Though her life story — ex-punk rocker moves to Portland to make art and music for kids — might sound like fodder for an episode of Portlandia, Julianna Bright (and her musical alter ego Cat Doorman) are for real, as evidenced by her release of Little Red Wagon for iPad. Part interactive app, part old-fashioned song book, Little Red Wagon brings its listeners something old and something new, and something completely adorable.
Not only is Little Red Wagon an interactive edu-book, it is also one piece of a larger media puzzle. Think of Little Red Wagon the lead single from an album, but instead of being a 45″, it’s an iPad app. The song is one of 14 that appear on The Cat Doorman Songbook, which is available with a 20-page booklet from the artist, and will be available through iTunes as a digital download by January 29, 2013.
Bright created the illustrations and led the band’s recording of “Little Red Wagon.” “Part of the reason I’ve always combined my artwork and my music, is because I love the idea of fashioning a tiny universe, inhabiting it with verdancy, a beating heart, something magical. Creating the illustrations and music for the app and album is my most perfect realization of this goal thus far. Watching the hand-painted characters and the warm texture of the paper come to life in the app, and hearing every instrument and voice on the album charms and thrills me. I hope you’ll feel the same!” says Bright.
Little Red Wagon is utterly charming. The reader begins by dragging an instrument into the little red wagon, which is pulled by a girl wearing a dress with a peter pan collar and red mary janes. (Note to readers: at this point you will probably relate to the little girl’s aesthetic either because you own several pairs of red mary janes already, or you spend hours pinning such things to Pinterest, or you won’t. While readers who don’t connect to Bright’s aesthetic will still enjoy the app, those who do will love it.)
As the song unfurls, the reader can follow along, pausing to visit the bakery, the dairy, the garden, the orchard, and (at last) the animal picnic. (And yes, there is a fox wearing a bow tie at the picnic. How did you guess?) The interactive elements strike a perfect balance with the upbeat, yet soothing, melody. The song also features a number of talented Portland-based musicians including Chris Funk (The Decemberists) and Seth Lorinczi (Corin Tucker Band).
The song’s melody is similar to the folk song “Little Bird Little Bird,” which was recorded by artists like Pete Seeger and indie rocker turned kid folkie Elizabeth Mitchell. Mitchell and Bright share common ground, to be sure, but Bright isn’t just riding Mitchell’s carefully curated vintage coattails; she’s doing her own thing. AFter all, making kids music is an age-old tradition that benefits greatly from a little quirky reinvention, something which Bright can be considered a specialist.
Bright partnered with Night & Day Studios for the project, and the developer has high hopes for the app and its related endavors. According to Night & Dayʼs CEO Nat Sims, “We want to use this medium to transform and energize all the great traditional media our families love. Just like the Childrenʼs Television Workshop brought great traditional storytelling and puppetry to television, weʼre bringing traditional songwriting and illustrations to life in an interactive format that jumps past books, music, and television combined.” Plus, Night & Day also plan to release additional apps for Bright’s “So Many Words” and “Let’s Get Dressed Up” later this year.
The Verdict: Little Red Wagon is an entertaining app that includes a kids’ song that even parents will enjoy listening to again and again. Highly recommended.