Johnny and the Sprites



10 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 13

The title sounds like a musical group from the 1960s, but the series -- the latest addition to the preschool "Playhouse Disney" program block -- is everything a show for young kids should be. At once light, bright, colorful, musical, thoughtful and entertaining, this is the kind of series parents pray for and kids love to watch. Marketing synergies aside -- and there are plenty -- "Johnny" should be as much a win for Disney Channel as for the youngsters it targets.

Each episode has two stories, and each story is a miniature Broadway musical. John Tartaglia (who executive produces along with Jill Gluckson) plays Johnny, an artist who lives in a forest populated by lovable Muppet-like Sprites (the creation of puppet genius Michael Schupbach). Stories unfold with a mixture of dialogue and music -- but not just any music. These songs are the works of major Broadway composers, including Stephen Schwartz, series musical director Gary Adler, Bobby Lopez, Mark Hollmann and Michael Patrick Walker. The tunes are smart, catchy and clever.

Each story has a message, which is unmistakable but not preachy. In the episode sent for review, Johnny gets the video game he has been eagerly awaiting. He becomes so absorbed by it that he doesn't have time for his friends, the Sprites, who would rather play outdoors. The second story focuses on one Sprite, Ginger, who is embarrassed by how curly her antennae are.

For the Fisher-Price set, this is as close to appointment television as it gets.