Bluey’s Beautiful Conservatism – Brett McCracken

Children’s entertainment today has become a primary forum for progressive social conditioning. From Disney’s alarming trajectory to Lightyear’s same-sex romance to the recent news that Peppa Pig—until now a wholesome celebration of a healthy nuclear family—introduced a character with “two mummies,” it’s clear Christian parents need to be cautious in vetting media their children consume.

It’s also clear that when a show like Bluey comes along—beautifully made and radical in its refusal to politicize or indoctrinate—we should celebrate. The Australian show, which can be viewed in the U.S. on Disney+, centers on a Blue Heeler puppy named Bluey, her younger sister (Bingo), mom (Chilli), and dad (Bandit) and their life together in Brisbane, Queensland. The show uses these cute, anthropomorphized dogs to examine—and celebrate—something simple but foundational for flourishing individuals and societies: family.

Bluey doesn’t see family as a plot device, setting, or means by which it can make important points about this or that current issue. Family is the point of Bluey.

Loveliness of Family

To watch an episode of Bluey is to bask in the loveliness of what God made when he created family: a husband and a wife, who become a father and a mother, together bearing and raising children in an environment where loving, stable bonds enable all involved to thrive. Each relationship configuration (husband to wife, mother to daughter, siblings to one another, etc.) is unique and creates a glorious web of multidirectional, mutually serving, mutually delighting, sacrificial love.

The Heelers’ intrafamily love overflows to bless others—including viewers like us, who are uplifted by the way the family consistently uplifts and serves one another. It’s a joy to watch, even if we watch it aspirationally. Can any modern mom or dad devote as much time as Bandit does to indulging the endless games and free-play activities of his children? Probably not. But if parents watching Bluey are inspired to pause their tasks or put down their devices more often, making time to engage their kids’ imaginations and participate in their curious play, that’s a good thing.

Recognizable Dads and Moms

In addition to simply delighting in the sights, sounds, and silliness of a flourishing family dynamic, Bluey nails the nuances of how parenting is changing. This isn’t the family of Leave It to Beaver, with domestic roles demarcated across the traditional lines of 1950s suburbia. In Bluey, Bandit works but is also highly involved with the kids, packing their lunches, helping with laundry, transporting them to and fro. Chilli, meanwhile, has a part-time job outside of the house. Dad and mom both happily step up to get done whatever needs getting done.

The Heelers’ intrafamily love overflows to bless others—including viewers like us, who are uplifted by the way the family consistently uplifts and serves one another.

Yet even as Bluey intentionally reflects these changing roles, dad and mom are by no means interchangeable. Rather than androgynous “parents,” Bluey clearly has a dad who is male and a mom who is female.

Consider the season 2 episode “Stumpfest.” Though the episode’s comic gag depicts a group of masculine, axe-wielding dads getting their fingernails and toenails painted by their precocious, hard-bargaining daughters, the joke works only because of the show’s insistence on gender differences. It’s funny because it’s normal for dads to dig out tree stumps together (interestingly, this isn’t the only episode featuring a man taking an axe to a stump . . . see also “Grandad”), while it’s abnormal for them to be getting manicures.

In “Fancy Restaurant,” a sweet episode where Bingo and Bluey set up a pretend date night for their parents, we see another example of how the show esteems family, marriage, and the realism of modern parenthood. Every couple with young kids knows how hard it is to find time to prioritize one another amid the constant barrage of kid needs. Yet those same kids want their parents to rekindle their romance. The episode celebrates how a husband’s and wife’s love for each other is a foundation for the family’s broader structures of love—and how that love is ultimately rooted in selfless sacrifice.

Bluey doesn’t make a big deal of gender dynamics or go out of its way to reinforce “traditional family values.” It simply reflects what’s normal and recognizable to most people. And in an age like ours, insisting on the beauty of “normal” is an artistically radical choice.

Beautiful Artistry

A show like Bluey—committed as it is to radical normalcy and quotidian snapshots of family life—might seem like a bore, were it not for the skill and artistry with which its narratives are rendered.

Consider the show’s use of classical music. From the first episode of the first season (“The Magic Xylophone”), which incorporates Mozart’s jubilant, bouncy “Rondo Alla Turca (Turkish March)” throughout, Bluey shows that children’s entertainment need not value fun at the expense of artistic awe. Elsewhere the show incorporates the likes of Grieg (in “Featherwand”), Vivaldi (“Fancy Restaurant”), Tchaikovsky (“Ice Cream”), Beethoven (“Bike”), and plenty of Bach.

My favorite is probably the use of Holst’s “Jupiter” in season 2’s “Sleepytime,” a stunningly beautiful episode about which the New York Times observed, “In just seven minutes, this ‘Bluey’ segment captures the gorgeous vastness of childhood imagination, a dreamy outer-space ballet.”

Lean Storytelling

This economy of storytelling is also part of Bluey’s artistic brilliance. In contrast to the bloated, excessively drawn-out narratives of much contemporary television (your average 10-episode series could be a two-hour movie), Bluey’s writers have mastered the art of short but meaningful storytelling. In under 10 minutes, each Bluey episode is a standalone, slice-of-life vignette capturing mundane but familiar moments in family life: playing silly games, going to the movies, visiting grandparents, playing with neighbors, school drop-offs, and so forth.

Bluey doesn’t burden each familial tableau with didactic “lessons” (as many children’s shows do)—it just celebrates them as joyful and true. If the big-picture message of Bluey is that the nuclear family is a gift, it’s a message Bluey shows rather than tells.

The season 3 episode “Rain” is an illustrative example. The nearly wordless episode is mostly about the wonder of a rainstorm and the creative games children invent during a gully washer. Bluey’s is the primary point of view. But we also see the action through Chilli’s eyes as her initial frustration at the mess gives way to an amused appreciation of her daughter’s creativity. A child will watch the episode with rapt awe at Bluey’s rainstorm antics (perhaps filing away ideas for the next rainy day). A parent will watch and be reminded that actions—particularly the action of presence with a child—can speak louder than words.

If the big-picture message of Bluey is that the nuclear family is a gift, it’s a message Bluey shows rather than tells.

Most episodes end with a final shot zinger that underscores or reframes the theme in a funny or poignant way—often in ways only parents will get. Sometimes these final shots involve sudden timeline shifts, as in the backward glance of childhood Chilli at the end of “Grandad” or the flash-forward ending of “Camping.” In these moments, Bluey transcends the kids TV genre and offers resonant pictures to which every human can relate.

Bluey’s Critics

Bluey is proof that a narrative need not be burdened by trauma and brokenness in order to be “relatable” or “authentic.” Turns out, there’s something deeply authentic about a family that’s whole, stable, and functioning in health. It’s the authenticity of an organism thriving in the ecosystem for which it was created.

Now, we can’t know whether Bluey will one day go the woke way of Peppa. Pressure is immense and relentless for even the most innocent children’s entertainment to advance progressive narratives. Fidelity to traditionalism in any form is now seen as oppressive.

Even though Bluey is a show about dogs in which nearly every character is a different breed and color, at least one pop culture critic has already called on Bluey to step up its diversity representation: “Where are the disabled, queer, poor, gender diverse, dogs of colour and single-parent dog families in Bluey’s Brisbane?”

Time will tell as to whether Bluey will cower to such demands and incorporate queer canines into its storylines. But for now, we can commend the show for its beautiful depictions of traditional family structures and joyful celebration of childhood, motherhood, fatherhood, and the ways in which each distinct role interacts in a beautiful dance, according to an ingenious design.

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