show some battles and gun use.

Sexy Stuff
Language
Consumerism

The show is based on a computer game and has inspired board games and other products.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this series aims to expand viewers’ familiarity with world geography and culture, making it a smart choice for kids and tweens . Although the plot centers on the actions of a career thief, Carmen’s not a villainous character, and she often helps her pursuers escape dangerous situations. The show has enough action to keep even modern kids’ interest, and the absence of chronic violence and focus on worthwhile educational content is a good departure from many more current cartoons.

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What's the story?

WHERE ON EARTH IS CARMEN SANDIEGO? is an animated series based on a computer game from the early ‘90s. The story follows teenage ACME detectives Zack (voiced by Scott Menville) and Ivy (Jennifer Hale) on their quest to capture notorious thief Carmen Sandiego (Rita Moreno), who traipses all over the globe in search of famous artifacts to steal. Carmen tempts her pursuers with encrypted clues about her whereabouts and the object of her interest, and Zack and Ivy must use their knowledge of geography and world cultures to keep up with Carmen and her henchmen.

Is it any good?

Originally airing from 1994 to ’99, Carmen Sandiego is very clear about its mission to educate viewers about the history, geography, and culture of the world they live in. Each episode shows Zack and Ivy racing from country to country, following clues left by Carmen to test their knowledge, and the show’s format -- which includes trivia sessions, vocabulary, and even the characters’ use of foreign language -- is designed to pique kids’ interest in these subjects.

And the good news doesn’t stop there. The characters’ cat-and-mouse game is full of action and adventure, to be sure, but unlike many more current cartoons, it’s noticeably light on violence and even on villains. Carmen breaks the law at every turn, but her thefts are somehow forgivable in light of the fact that she does it more for the challenge and the thrill of it than for any personal gain, and her main concern is always the preservation of the artifacts. In fact, she even concerns herself with the kid detectives’ well-being and is known to step in on their behalf when there’s danger.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the places they see in the show. What countries did the characters visit? What historical or cultural value do these places offer? How does the show teach you about these landmarks?

  • Do you consider Carmen a villain? Is she a criminal? How does her likability affect your impression of her? Should her personality be taken into account when you're judging her actions? Why or why not?

  • In what ways is this show a departure from reality? How would it be changed if Carmen faced real consequences for her crimes? Why do TV series veer so far away from reality? Are there benefits to that?

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