The flickering glow of the TV screen is usually more than enough incitement to lure my 3-year-old into a deep trance. She’s not a discriminating viewer – if it sparkles, if there is a loud musical overlay, she’s in. I mean, she’s been known to sit through RuPaul’s Drag Race on multiple occasions. Does she ask when all the queens are going to bake cakes because I mostly watch baking shows? Yes. Am I embarrassed by this? Not at all. In fact, she may be on to something.
As much as I’d love to inflict my own viewing on her 24/7, her special hour of screen time has been sacrosanct. The programs she truly loves inspire nearly religious devotion. Currently, her one true god is a Netflix show, the Dreamworks-produced Gabby’s Dollhouse. While ne’er a cake is baked, and nary a queen sashays, my toddler is perpetually entranced and enchanted by the goings-on each episode.
Let me break it down for you: This YouTube inspired kids show has a simple conceit – Gabby, a real-live girl, puts on cat ears, sings a jingle, transforms into a cartoon, and is transported inside her dollhouse where all her tiny cat toys dwell in a state of barely contained chaos.
There’s her stuffed cat and traveling companion, Pandy! There’s the flying garden cat, Kitty Fairy! There’s the flat and narcoleptic one, Pillow cat! There’s the inexplicable scientist who lives in the bathroom, MerCat! Heck, they even have the resident bad boy, CatRat, a cat who behaves poorly and seems to be one trench coat flashing away from dollhouse exile entirely.
If your kid already likes cats, you’re welcome, I gave you at least three hours of your life back. If your kid doesn’t like cats…they will by the end of the first episode. This is both a threat and a promise.
Sometimes by story’s conclusion, the aforementioned chaos is temporarily righted: as in the episode “Hamster Kitties,” where a dozen small, uh, hamster kitties, escape into the dollhouse only to be flushed out by Gabby and her friends, Baby Box (a small carton of milk with a face who is also a cat) and Pandy. If my house were flooded with such an infestation, I’d likely burn it to the ground and move again to start fresh. Thankfully, Gabby and her feline friends are better people than all of us and wind up not only gathering up each and every errant hammy abomination but creating a new home where they can all live.
As a parent, could I do without my kid meowing at me 24/7 and singing one of the give or take 5 songs the series hammers into your dome like railroad spikes? Certainly! But is it better than “Baby Shark” and/or “What Does the Fox Say'” the two other jams my tot is the keenest to torture us with? Without question.
Every episode ends with a quick explainer on how to do a craft featured on the show. In the “Hamster Kitties” episode, for example, Gabby teaches you how to make your own hamster kitties using pompoms and googly eyes! Maybe this is something that will appeal to your kid, but mine was more like “Shrug, IDK this episode has taught me they are more trouble than they are worth”.
There’s also another element of the show that has been a real joy – the way it encourages imaginative play. My toddler happens to have a dollhouse, and prior to this show, I’d say it served one purpose – to shave flesh off my shins in the night as I sneak to pee under the cover of darkness. Now, it has a second purpose – it’s become a landscape for the adventures she acts out with small pretends friends and it’s encouraged her to create small adventures all her own – adventures WITHOUT theme songs!
Currently, season 1 is available to stream on Netflix – no word yet on season 2, but the dollhouse looks big enough to keep us entertained for seasons to come.