Why ‘Bluey’ Is Universally Adored By The Young, The Old, And Everyone In-Between
'Bluey' isn't just a good children's program, it's a great show in general.
A blue cartoon dog has been in the news recently for apparently not being as inclusive as it could be.
Bluey, the kid’s show about a family of Blue Heelers that’s become the most popular program on ABC iView in history, was mildly criticised yesterday for its “lack of diversity”. In an article where Beverley Wang praised Bluey, the ABC journalist ended her piece by questioning why a show as “tender, nuanced and joyful” as Bluey didn’t have more representation on screen.
“We live in a world where the majority of main characters on children’s television are white; where there are more animals than people of colour protagonists populating the pages of children’s books,” Wang wrote.
“Where are the disabled, queer, poor, gender diverse, dogs of colour and single-parent dog families in Bluey’s Brisbane?” she continued. “If they’re in the background, let them come forward.”
“I wonder about the limits of modelling imaginative play for parents and children who don’t see themselves in the ‘true Blue(y)’ comfortably middle class, Australian nuclear family embodied by the Heelers. Who’s missing out?”
Wang was quickly criticised for her need to “politicise” a children’s show that is well-loved by audiences for how clever and diverse it already is. Many people noted how the call for more diversity in a cartoon about dogs was “PC culture gone mad”.
"Where are the disabled, queer, poor, gender diverse, dogs of colour and single-parent dog families in Bluey's Brisbane?" is a sentence that even the lamest parodies of wokeness would reject for being too trite, yet here we are https://t.co/WKZgGkl2KX
— Christoph (@Halalcoholism) April 15, 2021
Why Bluey Is Actually The Perfect Kid’s Show
Bluey is a great show, that is full of representation and important real-world life lessons — not only for children, but for the parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents who are forced to watch along, too.
The Heeler family — comprised of dad (Bandit), mum (Chilli), younger sister (Bingo) and the lead character, six-year-old Bluey — spend each short, but sweet, seven-minute episode exploring everyday life in sunny Brisbane with a focus on the importance of imagination and self-directed play.
As the ABC explains, the show’s inexhaustible titular character “turns everyday family life into extraordinary adventures, developing her imagination as well as her mental, physical and emotional resilience”.
And the general consensus around the globe is that Bluey is great — not only as a kids’ program, either. It’s a fantastic show in general.
Most kids’ shows are soulless dribble. They run for years upon years, but never really say much at all. How many times can a child watch Pingu scoff down another fish and noot-noot himself out of various situations? What does anyone really get out of seeing a mischievous, mute claymation sheep do cheeky things on Shaun the Sheep? Do the Teletubbies actually do anything other than running around hills all day long?
Sure other kid’s programs like Peppa Pig and Paw Patrol do use dialogue and story-telling, but Bluey is different. Each episode covers real-world situations children face and helps teach kids how to navigate through them. For parents, Bluey teaches the importance of letting children grow in their own ways, and, with this, the value in giving them space to be imaginative, to make their own mistakes and to just have fun.
Plus, parenting is portrayed beautifully in the show. Laidback Bandit and Chilli let their children lead situations to help the kids develop the life skills they need, and Bingo and Bluey are treated like real people with valid emotions instead of being dismissed for “acting like babies” when they feel certain things.
For example, when the Heelers try to fix Bingo’s non-stop bed-hopping, they let Bingo do what she needs to do to find the courage to sleep in her own bed. They don’t rush her or tease her for not being a “big girl” yet. Instead they let Bingo find her own solution in her own time, which included slapping her dad about in her sleep, but hey! Whatever works.
Surprisingly, as fun and humorous the show is thanks to it being filled with many ‘Australianisms’, Bluey can get very emotional with way more tear-jerking, sincere moments than expected from a show about cartoon dogs.
This is why the emotional validation shown throughout Bluey is key for parents and children at home to see. It helps children know that having feelings, regardless of their sex or age, is totally normal, and parents learn the importance of allowing their kids to show their emotions.
The Representation In Bluey
When it comes to representation, Bluey is exactly like every six-year-old human.
She asks too many questions, is easily distracted, has bounds of energy, and loves to play 24/7. But Bluey is never shut down for her inquisitive nature or fondness to play. When she roleplays, Bandit (the MVP of the show) is always happy to get involved and when Bluey asks questions, the dogs on the show strive to answer them.
And this is why children love Bluey because it’s easy to see themselves in her. And yes, despite blue traditionally being a “boy colour” Bluey is actually a girl, which is a gender-based assumption the show is quietly combatting by not overcompensating with pink bows and tutus to prove she’s a girl. Regardless of her colour, or name, she is just Bluey — and Bluey is able to be whoever she wants to be without being trapped by the traditional notions of what it means to be a girl.
Moreover, as a father character, Bandit is also setting new standards for dads in children’s programs. In an online study, Netmums reported that 93 percent of parents thought that the depiction of fathers on screen did not accurately reflect their real-life contributions to family life, like with Daddy Pig from Peppa Pig.
But Bluey has flipped this traditional depiction of dads on-screen — as bumbling fools and boring, absent fathers with no time for family life — with the Bandit character. Bandit is present. He is heavily involved in his daughter’s lives as a parent who works from home and often sacrifices his own “me time” to play with his kids in one of their imaginative roleplay scenarios.
For example, Bandit ditches his dreams of playing touch-footy to provide for his family and he gives up his favourite past time of watching cricket to play “horsey weddings” with the girls, but he never makes the family feel guilty for it. He loves the life he has, and he isn’t afraid to communicate that.
There’s this incredible show called “Bluey” where a cartoon dog man called Bandit makes me feel like an inadequate dad and their made-up house makes me feel like I’ve accomplished nothing. It’s a great show
— Greg (@How2Drink) March 14, 2021
Even beyond the Heeler family, Bluey’s friends come from diverse backgrounds with their own stories, too.
As Beverley Wang pointed out in her article, Maynard the Irish Wolfhound — who is voiced by Sean Choolburra, a proud Girramay, Kalkadoon, Pitta Pitta and Gugu Yalanji man — does exist in a secondary role on the series.
Also, all of Bluey’s friends are different dog breeds with their own personalities and family dynamics. For example, two-parent households aren’t the only families shown on screen. Winton the English Bulldog has divorced parents and is raised solely by his father.
The idea of divorce is even alluded to in the ‘Mums and Dads’ episode when Rusty and Indy play marriage and go through pretend marital struggles. After being unable to agree on who should work and who should stay at home, the pair “separated” to play on their own.
Bandit and Chilli also go through their own stages of feeling like they’re “bad parents”, which helps parents at home know that having those thoughts every now and then is totally normal and expected.
On a neurodiverse level, Jack the Jack Russell, who is introduced in the episode ‘Army’, is even coded to have ADHD. While it’s not explicitly said, the easily distracted and condensed milk-loving Jack transfers to Bluey’s Steiner school and is described by his sister as a young pup who “can’t sit still or remember anything”.
Bluey also has friends who speak different languages. ‘Camping’, one of the most heart-wrenching episodes in the entire series, tells the story of Bluey meeting Jean-Luc the French Labrador while on holiday. The pair struggle to communicate over the French-English language barrier but manage to become good friends without exchanging words until they have to say goodbye.
When Bluey wakes up one morning, she notices Jean-Luc has left without a goodbye and she has to deal with the tough lesson that sometimes special people enter your life and then leave. But the pair end up reuniting as teenagers in the same spot, with Jean-Luc greeting her in English after learning the language during their time apart.
At the end of the day, while Bluey could always be more diverse it’s ultimately a show about dogs that is only in its second season so far.
I’m sure that show creators could introduce a Malamute that fasts during Ramadan. Or add a mix-breed “mutt” on the show to explore the identity issues that may come with that, or perhaps even bring in a Bull Terrier with same-sex parents.
For what it is so far, Bluey is great. Bluey might be a children’s show by definition, but it’s something that’s universally adored by the young, the old, and everyone in-between, and the love for the show won’t be dying down anytime soon.
In Australia, you can watch ‘Bluey’ on ABC iView and on Disney +.
Michelle Rennex is a ‘Bluey’ stan, senior writer at Junkee, and tweets at @michellerennex.