Review: 'Wallykazam!' is letter perfect for the preschool set

Review: 'Wallykazam!' is letter perfect for the preschool set
Wally Trollman and his pet dragon, Norville, on "Wallykazam!" on Nickelodeon. (Nickelodeon)

"Wallykazam!," you might have guessed from the title, is a show for young people. Premiering Monday afternoon on Nickelodeon, it is a preschool, literacy-based cartoon that essentially takes a "Sesame Street" sound-of-this-letter blackout and works it into a 22-minute story.

Wally is a 6-year-old troll with a puppyish pet dragon named Norville, evidently a graduate of the Scooby-Doo School of Diction, and a magic stick that can create things out of thin air, but only if they begin with the letter-sound of the day. (It's like a supernatural Enigma machine.) Thus, in the episode titled "Castle Caper," he can produce objects only whose names or relevant qualities begin with a hard "C."

"I could make you a cow," he tells Norville, whom he is about to reward for retrieving that selfsame stick. "Or a cap. Or a cow wearing a cap."

In fact, he whips him up a castle. And though he cannot directly make Norville a king, for though the sound is right the letter is wrong, he can summon him up a crown. Both the crown and the castle are, however, peremptorily occupied by the psycho-in-a-kid-friendly-way Bobgoblin, who refers to himself in the third person. To gain entry, Wally conjures up a sort of Trojan cake and a costume to wear to deliver it.

You may have divined that this is a magical storybook sort of land. Wally's other playmates include Gina, a giant; Ogre Doug, an ogre; and Libby Light Sprite, whom I would characterize as a fairy.

As is often the case in shows shot toward this demographic target, Wally will talk to the viewer, with spaces left for response. That's because your child will obey and answer a cartoon character just as your child will obey and answer you. When Ogre Doug's Borgelorp, a kind of spherical chipmunk, who is not supposed to eat purple flowers, eats a flower, Wally asks us, "I didn't see what color it was — what color was it?" I didn't see, either, which, I suppose, is the difference between me and a 4-year-old. (It was yellow.)

The characters, who come in bright candy colors that make them equally the property of children of every race, have that cast-in-PVC look common to computer animations. The soft palette and picture-book design conform at least to adult notions of what children like. But it is not hard to look at.

A head writer on "The Backyardigans," "Blue's Clues" and "The Electric Company," creator Adam Peltzman knows his business, clearly. "Wallykazam!" — I guess you have to shout the name — may lack the weird brilliance and no-kids-necessary surreal appeal of "Teletubbies" and "Wonder Pets," for which Peltzman has also written. But it is more clever than cute, stays on the right side of saccharine and does like a bit of chaos. Plus: letters.