If only we humans had never existed . . .

7th November 1997 at 00:00
NOAH'S ISLAND. BBC1 Mondays 4.15-4.40pm.

Give me a child at the age of seven? If you're in education, your intellectual influence will be shared with parents, peers and peripheral vision. The first two are obvious; the third is the subtle infiltration of media messages into children's conscious and sub-conscious understandings.

Noah's Island is current after-school viewing for many 5-9 year olds. The series represents many characteristics of television for children. It's genuine Eurovision material, produced by a pan-European partnership which includes the BBC.

Technically, it's reminiscent of high-grade computer graphics: crisp cartoon characters, colouring that only occasionally veers into garishness, and English voicing that is highly polished. Stars of the calibre of Ron Moody provide a good range of characterisations and language usage.

As usual, cartoon culture identifies human characteristics in animals and vice versa. The storyline - a "survival of the species" saga - is gentle enough and carries a few topical messages about our planet.

A fireball from outer space hits the Arctic peninsula, breaking off a chunk of land which floats into the South Atlantic. Noah, the sagest of polar bears, understands the prehistoric cave-dwellers' paintings, welcomes the reviving mammoths and gently governs newcomers whose journey to a nice new zoo is interrupted by a hurricane. There are characters like Woomera, a kangeroo sharing his name with the nuclear test zone in Australia, Reg the mandril, who needs to have his own space, and Hetty the gibbon, who drowns within moments of her screen debut, leaving her partner to mourn her.

As the animal community develops, global issues bob up like philosophical icebergs. Voracious humanity is unseen, but poses the ultimate threat to survival. Climate change, conservation, territorial conflict, emotional bonding - all are given an airing.

It has to be a Good Thing to build children's awareness of such real-world issues. It's just that the solutions, however lightly inferred, are too glib and easy for a boring old grown-up.

There's an animal paradise somewhere on the planet, unaffected by ecologically unsound humans. Conflict resolution is about homogenisation of animal or cultural behaviour. Bereavement is soon sorted, once you have a job to do. Disney's The Lion King, by comparison, manages a more moving and truthful account. But we're only talking about children's television, I know. The chance of any confusion with the real world is probably negligible. Children are more sophisticated than we realise. Probably not worth worrying about. Probably not.

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