In the crush of this fall’s new network offerings, “Santo Bugito,” a CBS Saturday morning cartoon about a town of bugs, is causing quite a buzz in more ways than one.
For one thing, its nonviolent story line runs counter to the slew of physically oriented kids’ shows trying to ride the “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” wave. “Santo Bugito” (which stands for “little bug town”) has as its central characters a husband and wife who are loving and supportive--Carmen and Paco de la Antchez, who run a cantina in an upturned vase on Highway 5.
For another, there’s its setting, along the Texas-Mexico border, which gives the show a strong Latino flavor. About half the characters are Latin-styled--with the voices of such performers as Tony Plana, Marabina Jaimes, Candi Milo and Cheech Marin--and so is the theme song and musical score.
The animation community is also keen to see the first “Tex-Mex cartoon"--the latest product from the innovative team of Klasky Csupo Inc., the creators of “Duckman” (USA Network) and “Rugrats” (Nickelodeon). The show is scheduled to premiere Sept. 16.
“The inspiration for a lot of our shows comes from our kids, and we explore things they like,” creator Arlene Klasky explains. “We had explored the monster arena in our ‘Aaahh! Real Monsters’ [Nickelodeon] and then we did the world of babies in ‘Rugrats.’ ”
Two years ago, Klasky and partner Gubar Csupo decided to incorporate some elements of Latino music and culture into their work, after seeing how much their children loved visits to Latino sections of Los Angeles.
Then Klasky had the brainstorm of combining the Latin theme and a Latino music track with a concept she had been developing on another subject that fascinates kids--entomology.
“Kids really like bugs. Boys particularly like squishy, slimy, squirmy bugs,” Klasky says. “I wanted to put these insects in the desert, and once we chose the border of Texas and Mexico, we developed this Tex-Mex feel to the show.”
On paper, combining the two themes sounds like a politically incorrect network nightmare. From the controversy over the Frito Bandito corn chip commercials from Frito-Lay Inc., which were eventually pulled in 1970, to the current boycott by the National Hispanic Media Coalition of Capital Cities/ABC over the lack of representation of Latinos, the Latino community has been sensitive to its depiction on television.
The show hasn’t been screened for reporters yet, but it gets a clean bill of health in the cultural sensitivity arena from its script consultant, Concepcion Valadez, an associate professor in UCLA’s Graduate School of Education. “Paco and Carmen are very loving and real problem-solvers,” she says.
Another Latino consultant, culture musicologist Tito Larriva--who has a singing part in the cast--oversaw the musical authenticity of the soundtrack.
Bug characteristics, however, are more important than race in the shape of the overall show.
Other characters include what Klasky calls “a couple of rednecks,” Clem and Burt, who are barflies. They can be sweet but eventually deteriorate into the disgusting, sexist, tasteless flies they really are--eating objects they find stuck to their hairy legs, for example.
Then there is Ralph the Ladybug, a gruff, macho truck driver trapped in the body of a ladybug; Eaton Woode, a starving artist who is a sullen and Angst -ridden termite, and Amelia, a dragonfly complete with an Amelia Earhart aviator’s cap and the energy and daring for tricky maneuvers.
“What we are doing is trying to stay true to the characteristics of the bugs--flies are disgusting and dirty, so our flies spit up their food as part of their external digestion,” Klasky explains.
Indeed, consultant Valadez said her main problem with the show was the graphic nature of insect larvae, pods, saliva sacks and digestive tracts--the very areas that fascinate children.
The realism of entomological bodily functions was toned down by inserting an animated professor who pops up throughout the half-hour episodes to explain segmented body parts, multifaceted eyes, scent trails and why a fly does regurgitate its food before it eats. Parents should prepare to have these facts repeated to them at meal times.
Though “Santo Bugito” is not targeted specifically at a Latino audience, it does highlight a culture that is rarely covered on television and seldom in children’s animation.
“Hopefully, Latino kids will find this show is a little bit closer to their hearts than ‘Power Rangers,’ ” Csupo says.