'Max & Ruby' Through a Grown Up's Eyes

Andrew Dalton

After previous installments on Yo Gabba Gabba, The Fresh Beat Band, and Oobi, finally I'm sitting down to watch something based on children's books: Max & Ruby. That's bound to be a good sign, right? The literary world has a richer imagination than any TV producer. Though given Curious George, Martha Speaks, and the rest of the PBS kids breakfast suckfest, maybe that's not the case.

Still, Max & Ruby comes from the great Rosemary Wells, whose Yoko is the best book ever written about sushi in elementary school. Plus, the show's Canadian! And nothing bad has ever come from Canada.

So 3-year-old Max and 7-year-old Ruby are siblings, bunnies, and big gender stereotypes. Max wants to be an arrghy pirate all of the time, Ruby wants to be a tea-partying princess.

I'm not going to let this be a dealbreaker, like it is for some of my family and friends. We've all known kids like this. Some of us have probably known bunnies like this. (It would be more believable if the ages were reversed, though. The princess fetish is many times more powerful at 3. By 7 it's usually just nostalgia.)

The opening theme has a lovely '50s TV simplicity, a fine start. The episode I watched was called "Max's Rocket Racer." Oh, Max. Such the little BOY! Max was denied the chance to ride on said ride because of his shortness. Much to the consternation of his pink-dressed sister, he tries every conceivable way to get taller. Tiptoes, cotton candy on the head, nothing works.

They move on to the ring toss, where Max becomes determined to win a pair of jeweled high heels. Ruby is confused. "What would you do with Cinderella slippers?" Max wins them, and briefly sports them. Now there we go. Nothing like a little boy in drag, and clearly the writers are playing with the show's reputation. Of course it lasts all of eight seconds until killjoy Ruby calls it unacceptable. Well, at least they're developing their sex stereotypes. Now Ruby has moved on from powdery princess to a shrill killjoy straight out of a Judd Apatow movie. The kindly carnie -- talk about unrealistic depictions -- learns about Max's problem and (SPOILER ALERT!) finds an extra small rocket racer for him. Done and done. 

Alright, not as bad as I thought. But I feel terribly ripped off in one sense. In the previous episodes I'd half-watched, the voice of Ruby was done by Samantha Morton, in the strangest bit of casting since the Keanu costume dramas of the '90s. Yeah, that Samantha Morton, player of mutes, freaks, and pre-cogs.

I'd been crushing on her weirdness since she played Billy Crudup's junkie girlfriend in Jesus' Son, and especially since she played the mother in the underrated In America, one of the best movies ever made about parenthood.

I had counted on the strange pleasure of expecting Ruby to suddenly have a fit of heroin withdrawal, or scream for Max to ruuuuuun, or go inexplicably mute for an entire episode, the kind of Oscar-worthy art I'd expect from Morton. Now the voice is done by someone named Rebecca Peters, who I'm sure is a very nice person, but doesn't frighten me at all.

What do you make of Max & Ruby?

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