My only previous encounter with a children’s show from New Zealand was Under The Mountain, made in 1981. I enjoyed it very much, but Children of the Dog Star, made a mere three years later, shows an incredible leap in maturity and quality over what is essentially the same subject — an alien visit to Earth and kids becoming involved.
Children of the Dog Star brings together two kids from different worlds — Gretchen (Sarah Dunn), a science whiz visiting her aunt and uncle’s farm for the summer, and Ronny (Jeison Wallace), a Maori boy who has been in trouble and sent to spend time with his kindly uncle and learn about his heritage.
Gretchen has become fascinated by an unusual weather vane on the top of her uncle’s barn, and soon notices that it is not necessarily some inanimate object. There are some incidents of sleepwalking and strange phenomena. Eventually, the kids all come together and the secrets of the swamp are revealed, and they involve, no big surprise, aliens.
This all happens against the backdrop of a businesswoman trying to purchase the swamp land and develop it, despite protests from the local Maori tribe that this is sacred land.
Some of the biggest pleasures in here are the progressive portrayals it features, particularly Gretchen, whose devotion to astronomy has her dreaming big, but in this case, big is presented as realistic. She’s a brainy girl who lets her curiosity be her guide, and is content to leap into the unknown without flinching.
The show also uses the inevitable interaction between the kids and the alien culture as a contrast to that of whites and Maori culture. The script itself respects the Maori concerns and portrays whites as all too willing to stomp over other cultures for profit. The aliens, meanwhile, listen to the human concerns and realize the mistakes they have made, and work to correct them. It’s a great twist that gives an engaging kids’ adventure a more expansive and meaningful subtext.