My four year old son says things like “tensile strength” and “momentum” correctly. He builds things and discusses whether they’re stable or not. He talks about combustion and and angles. None of that is all the time, mind you, and is generally buried under pretending to be a cat and telling me to do voices for all the Cars characters.
The concepts I mentioned are pretty big for a four year old (a three year old, really, as he started talking about them at least a year ago) and they didn’t come from me or his mother. They came from Blaze and the Monster Machines.
There is a lot of like about Blaze and the Monster Machines, which airs on Nick, Jr. It has some really catchy, pop songs about things like structural engineering, trajectory, and potential energy. It’s kind of insane, really, but they are educational ear worms, probably only second to Bubble Guppies in their quality.
The theme song is also pretty good.
For those who don’t know, Blaze is a monster truck, the fastest monster truck, and he and his driver AJ have adventures, most of which involve winning races. They are joined by their monster truck friends: Starla, Zeg, Darrington, and Stripes. The main “bad guy” is a monster truck named Crusher who constantly cheats. Crusher has a best friend named Pickle whose only flaw is that he always tries to think the best of Crusher.
Blaze is the only monster truck with a driver for some reason (more on this in a minute). Blaze having a driver makes sense: he’s a kid that serves as the doorway character for the audience. I just don’t know why none of the other monster trucks have drivers or think it’s weird that Blaze has one. I suppose it’s a matter of limiting the number of characters.
All of Blaze’s friends have unique qualities: Starla is a cowgirl, Zeg is a dinosaur (truck), Darrington does stunts (DARINGton), and Stripes is a tiger (truck). They all have a hook. Blaze’s hook is that whenever he needs it, he can turn on his “blazing speed,” which he can also give to others. This is why he always wins everything.
(Blaze is also able to turn himself into whatever kind of vehicle he needs to be to get past any and all obstacles, but that is an entirely different issue.)
The show has two main problems, the first of which is probably glossed over by people who watch it: Blaze always wins.
I appreciate that Blaze is super cool and kids love him, but having him always win is the wrong message, particularly given that he often races with/against his friends. It regularly drives me batty that he always win. It’s okay if he loses and kids need to know that because they are going to lose sometimes, too.
The other problem is a bit bigger. I mentioned Blaze’s friends. Only one of them (Starla) is female, at least based upon the pronouns that are used. You can probably guess what color truck Starla is.
Yes, she’s pink.
And of the seven monster machines on the show, she’s the only girl.
The show tries to offset this with Gabby, who is the mechanic for all the monster machines. It’s great that the person who fixes all the trucks is a girl; she’s clearly smarter than the other human on the show, AJ. But she’s not in every episode and even when she is, it’s a supporting role.
Recently, the show introduced a new monster machine, another girl, named Watts. And you will never guess what color SHE is.
Yes, she’s pink – well, magenta. She has electric wheels, though, so I guess that’s better? And Gabby gets to be her driver, although the fact that Gabby has to be the driver of a female truck is a bit problematic, too.
I’ve come to realize, though, that fighting the gender portrayal battle against cartoons is not one I’m going to win any time soon, so the best I can do is off set it in all other aspects of my son’s life.
That sadly common fault aside, Blaze is a good show. The songs are super catchy and the STEM focus gets through to kids, or at least it does in my son’s case. It’s also a fully realized world, with pirates, a sphynx, a city full of race cars, an island full of animal trucks, and much more.
The toys are super cheap, too.
If I were creating some kind of ranking system for kids’ shows, I’d put Blaze in the same tier as Paw Patrol. It’s smarter, but it’s hard to compete with the appeal of those talking dogs.