Kids are born scientists. Well, that may be a liberal term for the “inquisitiveness” embodied within most children. Their desire to know stuff leads to all kinds of wonderful family moments, some of which leave permanent stains. Like when they dismantle a common household item, say a radio or turntable, to see how it works. Or when they mix every liquid and soft condiment from the refrigerator in one container and then try to drink it without throwing up. Or when they smash to bits a plastic model car, then try to melt the pieces on an exposed light bulb, leaving a putrid, toxic stench that lasts for days in their bedroom.
Yes, I did all of these things, in hopes of furthering my science education.
OK, that’s a lie. I just enjoyed breaking things.
But the subtext remains intact. I learned, after destroying something, that it was probably gone forever, and that even the genius minds that conceived of such wonderful devices would be hard pressed to reassemble what I had dashed to bits. As for the chugging of that notorious libation comprising pickle juice, ketchup, mustard, vinegar, chocolate syrup, soda, lemon juice, tomato sauce and orange juice, I threw that up right in the kitchen sink.
See? Learning about digestion!
Kids need no urging when it comes to experimentation, but they get it anyway, usually in the form of some misguided cartoon character who has some altruistic (or nefarious) end in mind. Here are four such scientists – three good guys, one bad guy – who don white lab coats and do significant damage to all they survey.
The titular character from Dexter’s Laboratory, this boy genius has his hands full just getting through the day. His arch nemesis is not some power-hungry villain bent on taking over the world. No, it’s his sister, Dee Dee, who just might be the most annoying little person ever created for television. Dexter, who has a Russian accent, attempts to use his inventions to make his life easier, but only complicates every situation he faces. The show garnered high ratings in the late ‘90s, and was responsible for pushing the Cartoon Network’s original programming schedule to the fore. Like the best animated shows, Dexter’s Laboratory appealed to kids while sliding in enough adult humor to keep the ‘rents happy.
The brilliant, bespeckled pooch was the star of the Peabody’s Improbably History segment of the Rocky & His Friends show, which eventually became the Rocky & Bullwinkle Show. Mr. Peabody was less a scientist than all-around brilliant canine, whose time travel machine (the “wayback”) would transport him and his “boy,” Sherman, back in time to learn Peabody’s version of significant historical events. Peabody, who attended Harvard and practices yoga, is a snide smarty pants who takes Sherman to crazy-old places and cracks jokes along the way. For a character on a show that was made for kids in the early ‘60s, Mr. Peabody was way ahead of his time. Which kind of makes sense. Don’tchathink?
Dr. Boxleitner, better known as Two-Brains on PBS’s awesome kids cartoon Word Girl, is a victim of a science experiment gone wrong (aren’t they all?). Part cheese-craving rodent, part mediocre scientist, Two-Brains cares little about anything other than eating cheese. His exposed second brain, that of a lab mouse, commands it. And so Word Girl is in constant pursuit of the madman, teaching kids vocabulary lessons along the way.
Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker
From the classic Muppets show, these two bumbling scientists blow stuff up, smash things, break things and cause general havoc. Sound familiar? The fact that Beaker can’t speak a lick of English, resorting to mere bleeps and high-pitched moans to communicate, means that Dr. Honeydew can abuse him to no end. The result, of course, is a knee-slapping good time for kids (and, of course, for us, too).