Beliefnet
Idol Chatter

Next week, Queen Rania of Jordan puts on her P.R. hat at a Metropolitan Museum of Art dinner (whose roster of attendees includes Barbara Walters and Katie Couric, among other Hollywood and political VIPs). Her goal: to promote better understanding between Arabs and Americans via two Pixar-style 3-D animated boys named “Ben and Izzy.” The show, about an American boy named Ben and a Jordanian boy named Izzy has gotten a good deal of royal support, garnering the attention of not only Queen Rania, but her husband, King Abdullah II, who is a member of the show’s creative team, which is led by David Pritchard, a “Simpsons” producer (which is as close to cartoon royalty as you can get in the U.S.).

Networks have yet to agree to air the show, but the Cartoon Network, Discovery Kids, and PBS have all received pitches. So what about substance?

Jacques Steinberg of the New York Times reports that the king wants this show to be funny–and fun–for kids:

The creators say they have taken that dictum to heart, providing Benjamin Martin (the American, whose grandfather, like Izzy’s, is an archeologist) and Izzy Aziz (born in Jordan, his full given name is Issam) all manner of raucous adventures. Traveling back through moments in history, they are to be accompanied by a genie named Yasmine and one step ahead of an evil, obese antiquities dealer named Clutchford Wells.

So is it just a bunch of gimmicks and laughs?

The real goal of “Ben and Izzy” is more serious: to help young Americans and Arabs steer clear of the prejudices of their parents and grandparents, which may have been reinforced by the Sept. 11 attacks and the war in Iraq. In promotional materials,
Ben the American is described as “a symbol for his country” who is “big” and “energetic,” but “on the negative side, he is a bit xenophobic, self-centered, needs-to-win competitive.”

“Like his native land,” the creators write, “he sometimes blunders into situations without thinking.” Izzy the Jordanian, by contrast, is “slight of build, sinewy and studious,” but “on the downside, Izzy can be a little too serious, self-righteous, superior, even devious.”

Sounds pretty groundbreaking for a cartoon coming at a time when kids–both American and Arab–can use a bit of fun and can benefit from role models of what much of our country and the Arab world is struggling so hard with these days: friendship.

I hope it gets picked up.

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