The Best Netflix Kids’ Show Just Got Better
'Octonauts: Above and Beyond' saves the day with a perfect blend of science and adventure.
The greatest thing about the children’s series Octonauts is that unlike so many other shows for toddlers and preschoolers, all the regular characters are emotionally stable. In a vast sea of shows like Daniel Tiger or CocoMelon or the dreaded Crybabies, the aim of Octonauts is not to teach social-emotional lessons. These adventurous talking animals face conflicts, sure, but they’re not losing their minds having tantrums about broken toys or smashed birthday cake. There’s nothing wrong with social-emotional shows for kids, of course, but the Octoanuts are unique in that the lessons they teach are less about feelings and more about science. This has always been true, but with a new spin-off show — Octonauts: Above and Beyond — the science education has gotten broader and better. By bringing the titular crew out of the ocean, suddenly the show is teaching kids about science concepts and animals that they may encounter in everyday life.
If you’re unfamiliar with Octonauts, here’s the quick rundown. The series comes from the U.K. and was originally based upon a series of books by Vicki Wong and Michael C. Murphy, who are collectively known as “Meomi.” The stories follow a group of anthropomorphized animals belonging to an altruistic team called “the Octonauts.” They drive around the oceans of the world in an underwater mobile station called the Octopod, from which they launch small submarines called “Gups.” The mission of the Octoanuts is to “Explore. Rescue. Protect.” This means that the original series mostly focuses on the Octonauts rescuing or discovering various sea creatures. Although the animation style takes liberties with the sizes and behaviors of these creatures (how is a polar bear the same size as a dog?) all the animals featured on Octoanuts are real. In the US versions of the regular series, most episodes end with the Octonauts singing a song called the “Creature Report,” which recaps the various real-life science facts about whichever sea animal featured prominently on that specific episode. “Creature Report,” is an earworm to be sure, but it’s a charming one and super-education, too.
How Octonauts: Above and Beyond is different from Octonauts
In every meaningful way, Octoanuts: Above and Beyond is just a new season of Octonauts in which the crew is starting to deal with more animal crises on land, rather than just things connected to the water. Although it’s listed separately on Netflix, for kids who are already a fan of Octonauts, this will just feel like a bunch of new episodes. That said, the format is slightly different in a few ways.
- The “Creature Report” has been replaced by “The Octo Report,” which has become a song about whatever natural event or animal that features in the given episode. This song is sadly less catchy than the “Creature Report,” but it’s just as educational.
- Several new land-dwelling “Octo-agents” join the crew for these adventures. Some of these characters like Ranger Marsh (Tweak Bunny’s father) or Pearl (Shellington Otter’s sister) appeared in previous episodes of Octonauts. However, there are a few new characters, specifically Paani, a Macaque Monkey, and Min, a Red Panda.
Because so many of the adventures take place on land, the Earth science in Above and Beyond is slightly less arcane than regular Octonauts. For example, your kid learning random facts about cone snails and jellyfish is one thing, but having them recite the science of high-pressure systems that form hurricanes is something else. As the parent of a 4-year-old who has been into Octonauts for over a year, I can already see that the infodumps on Above and Beyond are slightly less abstract than the episodes from the existing show. My daughter has no problem imagining hurricanes and rock slides, whereas some of the more obscure underwater animals in the other episodes were less relatable. In other words, Above and Beyond feels less like a fantasy show with animals underwater and more like a show that is communicating real Earth science to preschool-aged kids. I was actually unaware as to what Paani’s job was until a few days ago when I asked my daughter and she calmly told me that monkey’s job is a hydrologist.
Although real science is covered well in StoryBots and The Magic School Bus, it’s hard to compete with the utterly charming adventure world of Octonauts. Although scientific knowledge is a huge part of the show, none of it is heavy-handed. At no point in Octonauts: Above and Beyond does it feel like the show is pausing to have a teachable moment. The action is just as fun as in the previous series, and the educational value is simply incorporated into the slick world of these heroic creatures. The Octonauts themselves continue to have their signature dry witticisms, which lets the show laugh at itself without becoming a joke.
For a show about a bunch of talking animals driving submarines and hovercraft, Octonauts is perhaps the purest kids’ TV show around. Unless you hate fun, you’ll actually enjoy watching episodes of this series with your toddler or preschooler, and with Above and Beyond, parents themselves may learn a thing or two about how our planet really works.