Why Nickelodeon’s new ‘Blue’s Clues’ may feel very, very familiar
It won’t take an expert detective to sniff out the similarities between Nickelodeon’s upcoming series “Blue’s Clues & You” and its source material, “Blue’s Clues.”
After comparing the first three episodes of “Blues Clues & You” — currently available on Vudu — to their original counterparts on Amazon Prime, The Times has concluded the forthcoming reboot of the popular children’s program will follow mysteries nearly identical to those of its namesake. Key differences, such as a fresh host and updated technology, will separate the old from the new.
“Blue’s Clues,” which ran on Nickelodeon from 1996 to 2007, followed Steve Burns and his dog, Blue (voiced by co-creator Traci Paige Johnson), as Steve deciphered the meaning behind Blue’s barks by tracking strategically placed paw prints — with assistance from the show’s young viewers.
Each episode adhered to the same easily digestible formula: The live-action host collects three clues — drawing a symbol for each in his handy-dandy notebook along the way — that add up to Blue’s message of the day. Once Blue’s owner and the audience find every hint, the host returns to his “thinking chair” to solve the puzzle. The learning program earned eight consecutive Emmy nominations for preschool children’s series between 1998 and 2005.
“Blue’s Clues & You” sees Johnson reprise her voice role as the title pup opposite newcomer Josh, played by Joshua Dela Cruz, who takes up Steve’s mission to hunt for Blue’s clues. In the pilot, Josh also benefits from additional guidance, courtesy of former “Blue’s Clues” hosts Steve and Joe (Donovan Patton), who replaced Burns’ character in 2002.
Though the series uses newly recorded voice performances, the scripts and animated movements remain largely unchanged, as each episode closely matches the corresponding original — with a few exceptions. Because the new show runs about two minutes shorter than “Blue’s Clues’” 25 minutes, certain sequences that aren’t crucial to the plot — such as Blue painting elephants or assembling doll outfits out of felt — have been cut, while others more integral to the story have been shortened.
Among the modern elements to be featured in the reboot are Broadway star Dela Cruz’s jazzy spins on classic “Blue’s Clues” tunes, advanced CG animation for Blue and her canine pal, Magenta, and a tricked-out take on the host’s trademark notebook, which now doubles as a smartphone. In the second episode of “Blue’s Clues & You,” “Playdate With Magenta,” Josh’s notebook/phone comes in handy as the final clue, hinting that Blue wants to take a photo with Magenta during her visit. In the original, “Magenta Comes Over,” the final clue is a camera from the pre-smartphone era. Similarly, instead of receiving handwritten letters in the mail like Steve, Josh simply opens emails from pen pals on his phone.
Familiar friends such as Tickety Tock, Slippery Soap, Shovel, Pail, Mr. Salt, Mrs. Pepper, Cinnamon, Paprika, Felt Friends, Sidetable Drawer and Mailbox will return to accompany Josh and Blue on their adventures, along with some small additions — two of whom make their debut in the third installment of “Blue’s Clues & You.” While the original episode “Blue’s News!” introduced Paprika as Mr. Salt and Mrs. Pepper’s new baby girl, the updated version, “Big News With Blue” reveals Paprika’s littlest siblings, twins Sage and Ginger.
Amid an industrywide influx of new franchise installments, there are no set rules for remakes or revivals, though “Blue’s Clues & You” sticks closer to its predecessor than other animated TV reboots. The Times compared writing credits and episode synopses on more than 30 animated remakes — nearly all geared toward children — to their respective originals and concluded that none hewed as tightly to their initial iteration as the first three chapters of “Blue’s Clues & You.”
“For me, it’s kind of an homage to what I did, coming back to exactly the ... format that I created, which, at the time — and still, now — is completely unique to television,” “Blue’s Clues” co-creator Todd Kessler, who is not involved in the production of “Blue’s Clues & You,” told The Times in a phone interview, referring to the episodes now streaming on Vudu.
A pioneer in interactive TV, the first “Blue’s Clues” engaged its preschool-age fans by breaking the fourth wall and inviting them to help solve Blue’s riddles. In 2019, “Blue’s Clues & You” will take the interactivity up a notch with play-along videos available on Noggin, Nickelodeon’s youth-facing educational subscription service.
“They made a couple minor changes,” Kessler said. “But, literally, you’ll see they follow the shots and the animation pretty much in a paint-by-numbers way.”
“With any property, there’s a need to refresh it,” he added. “Our budget for ‘Blue’s Clues’ was about one quarter of what the budget for other Nickelodeon shows was at the time. So now the animation and the backgrounds are much more robust than they were originally. ... And also, they have a host who’s from mixed cultures and will have a much easier time being identified with around the world.”
The network also offered its perspective on how the updated “Blue’s Clues” nods to the show’s earlier days.
“The new series is not a shot-for-shot remake. We have refreshed a number of the original scripts and added modern touches,” a representative for Nickelodeon, which declined to make the producers of the reboot available for comment, said in a statement to The Times. “There are similarities, including ‘Easter eggs’ for the fans, and there are instances where the scripts adhere closely to the original as well as having many new moments.”
“Blue’s Clues & You” premieres Nov. 11 on Nick Jr.
Times staff writer Carolina A. Miranda contributed to this report.
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