- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 3, 2002

Two furry aliens roaming the galaxy on a couch may not sound inspiring for educational television, but the United Kingdom's Pepper's Ghost Productions begs to differ. Working with America's Sesame Workshop (developer of "Sesame Street"), it has produced 65 five-minute cartoons that encourage younger viewers to investigate their surroundings and solve science problems.

Currently appearing in the United States on Nickelodeon's Noggin cable channel, "Tiny Planets" features aliens Bing and Bong, who explore their galaxy as they learn about how and why things work.

The 3-D, CGI television series' companion Web site offers some of the same experiences as the show, with a wonderland of multimedia graphics sure to appeal to the inquisitive child in the family.

Tiny Planets

Site address: www.tinyplanets.com

Creator:

Tiny Planets.com was created by Pepper's Ghost Productions, a 4-year-old computer-animation studio based in London.

Creator quotable:

"We created this site to allow users to further explore the educational concepts highlighted in the 'Tiny Planets' television series and discover more about the two furry central characters, Bing and Bong," says Paul Michael, chief executive of Pepper's Ghost Productions.

"Tiny Planets.com represents a persistent point of presence for viewers of the television series. The success of the site has been demonstrated by the fact that it won a British Academy Award for best entertainment Web site and was nominated for a British Academy Award for online learning."

Word from the Webwise:

Targeted to children ages 3 to 6 years old, the Tiny Planets' Web site follows the adventures of Bing, who resembles the Abominable Snowman, and Bong, his six-legged, bucked-toothed, furry white buddy, as they are catapulted into their solar system on their couch.

Visitors enter the site via a pop-up window and will find the Tiny Planets universe ready for perusal, with a peppy theme song playing in the background and four worlds that reveal games and activities when a mouse is passed over them.

The intensity of some of the programming may strain slower Internet connections, but patience is richly rewarded with gorgeous, 3-D-like landscapes and characters. Visitors can choose among Bing and Bong's Home sphere or the planets of Technology, Light and Color, or Nature.

The three main planets each offer three games that teach through a combination of observation and play in colorful and challenging situations. For example, on Technology, visitors must help Bing and Bong fix a music wall by constructing a scaffolding of pipes to reach each note. Players drag and drop pieces to the right area in this mazelike game.

The second game offers fun using springs as the player helps one of the planet's inhabitants eat his fruit-filled lunch by bouncing him up to the healthy snacks. Moving a loaded contraption back and forth across the screen, the child will learn a bit about angles as well as cause and effect.

The Technology planet also contains a driving simulation in which the player must first build a bizarre-looking car and then choose different tire types to navigate the side-scrolling road with conditions ranging from bumps to water to train rails.

Players starting with a visit to Bing and Bong's Home planet will enjoy an animated clip of the two being launched on their furry white sofa, a guide to the characters and entire galaxy, a "duplicate a tangram" game, a printable activity and a 29-page comic book that explains the water cycle.

Ease of use:

Despite being unable to turn off the cute theme song until I shut down my browser, I thought the site looked beautiful, and it ran perfectly. Visitors will need the Macromedia Flash 5 plug-in and Adobe Acrobat to enjoy the goofy cyber-shtick.

Don't miss:

Two simulations really caught my eye. On the Nature planet, visitors can see characteristics of the seasons by moving objects onto the image of a landscape. As each object is added a snowflake or icicle for winter, for example the scene comes to life. Or, on the Light and Color planet, the child can view the shadows made by objects and characters that are dragged in front of a projector. The shadows can be made bigger or smaller by moving the light source. This activity leads to a game to identify parts of objects' shadows at different magnifications.

Family activity:

An obligatory coloring area under Bing and Bong's Home planet gives the whole clan a chance to print out six aliens for coloring.

Cyber-sitter synopsis:

I can see "Tiny Planets" really catching on as a favorite cartoon short for children. With the site just a year old, I expect the rest of the planets in the Bing and Bong TV universe Sound, Stuff and Self eventually to come to life online as well. The overall imaginative story concept and simplistic games surely will appeal to the preschool crowd.

Overall grade: A

Remember: The information on the Internet is constantly changing. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it's accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician.

Have a cool site for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message ([email protected]).


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