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TV REVIEW : Nickelodeon’s New Lineup for Preschoolers

“Pinwheel,” Nickelodeon cable’s potpourri of puppetry, live action, animation and short films for preschoolers, has been replaced.

Its successor, to be unveiled today at 11:30 a.m. is “Eureeka’s Castle,” a potpourri of puppetry, live action, animation and short films for preschoolers.

So, what’s different?

This is the all new, improved, deluxe model.

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Some comparisons to “Sesame Street” are unavoidable, although the focus here is not the ABCs. The segments are varied and quick, to accommodate the shorter attention spans of young children, and the inhabitants of the Castle are Muppet-like puppets.

There are Eureeka, a little girl wizard, a whiny bat, assorted mice, a helpful handyman, the grungy Moat Twins, who look and sound like close relatives of Oscar the Grouch, and a baby dragon named Magellan.

Magellan is to the show what Big Bird is to “Sesame Street.” He’s the 5-year-old who needs reassurance and wonders about the why of things.

The “message” puppet interplay is pleasant and unexceptional. It is used to impart gentle messages of sharing, fears and self-esteem.

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But the first show is a veritable cornucopia of little pleasures for any age.

The offerings include an animated version of William Steig’s curious tale, “The Amazing Bone”; a live-action film about a comic beetle; superb clay animation and a delightful guest spot with folk-singer Tom Chapin (he’s also the host of “National Geographic Explorer”) singing from his new children’s album.

It’s a toss-up as to who will get the most out of this show: adults or their children.

Following “Eureeka’s Castle” is “Fred Penner’s Place,” the second show in Nickelodeon’s new weekday line-up, airing at 12:30 p.m.

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This half-hour is a Canadian import--it’s been running there for five seasons. Like Sharon, Lois and Bram--the trio from Nickelodeon’s “The Elephant Show"--Penner is one of a select few top-selling Canadian children’s recording artists who have made significant in-roads on the market here.

Penner’s “Place” is a secret, woodsy hideaway reachable only through a hollow log. The bearded, lanky Penner affably sings songs, tells stories, offers a word for the day--courtesy of Word Bird (a puppet)--and entertains whatever visitor might pop in.

In the opener, two comic jugglers billed as “Circus Shmirkus” learn to work together and Penner talks about cooperation and sings about friendship.

It’s an amiable preschooler offering, loose and appealing, like a folksy “Mister Rogers.”

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