New Apple TV+ children’s show Frog and Toad, based on the classic book series by Arnold Lobel about two amphibious friends, is smartly and simply animated in the style of the Caldecott Award-winning author.
Frog and Toad is a real gem — a welcome inclusion in the Apple TV+ lineup, and an honorable adaptation of a classic.
Frog and Toad season one review
Season 1: Frog (voiced by Nat Faxon) and Toad (voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson) are best friends in their swampy little village. They do everything together, even though sometimes they can’t help but bring out the worst and silliest in each other.
Take, for instance, the day Toad makes his best batch of cookies ever. He brings them to Frog, and his friend confirms they are indeed the best cookies either of them has ever tasted. Unfortunately, they prove so good that they can’t stop eating them. A solution needs to be devised. They could hide them away … except, of course, they would know where they were hidden. Frog suggests burying them in a hole in the ground. But then Toad reminds him that they’d still know where the cookies are. It ties them in knots.
This show doesn’t mail in its lovely lessons
Or consider when Frog discovers that Toad has never gotten any mail. Every day around mail time, Toad sits forlornly on his porch, waiting for the letter that will never arrive. So, Frog decides to do something about it. He goes home and writes Toad a letter himself, then gives it to the mail snail (voiced by Aparna Nancherla). Then he goes to Toad’s home. Toad has decided to nap instead of waiting for the letter, but Frog tells him the mail is coming. Then Frog becomes the one impatient for the mail.
Through it all, their friendship helps them through every trial and tribulation. When Toad tries to bring Frog every flavor of ice cream to improve a hot day — and, shockingly, it all melts — Frog is still touched by the gesture. And he cheers Toad up about the melty disaster. Likewise, when Frog tells everyone in town he’s mailing Toad a letter, they all learn how much Toad wants a letter. And everybody takes time to write him one.
Basically, Frog and Toad serves up a never-ceasing litany of warm and wonderful moments.
Wonderful stories, beautifully animated
After spending five decades as a beloved children’s book series, Frog and Toad found a bizarre second life in the last five years as a meme format. The headline Vulture ran with when Apple TV+ announced its adaptation should tell you everything you need to know about how Frog and Toad have metamorphosed in the years since the autumnal children’s book debuted: “Apple TV+ Says Gay Rights, Makes Frog and Toad Show.”
Now, Frog and Toad’s queerness was mostly thrust upon it by a culture in need of icons (and understandably protective of what in culture can be read as allied with a progressive agenda, as kids are more and more targeted by conservative legislation and the horrors it unleashes on confused young people). But it was a nice idea, and no one pitched a fit when it started.
Certainly, the books’ message of niceness and doing anything for your friends does still play as quietly radical in a very self-obsessed and mean-spirited culture. So even without the subtext (and the show doesn’t hit any beat harder than needed about its hopping heroes’ personal lives), Frog and Toad still plays beautifully. But then, the craft on display means it couldn’t really have done anything else. The animation style flows right out of Arnold Lobel‘s iconic illustrations, with all the fuzzy edges and pencil strokes of the original, which is most welcome.
Rob Hoegee brings Frog and Toad to life
The new Apple TV+ kids’ show might not have the truly immersive style of something like cult hit Over the Garden Wall — still the gold standard of mythic, animated Americana — but the comparative simplicity is by design. Frog and Toad is designed to give kids a super-mellow experience while imparting its little morsels of personal betterment (nestled between the lovely, folk-inspired score by Mark Evitts).
The creator and head writer (and occasional voice actor) is Rob Hoegee, who also created the Peabody Award-winning Apple TV+ show Stillwater, which imparted lessons of zen self-discovery and control to kids. Hoegee has been perfecting the idea of unobtrusive but compulsively watchable kids’ TV for a long time. Having not seen everything he’s done (I am, after all, a childless 30-something), I can’t say for sure. But Frog and Toad kind of seems like the show he’s been building toward his whole career.
To help him create a lovely environment in which kids can spend time, Hoegee rounded out the cast with professionals from LA comedy and legends of animation. In the former category, we get cameos from Betsy Sodaro, Ron Funches, Margaret Cho and more. In the latter, Tom Kenny (Spongebob himself) drops by along with Kevin Michael Richardson, who has hundreds of voice credits to his name stretching back decades. His Toad performance is the heart of the show.
Richardson and Faxon deliver their lines in such a way that you feel you’re being read the original stories by a loving parent. Richardson’s consternation, confusion and sense of wonder are all pitch-perfect. He’s exactly what this show needs, and I’m excited that people get to experience these classic stories, delivered by people who really care about the end result.
Watch Frog and Toad on Apple TV+
The first season of Frog and Toad arrive today on Apple TV+.
Watch on: Apple TV+
Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper and But God Made Him A Poet: Watching John Ford in the 21st Century, the director of 30 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.