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Encore: The secret behind why parents — and kids — love 'Bluey'

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The animated show "Bluey" has attracted millions of young viewers around the world. The Australian cartoon, with a third season out in Disney+, is about a family of talking dogs named the Heelers. And as NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports, it's equal parts high jinks and humanity.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: The situations on "Bluey" are simple. In Season 1, there was a game of keeping a balloon in the air.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BLUEY")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Bluey) I got it.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As Bingo) Oh, good.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Bluey) Mom, mom, mom, quick, quick. Oh, mom, you're making it harder.

MELANIE ZANETTI: (As Mum) OK...

BLAIR: There's a lot of make-believe, like the time the dad pretended to be one of those arcade claw machines.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BLUEY")

DAVE MCCORMACK: (As Dad) Insert coin for awesome prizes.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Bluey) Cha-ching.

MCCORMACK: (As Dad) This machine doesn't take imaginary coins. Go and get a job and earn real ones.

(LAUGHTER)

BLAIR: As far as parents go, Bandit and his wife, Chilli Heeler, are rock stars. They always seem to be playing with their kids. They let them climb all over them. They're silly, but they're also resourceful, especially when they're tired.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BLUEY")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Bluey) Can we play a game?

MCCORMACK: (As Dad) As long as it's one where I don't have to move any part of my body or say anything with my mouth.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Bluey) OK.

MCCORMACK: He's just like every dad, I reckon.

BLAIR: Dave McCormack is the voice of Bandit Heeler.

MCCORMACK: There's some episodes where he tries to invent games where he gets to just lie on the couch and read the newspaper or watch cricket or something. So, look, I find, in real life as a dad, I try and invent games that involves me lying on the couch and watching TV, as well (laughter).

ALLISON HASSER: It is one of the few kids shows I actually enjoy watching with them.

BLAIR: Why?

HASSER: Because the adults are not perfect.

BLAIR: Allison Hasser lives in Takoma Park, Md. Her 5-year-old Isla is a big fan of "Bluey's."

ISLA: I think all of the shows are funny.

BLAIR: Hasser says she gets parenting ideas from "Bluey."

HASSER: They create games because the kids want to be carried, and the parents are too tired and don't feel like carrying them. And I'm, like, actually, like, basically taking notes. I'm like, oh, good. OK, next time we're on a walk, I'm going to use this, too.

DALEY PEARSON: That's when we first started realizing it was catching on a bit - that families were recreating these games, and that was a huge surprise for us.

BLAIR: Daley Pearson is executive producer of "Bluey" and co-founder of Ludo Studio in Brisbane, Australia, where the show is created. He says even though Bluey and her family act human, they're modeled after blue heeler dogs, hence the family name.

PEARSON: They're sort of the dog of Australia. They're inexhaustible. They're very smart, you know, loyal, loving.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BLUEY")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Bluey) Hey, dad, stop. It's a bird. But it's on the ground.

MCCORMACK: (As Dad) It's a little budgie.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Bluey) Is it OK?

MCCORMACK: (As Dad) No, it looks hurt.

BLAIR: Bluey also doesn't shy away from tough topics, including death. When Bluey finds an injured bird, she and Bandit take it to the vet.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BLUEY")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) I'm sorry. It's bad news, I'm afraid. The little budgie died.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Bluey) Oh, OK.

MCCORMACK: (As Dad) Oh, sorry, kiddo. Come here.

BLAIR: A key aspect of the show is its humanity. Dave McCormack.

MCCORMACK: Most kid shows, the bird miraculously recover and, you know, be the comedic family pet for the rest of the series. But in this episode, the bird doesn't recover and dies. And for a kid's show to be dealing with the death of an animal is pretty unusual, isn't it? But it's good that it deals with real stuff.

BLAIR: That's "Bluey's" charm - blending old-school humor with a contemporary sensibility and lots of preschool silliness.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.