‘Molly of De­nali’ be­gins an­i­mated ad­ven­tures

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - On Tv - BY JAY BOB­BIN

An­i­ma­tion on tele­vi­sion goes back a very long way, but it’s never had any­one quite like a new PBS of­fer­ing’s “star” be­fore.

“Molly of De­nali” starts its week­day run Mon­day, July 15 (check lo­cal listings), mark­ing the first time a Na­tive Amer­i­can char­ac­ter has head­lined a na­tional U.S. chil­dren’s se­ries. Molly Mabray is a 10-year old res­i­dent of Alaska, where she proves to be cu­ri­ous and re­silient as she and her friends Tooey and Trini en­counter in­dige­nous el­e­ments from moose to vol­ca­noes. What Molly learns, she shares with those at the De­nali Trad­ing Post, which her fam­ily op­er­ates.

Keep­ing “Molly of De­nali” au­then­tic are the na­tive Alaskans in­volved in ev­ery facet of the show’s pro­duc­tion – help­ing to foster the pro­gram’s aims of di­ver­sity and in­clu­sive­ness that go along with its ed­u­ca­tional thrust, re­flected by Molly’s use of such tools as maps, field guides and rel­e­vant on­line sites.

“I grew up with­out see­ing any­one that looked like me rep­re­sented in the me­dia, in film and tele­vi­sion,” explains “Molly of De­nali” cre­ative pro­ducer Princess John­son. “And of­ten­times, when I did see a de­pic­tion, it was a neg­a­tive stereo­type. My kids are the au­di­ence (here). I have a 4-year-old and an 8-year-old at home. And ev­ery once in a while when I’m look­ing at clips, my 8-year-old will come along and he’ll say some­thing like, ‘Mom, that’s our Na­tive food.’

“I live for those mo­ments,” John­son notes, “be­cause we get to see our­selves rep­re­sented in this beau­ti­ful, pos­i­tive light and we are in­form­ing what our im­age looks like. We have a say­ing, ‘Noth­ing about us with­out us’ ... so this is the way I feel like it should be done, in this re­spect­ful man­ner where we are part­ners and we get to re­ally have in­put and say on how we want to be pre­sented to the world and (have) our val­ues shared with the world.”

An­other ad­vo­cate of “Molly of De­nali” is award-win­ning Cana­dian ac­tor Lorne Car­di­nal (“Cor­ner Gas”), who voices the char­ac­ter Grandpa Nat. “Just hav­ing a young Na­tive kid see­ing an­other Na­tive per­son on TV opens up so many doors,” he rea­sons. “When I do theater and we have a Q&A with an au­di­ence, we see Na­tive peo­ple in the au­di­ence and they say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know we were al­lowed to do that.’ There’s still that con­cep­tion that we’re fight­ing with.

“We still have to do the hard work,” Car­di­nal adds. “There are no free passes. You still have to have the pas­sion and the ded­i­ca­tion. (By) us do­ing this show, there’s also a step for kids (in think­ing), ‘Oh, I can do that, too.’ Yes, you can. And thanks to PBS for mak­ing that pos­si­ble as well.”

Molly and her mother are fea­tured in the new PBS se­ries “Molly of De­nali” start­ing Mon­day.

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