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Family entertainment: Finding the anti-Barney

From Adrienne Mand Lewin One of the most important decisions my husband and I have made as parents came when I was pregnant and was agreed to quickly, with an amount of clarity and unity rarely seen since. Ours would be a Barney-free household. No purple dinosaur, no treacly music, no cloying children would invade our lives and make us crazy. Thankfully, our son has discovered the anti-Barney

From Adrienne Mand Lewin

One of the most important decisions my husband and I have made as parents came when I was pregnant and was agreed to quickly, with an amount of clarity and unity rarely seen since.

Ours would be a Barney-free household. No purple dinosaur, no treacly music, no cloying children would invade our lives and make us crazy. Thankfully, our son has discovered the anti-Barney in Imagination Movers, a four-man children’s band plucked from New Orleans’ Jazz Fest with an Emmy Award-winning hit show on the Disney Channel that is all the rage among the preschool set – and just as importantly, their parents.

In its second season, Imagination Movers teaches young Gearheads, as fans are called, to solve “idea emergencies” creatively by brainstorming, all while grooving to original songs that encourage them to “reach high, think big, work hard, have fun.”

The show itself is reminiscent of The Monkees in both style and tone, a move that was intentional, said Scott Durbin, a.k.a. Mover Scott, who I caught up with while he was traveling through West Virginia by bus as part of a 40-date concert tour that runs through Dec. 13. Other influences were Laugh In and The Three Stooges, he said, but consultations with clinical psychologists and developmental experts ensure the content is appropriate for kids between 2 and 5.

Between him, Rich Collins, Dave Poche and Scott “Smitty” Smith, there are nine Imagination Movers children, ranging in age from 1 to 10. They set out to produce something that they all could enjoy.

“There’s so much on television that you probably don’t want your child watching,” said Durbin, a former elementary school teacher who was dismayed by the lack of creativity in his students. “I love what we’ve created, sort of this old-school humor, sort of honest and sincere, yet it still models problem solving for kids.”

The formula works. My 3-year-old knows their show dialogues and song lyrics by heart. He tells me he’s playing the bass guitar and uses Movers references in everyday conversations. My 1-year-old stops whatever he is doing to dance when he hears their music. And my husband and I don’t mind having their songs as a running soundtrack to our lives. In fact, it’s unusual that I don’t have something they sing bouncing around in my brain – yet I like it.

Their music covers a range of styles and moods, from hip-hop to country, rock to funk, pop to dance. “Calling All Movers” is what The Ramones would sing to kids if they weren’t sedated. The jazzy “Where Is Warehouse Mouse?” includes flute-playing that would make Ron Burgundy proud. “Please and Thank You” has a reggae/ska vibe that would complete any beach party. Sure, lyrics are about cleaning your room or eating healthy snacks. But if a kid’s going to request a song 27 times in a row, it should be something enjoyable.

My family is far from alone. The official Imagination Movers page on Facebook, which has more than 10,000 members, is full of parents discussing Gearhead topics with all of the gravity of health-care reform, including that they listen to Movers music even when the kids aren’t with them. And then there are the unofficial fan pages, like “Imagination Movers Are So Hot” and “Mover Mamas,” devoted to the adult appeal of the group.

And it’s not just the moms who love them. “We’re seeing a lot of fathers in the audience, and I’m told by others in the business that that is new,” Durbin said, adding, “Really, when we set out, it was always with the intent of being a shared experience as a family … Seeing a dad rocking out with his 4-year-old son in his lap and his 8-year-old sister next to them really confirms everything.”

Their concerts include nods to the adults in the audience, such as references to Van Halen, Kiss, The Muppet Show, "The Karate Kid" and a hilarious ode to “This Is Spinal Tap” that we greatly appreciated when we saw them in New Brunswick, N.J. And the kids go nuts over hits like “Shakable You,” “Playing Catch,” “I Want My Mommy” and a personal favorite, “What’s In the Fridge?”

They’ve come a long way from what Durbin calls “four dudes in New Orleans” – a teacher, architect, fireman and journalist – friends and neighbors who made it through losing everything in Hurricane Katrina to find genuine success as a Disney commodity.

“We had our Spinal Tap moments, playing birthday parties in the backyard of someone’s home where we have to clean up the dog poop,” he recalled. “But with our conviction we were rewarded with a good show, and who knows what tomorrow brings.”

And they didn’t need a huge prehistoric reptile to do it. Is there an artist that YOUR whole family enjoys? How do you stay entertained without going crazy with kid's tunes? Share your favorite bands and movies, as well as tips on where to find family-friendly entertainment here. Photo courtesy Adrienne Mand Lewin