Thursday, December 9, 2010

Media Analysis:Disney’s Bilingual Preschool Television Series Handy Manny

As the Christmas approaches, we often look for good Christmas movies. Some of the films such as A Charlie Brown Christmas, Home Alone series, Miracles on 34th Street, and indeed, Disney movies are classics per se. It may not be an exaggeration that many children in the United States grew up with Disney. The universal appeals of Disney programs have not ceased until today. The adult audiences still reconnect to Disney series and the growing children’s childhood is adjoined by Disney. Now, Disney particularly organized a programming called Playhouse, for the preschool audiences. How and why these Disney’s programs attract viewers intrigued me to select Handy Manny to examine for my media analysis. To me, Disney never fails to impress their viewers. Especially, Handy Manny’s engagingness with Latin culture and Latino/a characters posed interesting insights into the new generations of Disney characters. In this analysis, I will substantially assess the functions of Spanish accents in the episodes and the intended viewers of the show.
To briefly introduce Handy Manny show, Handy Manny is an animated preschool children's television series. The program is directed by Tom Bastein. It airs on weekday mornings at /c. Handy Manny describes the adventures of Manny Garcia, a bilingual Hispanic handyman, presumably a Mexican American based on the presentations of Mexican cultures in the program, and his eight anthropomorphic tools. Manny and the tools primarily speak in English; nonetheless, they speak words or short sentences in Spanish. The motto of the Handy Manny’s repair shop is “You break it, We fix it!” The episode usually revolves around Manny and his tools assisting their neighbors. The episode not only educates Spanish language but also includes moral lessons for the children viewers.
             Employing the simple Spanish in the show was the one of the essential aspects that I have noticed. In this analysis, I will heavily focus on Manny’s accents and its possible functions in the show. Manny, the protagonist, speaks in accented English. Wilmer Valderrama plays the voice of Manny. Valderrama is best known for his act in That's 70s show. He plays a comical foreign exchange student, Fez, with a strong Spanish accent. On the other hand, in Handy Manny, Valderrama lowered the tone of his voice and softened his accents. He does not sound like a stereotypical Latino Buffon in Handy Manny; instead, his solid voice portrays him as a diligent and credible man in the town. Manny teaches his tools Spanish words on the shows. For instance, in the Flicker Saves Christmas episode, Manny particularly emphasized Christmas related Spanish vocabularies. Pat, the hammer, did not understand what Manny has said: "Let's decorate arbole de Navidad." Manny kindly translates his Spanish into English, “Christmas tree,” for Pat to comprehend. This markedly demonstrated that Manny has knowledge of Spanish and Pat is a non-Spanish speaking character. (Flicker Saves Christmas -18:20)
Besides Pat, the hammer, all the tools speak both in English and in Spanish; however, Felipe, a yellow screw driver, is the only character among the tools who carries the accents when speaking in English. Felipe is portrayed as a somewhat native Spanish speaker. The voices of Felipe and Abuelito were played by an Argentinean American actor, Carlos Alazraqui. Most of his past roles were Latino characters; nonetheless, he is often praised for his capability of adopting numerous accents. In fact, he is best known for his Scottish accents. In addition to Alazraqui, there was a Latina voice actress named Shelly Morrison who features Mrs. Portillo. Except for Alazraqui, Morrison and Valderrama other characters from Handy Manny are played by non-Latino/as, mainly White Americans.
Largely, three levels of accents are featured in Handy Manny. First, there are White Americans such as Kelly and Mr. Lopart who speak appropriate American English; they do not carry any conspicuous accents. Next, there are bilingual characters such as Manny, Felipe and Mrs. Portillo. Even though they are fluent in English, their English is accompanied by accents. Lastly, the tools exemplified English speaking characters who are learning Spanish. Manny and the other Latino/a figures as their instructors, the tools study Spanish language.
The majority of the discourse exchanges among these individuals are in English. One of the Latino/a will usually initiate the Spanish or Latin culture related conversations. The characters communicate between different accent groups or even within their own groups. Manny to the Rescue episode, predominantly presented Latino/as: Manny, Señor Sanchez, the Chief Eduardo, and Adrienta. I observed that the principal performance of Latino/as in this particular episode led to the increased conversations in Spanish. For example, Señor Sanchez seemed like a stable elder in the town; he probably owned a house that he resides in. He spoke with heavy accents. Next, the Chief Eduardo was described as a respected fire department chief in the community. Unlike the stereotypical depictions of Latinos, he held an authority in the community. In terms of his accents, he carried accents when speaking in English. Julieta, a young girl, indubitably the granddaughter of Señor Sanchez, did not have accents when she spoke in English. It insinuated that Julieta was capable of comprehending Spanish since she was able to participate in the conversations. The episode exhibited the spectrum of different levels of language acculturation among Latino/a generations in the U.S. (Manny to the Rescue:-06:08)
Based on the observations on accents of the characters’ dialogues, I easily assumed that Handy Manny primarily target U.S. born Latino/a viewers; however, after I have explored the number of episodes and the official website, I realized that Handy Manny accommodated broader range of audiences. First, considering that the show is broadcasted via the U.S. based television medium, Playhouse Disney, I supposed that its main audiences encompass the U.S. born Latino/a children. The frequent highlights on Spanish language within Handy Manny may have encouraged Latino/a parents to allow their children to watch the show. Handy Manny can provide cultural role models for the U.S. born Latino/a children who are exposed to both American and Latin culture. For example, in the Light Work episode, Mrs. Portillo decorated her bakery with the Mexican paper flowers. She learned how to make the Mexican paper flowers from her aunt who lived in Oaxaca, Mexico. Mexican paper flowers scene delivered a sense of welcoming of the Mexican traditions; the tools admired the beauty of the Mexican paper flowers. Mrs. Portillo, a grandmother-like figure, sharing her culture with the tools, in this case, her grandchildren, functioned as the visual culture guide for Latino/as children in the U.S. For parents, the program supposedly substitutes a role of parents as heritage teachers by providing the cultural narratives.  (Light Work:-07:07)
Besides the U.S. born Latino/as, I believe that Handy Manny also appeals to any preschoolers in English speaking countries. According to my research on the official website, the program suddenly becomes less ethnic so to speak. It is culturally ambiguous; a lack of association with Spanish language in the contents of the website was prominent. Among four tabs on the website: Game, Stories, Music and Activities, I chiefly examined Stories and Music. I have specifically chosen these two parts because I believe that these two sections had greater relations to language and culture compare to other two sections of the website. First, the story, “A Day at the Park” had the subtitles in English; there were no Spanish included in the narration. The story was organized with the small activities such as counting and matching objects. This story especially highlighted the lesson of how to behave in a situation where you're lost. The narrators, Stretcher and Dusty, repeated instructions reinforcing how to act when you're lost. Despite my expectations, the story solely consisted of behavioral guidelines.
Next, I have listened to “Clang” under the Music tab. The music section on the website considerably seemed to focus on stimulating children's musicality. Clicking on each tools made different sounds. I could play rhythms along the songs or simply just clicked the tools to generate sounds. The background song reminded of Spanish/ Latin songs, yet I could not clearly classify the songs into certain genres. I anticipated hearing guitars, drumbeats and trumpets etc., instruments that invoke “Latiness.” Explicit reminder of Latiness was not found as I have supposed. This might be due to the extension of the stereotypes engraved in my mind. According to my findings in Handy Manny episodes, I presumed to see more Spanish and culture related contents on the website. Nevertheless, the website heavily focuses on stimulating children’s learning ability in various aspects such as organizational skills, musicality, moral conducts, and basic math skills. In other words, the website seeks out for the universal audiences. The implemented activities invite all children to readily engage with Manny and the tools. Official Website
As we have discussed in the lecture, Latino/a populations surpassed 15% of the U.S. population; Latino/a children composed 20% of the population. Latino/as in the U.S. have risen as the dominant non-white groups. Their rising status has definitely shifted some of the perspectives in the media. One of the examples is the politicians’ use of bilingual television networks to execute campaign strategies. In the recent election, politicians made appearances on Telemundo and Univision.(Article on Latino/as political influence) In addition, Handy Manny further reflects these occurring changes in America. Spanish almost becoming the second-language in the U.S., the bilingual television series suggested interesting insights. As if it is claiming that English still is the predominant language in America, the show mainly is in English with modest Spanish. Some characters have accents when speaking in English. The degree of accents varies among generations; the younger the Latino/a character is the lighter the accents are. The voices of Latino/a characters are played by the U.S. born Latino/a actors. Their career heavily depended on portraying Latino/a roles. In addition to Spanish, the program illustrates the celebrations of Latin cultures. Despite of its bilingual features on the show, the website does not reflect bilingual perspectives as much as I have contemplated. Instead, the emphasis is on the moral lessons for children. This allows the show to expand its range of audience to general English speaking children rather than focusing on a specific group.
Overall, I believe that the positive representations of both Spanish language and the Latin cultures in Handy Manny promote interests in sharing Latin cultures in the U.S. It describes Latin cultures to be attractive and desirable to be connected with. Manny and the tools are the “good” characters helping out their neighbors; the community is filled with bliss. In the beginning I have inquired the reason for Disney’s wide appeals. Can Handy Manny become modern day classics? Manny and the tools plausibly deliver the common elements such as morality that Latino/as share with the U.S. viewers. Handy Manny reiterates the universal values in other Disney’s classics to extend its legacy.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Visiting Handy Manny's Website

Game: Manny's Big Crane Game
The game allows a child to develop structural capability or organizational skills by moving blocks to create a whole picture. It does not involve any Spanish speaking. Only Manny narrates the instruction with his accents.

Stories: A Day at the Park
The narration was accompanied by the subtitles in English; there are no Spanish included in the narration. The stories invovled small activities: countings and matching. This specific story highlighted the lesson of how to behave in a situation where you're lost. Stretcher and Dusty, the narrators repeats sentences reinforcing how to act when you're lost. Despite my expectations to see stories involving Spanish, the story was solely narrated in English.

Music: Clang
The music tab on the webiste considerably focuses on stimulating children's musicality. Clicking on each tools make different sounds. The child may play rhythms along the songs or simply just click tools to generate sounds. The background song reminded of Spanish/ Latin songs yet I could not clearly classify the songs into certain genres. 

Activities: Manny's Mini Garden
Activities mainly involves color paintings. This particular activity is to create/ draw a garden for Manny.

Overall, the website seemed to be designed for any preschool children. It did not invovle extensive language skills to participate. The contents of the websites essentially focused on developing children's basic knowledge such as coutings, colorings, principles and musicality. The webiste may appeal to any children in the developing stage.

Handy Manny Official Website

Flicker Saves Christmas

     Focusing on characters' accents, this episode particularly emphasizes Spanish vocabulaies. At the very beginning of the episode, Pat, the hammer, does not understand what Manny had said. Manny said: "Let's decorate arbole de Navidad." The phrase translates into a Christmas Tree. Manny kindly translate his Spanish into English to help Pat comprehend.  Later, Pat does not recognize Feliz Navidad which means Merry Christmas in English. Once again, this evidently demonstrated that Pat is a non-Spanish speaking character. This allowed the English speaking audiecne to place Pat with themselves. He is depicted as a non-Spanish speaker learning Spanish from Manny and the other tools. He becomes one of many Americans who are learning Spanish due to its increasing demands in public.
     Unlike Pat, Flicker is identified as a fluent Spanish speaker. He recognizes Tamales, a Latin American dish that Abuelito brought. In general, when Flicker responds to either Manny or the other tools, he replies to them in Spanish such as Si.
     Another outstanding element in this episode is during the portrayals of Christmases in different families. There are a multi-racial couple of African American and Asian American, a couple of Anglo Americans, a family of African Americans and a boy celebrating Christmas in his wheelchair. This exemplified Disney's representations of diversity in their programmings. Handy Manny is part of Disney's strategy to incorporate diverse audiences into their programs. It seems like the purpose of Handy Manny is to correspond to the growing populations of Latinos in the U.S. Even though Manny and the tools extensively concentrate on delivering the Latin cultures, it does not fail to illustrate the mainstream White American cultures via Kelly and other non-Spanish speaking characters. It does not offend English dominat speaking audience since the show is mainly in English; however, it also embraces Spanish dominant audiences by introducing Spanish language via the protagonists, Manny and the tools.

Actors lending voices in Handy Manny

Carlos Alazraqui
Based on professor Beltran's suggestion, I have researched the voice actors from Handy Manny on IMDb website.  Besides, Manny only three characters were played by Latina/o actors: Felipe, Abuelito, and Mrs. Portillo. As I have imagined, the voice of Felipe (the screwdriver) and abuelito was played by a Latino actor, Carlos Alazraqui. He was born in New York to Argentinian family in 1962 and  moved to Sacremento, CA. One of his most recent works is Ernesto/Todd in Scooby Doo- Mystery Incorporated television series. Going through his filmography,  he mostly played Latino roles. For example, he played Nestor in Happy Feet (2006).  In another Disney's show, Disney's House of Mouse, he played Panchito. Besides his voice works for Latino characters, he is often praised for his capability of using numerous accents. He is best known for his Scottish accent. He played a voice of Rocko, an Australian character in Rocko's Modern Life.

Shelly Morrison

 Shelly Morrison played the voice of Mrs. Portillo. At first, I didn't recognize her as a Latina due to her non-Latina like last name; yet, it turns out Shelly Morrison is her acting name. Her birth name is Rachel Mitrani. She was born in 1936 in New York. Spanish being her native language, Morrison mainly represented ethnic roles or Latina characters. Morrison's career seemed to be heavily limited, even more so than Alazraqui. For example, in Shark's Tale, she played Mrs. Sanchez. Her most recent work besides Handy Manny was My name is Earl as Maria in 2006.

Except for Alazraqui, Morrison and Valderrama other characters from Handy Manny are played by non-Latino/as, mainly White Americans. For instance, the voice of Kelly is played by Nancy Truman. Tom Kenny lent his voice for Mr. Lopart. He is eminent for his role, the Sponge Bob Squarepants.