“Mandy just wheels in and joins the gang. It has to be that simple in everyday life. I don't think it's necessary to sugarcoat everything for children.”
Earlier this month, the hugely popular Peppa Pig cartoon show added a fresh member to its diverse bank of animal characters. After elephants, rabbits, ponies and, of course, pigs, the show’s newest animal is a mouse named Mandy that uses a wheelchair. The message is clear: that of inclusiveness and normalising disability among children as well as grown-ups.
Pallavi Singh, a mother of two young girls and a Railways officer based in Jaipur, is glad at the new addition as she is constantly trying to make her children see that there is no ‘normal’. “A cartoon universe is a great place to introduce characters that aren’t cardboard cutouts since it will blend in with children’s entertainment and hence be part of their everyday life. It’s really important for me to let my children observe that each character/person is unique and to subtly steer them away from the ‘normal’ that society generally throws at us.”
Likewise, Aamir Ahmed, a Delhi-based government officer, said it just became easier for him to start a conversation about disability with his six-year-old while she is watching her favourite show. “Our daughter said why isn’t Mandy Mouse playing outside? She can get up and walk. Well, she hasn’t seen many disabled people around. And that’s a problem. Lack of visibility of disabled people in public spaces should be a concern. That lack is due to little resources as well as social acceptance for the disabled people.”
Mandy Mouse was unveiled on social media platform Twitter from Peppa Pig’s official page with a simple teaser: Squeak! Introducing the newest member of the playgroup, Mandy Mouse! Before that, she was launched on Facebook.
Attached to it was a 15-second sneak peek introduction video of Mandy’s in which Madame Gazelle tells Peppa and her friends: “Children, today we have a visitor… Mandy Mouse.” After that, Mandy Mouse wheels inside the room with her mother and greets: “Hello Everyone, squeak.” The class returns the greeting in a loud chorus.
The tweet introducing Mandy Mouse triggered a barrage of excited comments, likes and retweets, many from parents with disabled children who couldn’t stop gushing over the new addition. One Twitter user, who said her daughter suffers from a neuromuscular disorder, called it a “game changer”.
Another enthused Twitterati said: “This is amazing. Thank you for being inclusive. It’s so awesome to see a wheelchair user in any show, but it’s definitely important for children to see disability so it becomes the norm. Also her chair looks like mine.”
A few said they wanted to see more inclusiveness in the show. A mother tweeted: “Any chance we could have a character with food allergies (and something other than peanuts!)? Could even be an existing character!”
Aamir Ahmed, meanwhile, credits the show for continuing to push the envelope as far as an idea of wholesome children’s TV is concerned. “It already has a father, overweight but sharp and kind, who is mostly seen in the kitchen, while Mamma Pig is mostly busy on her computer. However, with Mandy Mouse, PP has completely subverted the genre in the most modern way possible. A British mouse on a wheelchair has travelled really far since an American mouse commercialised children’s cartoons decades ago, and became an epitome of how capitalism mediates children’s growth and intellect around the world.”
For Pallavi Singh, the high point is the manner the show created no hype while bringing Mandy Mouse on board. “Mandy just wheels in and joins the gang. It has to be that simple in everyday life. I don’t think it’s necessary to sugarcoat everything for children, they are very perceptive and understand much more than we give them credit for.”
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