‘Johnny’ teaches kids to discover new ideas

Katherine Moore

“Johnny and the Sprites” has set a new standard in children’s programming. Parents are encouraged to watch television with our children to interact with them and help them understand what they’re watching.

But let’s face it: kids shows are fairly horrible. They seem to cater to the lowest common denominator and rely on the assumption that most kids will watch just about anything as long as it’s colorful. Every morning I live in fear that this will be the day my son discovers the likes of Barney or the Teletubbies.

That’s why I was pleasantly surprised to discover “Johnny and the Sprites” on the Disney Channel. Now in its second season, “Johnny and the Sprites” is the story of a young man named Johnny (played by John Tartaglia) who moves to a house in the woods to write music. He soon discovers that the woods surrounding his new home are filled with magical creatures, including the Sprites.

Ginger (Leslie Carrara-Rudolph) is an air sprite who enjoys sports and games. Basil (Tim Lagasse) is an earth sprite, he’s very smart and is an expert on gardening and sprite history. Lily (Carmen Osbar) is a water sprite. Lily is very attuned to nature and speaks Spanish. Root (Heather Asch) is a baby Earth sprite who has already learned to make vegetables grow just by talking to them.

Johnny teaches the sprites (and the viewers) important lessons about patience and taking turns while the sprites remind Johnny of the importance of having fun and living life to the fullest. With the help of special guest characters like the “Make a Mess Troll” and the rare “Notseenaloticus” children learn about cleaning up after themselves and the value of protecting endangered species.

Sage (also played by John Tartaglia), the oldest and wisest sprite in the woods, is always on hand to give the young sprites advice. Johnny’s human friend Gwen (Natalie Venetia Belcon) stops by in every episode with a different job, stressing the importance of trying new things.

The production value of “Johnny and the Sprites” is surprisingly high. The show is filled with songs written by award winning Broadway composers like Gary Adler and Bobby Lopez (Avenue Q) Laurence O’Keefe (Legally Blonde: The Musical) and Michael Patrick Walker (Altar Boyz).

Taped on a studio soundstage in Queens, the set of “Johnny and the Sprites” (designed by Laura Brock) is elaborate and thoughtful. No detail was spared in Johnny’s house with its quaint charm. The woods around Johnny’s house is full of lush greenery, tons of flowers, a waterfall and a reflecting pond. The woods are obviously fake, but the attention to detail and the sheer volume is astounding. Every viewing of the show lends itself to new discoveries.

For children, the Sprites are sweet and endearing creatures and for young mothers John Tartaglia isn’t bad to look at either. Weekend mornings don’t seem so bad since my son and I discovered this new show. “Johnny and the Sprites” proves that children can be entertained and still learn with higher production quality and thoughtful programming. “Johnny and the Sprites” can be seen on Saturday and Sunday mornings at 7:30 and I look forward to many more seasons that I can enjoy with my son.