These days, the big question is, “How can we save Las Vegas?”
We might find an answer in a recent episode of a kids cartoon series called The Wonder Pets.
For those who don’t share their home with a toddler, the popular Nick Jr. show depicts the adventures of three photo puppets: Linny the guinea pig, Turtle Tuck and Ming Ming, a duckling who hasn’t quite mastered her R’s. Most episodes share the same comfortable structure: There’s a baby animal in distress somewhere in the world; the Pets work together to rescue it; everybody gets a celery snack. Repeat as many as four times a day. It’s much more fun than it sounds.
In a recent episode, the Pets fly to Las Vegas to aid the Rat Pack, a trio of bumbling performing rodents named Blue Eyes, Dino and Sammy who can’t get their act together. In honor of this mission, the heroes replace the mast and sail on their intrepid vehicle of choice, the Fly Boat, with a construction inspired by neon signs and showgirls’ headdresses. Just like that, the Fly Boat is reborn as the “Vegas Boat.” After departing the schoolhouse to a slot machine’s jangle, the Vegas Boat zooms past the Wynn and down into a pint-size re-creation of the Strip. There, in a makeshift rehearsal space, the Pets give the Rat Pack a lesson on working together when they dance. This works like a charm. To celebrate, they join Dino for some pasta and, though their work is done, Blue Eyes refuses to let them leave without having some fun.
“The night is young,” he says. “How about a night on the town?”
With that, all six animals pile into the Vegas Boat and zoom off as the show fades with a final cry of “Viva Las Vegas” from Ming Ming.
It may be a show aimed at kids who won’t be able to enjoy most of what Vegas offers until 2028 or so, but this episode of The Wonder Pets serves as a much-needed reminder of what Las Vegas means to grown-ups, too.
When the younger Pets ask, “What’s Las Vegas?” Linny sings back: “It’s a place with lots of sparkly lights. They shimmer and they glimmer every night.”
The Pets’ Las Vegas is a Las Vegas stripped of cynicism and filled with wonder. It’s everything this place should be, and probably the best way to explain the city to a 3-year-old—or a jaded 40-year-old, for that matter.
Although the messages of sharing and teamwork remain the same, this episode still looks slightly different compared to other installments of The Wonder Pets. The color palette is more vibrant, more saturated—a throw-back to classic, neon-filled Vegas. This, of course, was also done for a reason. People, like the Pets, view Las Vegas as a slightly more vivid place; a place where the lights a tone brighter, the sun shines a touch stronger, the music plays a little louder.
This effect was no accident. Tom Brown, head of production for Little Airplane (the producers of The Wonder Pets), wrote and directed the episode as a homage to the “swagger of Vegas” in the ’50s and ’60s. For him, Las Vegas was about fun—both adult and family, a place where “whatever you are, works.” People like Brown—those who have a generally favorable impression of Las Vegas but aren’t die-hard “Vegas people”—simply want Vegas to be fun. In the past decade, we have done a great job of creating a style and selling luxury, but, in many ways, excess has overshadowed the carefree essence of the city.
Lower room rates are a fine start to a recovery plan, but perhaps a photo-animated guinea pig has an even better marketing idea. After all, human visitors want that old Las Vegas spirit; one that’s fun, audacious and gives them the freedom to be themselves, too.
David G. Schwartz is director of UNLV’s Center for Gaming Research and, yes, he has a toddler in his home.