My daughter loves Peppa Pig. I love Peppa Pig. We all love Peppa Pig!
For those without kids (because if you have them, you know Peppa Pig), Peppa Pig is a series of short cartoons featuring a family of pigs. Peppa is the oldest child. She has a younger brother, George, a mum and a dad. They live in a brightly coloured world with many other animal families.
You would expect that my (nearly) three year old would enjoy Peppa for completely different reasons than me. In fact, its genius is that we both love the same things about it, albeit in slightly different ways. The simple truth is that it is written brilliantly. It achieves what hundreds of cartoons, particularly American film cartoons, fail to. It speaks to adults and children through the same language.
There is a theory in filmmaking which says you must offer something to the adults, or they won’t bring their kids. This is usually done by running two parallel films side by side. So the story is there for the kids, but it’s overlaid with references that only adults will understand. This can be done well, for example the first Shrek film does a reasonable job. More often than not, it’s a disaster. The kids don’t feel like they are fully engaged in the story and the adults aren’t satisfied sitting through something mindless waiting for a cheap double entendre.
Peppa manages to avoid this by scripting every element of the story in an entirely genuine way. So, if the family are confronted by a challenge and Daddy Pig claims he can solve it, his confidence is straightforwardly expressed. Children know that Daddy Pig has a big tummy and a misplaced sense of self-confidence. They find him funny. The fact that this resonates with the parents is not because the writers have hidden clever meanings within the dialogue, it’s because it’s a reflection of the reality of adult life. My daughter and I laugh at the same thing. “Silly old Daddy Pig!”, we both say.
Peppa Pig is so beguiling because the writers deliberately avoid trying to look clever, while being incredibly clever indeed. Speaking so well to two hugely different audiences is very hard to do. Many children’s shows don’t bother trying, which is perfectly fine. Some try to throw in adult references and end up looking smug, or weird, or both. The same problems crop up in any kind of writing designed to appeal to a wide spectrum of readers.
The best way to deal with this is to remember that no-one likes being patronised and no-one likes feeling excluded from a message. If you represent what you mean in a clear, appropriate way, you need to trust your reader to take away the right things from it. “Not getting it” is hardly ever the reader’s fault.
So, whatever your age. Take five minutes to watch this from YouTube. It’s simply great.
(NB – Obviously Peppa doesn’t personally endorse me or TFE Consulting!)