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And this little piggy got a show

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TELEVISION CRITIC

Olivia, as many of you already know, is a little girl piglet, age 6 and three-quarters, who lives in books by Ian Falconer, of which some 6 million copies have been sold in 40 languages. She likes art, music and dancing, favors red stripes and leads a vivid fantasy life. Now she is a cartoon character, the eponymous star of a new series that begins today as part of Nickelodeon’s Nick Jr. bloc.

There is always a danger in translating beloved children’s works from one medium to another, though I would guess that as a rule it’s more the adults who feel the cognitive dissonance than the kids, who are happy to have more of a thing they like and fret less about interpretation and what is or is not canonical. And though I’m not personally particularly invested in the original “Olivia,” I am nevertheless as a rule against degrading personal vision into branded product -- Disney’s preschool reductions of Winnie the Pooh and the Mickey Mouse gang come rapidly to mind.

“Olivia,” however, is charming -- made with intelligence, wit and a real regard for its source. It is paced for preschool without losing energy, and though its little pigs are occasionally precocious (as with Olivia’s “rules for life”), they are never merely cute. (As pigs, of course, they are prodigies.) If it were a choice between the two, I’d take the books, but that is not a choice anyone is being forced to make.

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The translation to the screen maintains the charcoal softness of Falconer’s drawings and honors their restrained palette -- the first “Olivia” book was all in black, white and red, and subsequent volumes have advanced only gingerly beyond that. The cartoon employs a full spectrum of colors but keeps them subtle.

Falconer’s pigs are more angular than the usual fat, curvy, corkscrew-tailed cartoon kind; he puts a lot of energy into the ears, hooves, snout and very wide mouths. But beyond their appearance, there is nothing else particularly piggy about them. They wear clothes, live in houses, drive cars, keep pets (the standard dog and cat) and carry on just like people.

On the page, Olivia has lived only five real stories; the series will add 51 more (in 26 episodes), reflecting the full range of occupations for a modern 6-year-old, including “Olivia Trains Her Cat,” “Olivia Plays Soccer,” “Olivia Plays Piano,” “Olivia and Her Lemonade Stand,” “Olivia Makes a Video.”

In one of the two adventures made available for review, Olivia imagines herself proprietor of “the fanciest hotel in the world,” where each room “comes with fluffy towels, little chocolates on the pillows and room service.” In the other, she becomes concerned that her little brother Ian one day might be taller than she.

“You’re making a big mistake,” she tells him and advises him that “you can control how much you grow with your own thoughts. If you try very hard not to grow, maybe you won’t.” He decides to grow anyway.

There are lessons attached, but small ones -- Ian may grow taller, but she’ll always be his big sister -- and lightly lobbed.

“Olivia, I need you to understand something,” says her father.

“I understand lots of things,” says Olivia.

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robert.lloyd@latimes.com

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‘Olivia’

Where: Nickelodeon

When: 11:30 a.m. today

Rating: TV-Y (suitable for young children)


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