'Tots TV' High on Sugar--and Spirit

Although the title is a warning that sugary cuteness may lie ahead, young children can do a lot worse than to tune in Saturday to the new educational preschooler series, "Tots TV," a British import combining puppetry, live-action and animation.

Aside from intermittent stickiness, the show gets high marks for its gentle spirit and careful adherence to principles of early childhood development.

The Tots are three puppets of varying hues who live in a quaint cottage in the woods with their donkey (a real one) and are unseen by human beings. Tom, who wears glasses and is more or less the trio's leader, has blue hair; Tiny has green hair; and red-haired, Spanish-speaking Tilly has her words repeated in English by the other two.

Each show includes the Tots at play, their observations of an adult animal expert named Jane and their forays into the real world--to see how things work or how they are made or to view children in various situations.

On the down side, the Tots, who are voiced somewhat oddly by adults, are given to inane giggling and cloying dialogue--not a plus for parents who wince at Barney for the same reasons.

But by example, the Tots and the show as a whole admirably encourage curiosity and imagination, civility and self-esteem.

* "Tots TV" premieres at 7 a.m. Saturday on KCET-TV Channel 28 and will be followed at 7:30 by another new children's series, "The Big Comfy Couch."

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