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There's too little personality in PBS's new series 'Big Big World'

If Snook, the star of PBS's new preschool series ''It's a Big Big World," wants to compete with the likes of ''Dora the Explorer," ''The Wiggles," or even ''Sesame Street," he'd better get a personality.

The character, a sloth who lives in a beautiful rain forest tree, makes his debut today at 7:30 a.m. on WGBH-TV (Channel 2) and again at 1:30 pm.

He's laid-back and fond of napping, which is fine for younger children, but he doesn't have a distinctive charm to stand out in a crowded field. That's too bad, because PBS is counting on this series to help it gain some traction in the very competitive world of preschooler television. Mitchell Kriegman, the creator of ''Bear in the Big Blue House," is the producer.

From a sensual perspective, ''It's a Big Big World" is a delight. Using Shadowmation, a technique that combines puppetry, animatronics, and computer-generated animation, the program's bright colors pop off the screen. The world music is also enchanting. The animal characters, which include a pair of marmosets, a tree frog, and a turtle, look good.

The story lines, however, need more tension. The series is designed to incorporate science and geography into preschooler entertainment. That's a great concept. But in the pilot episode, ''Not Found Here," the characters spend all of their time on a slow-paced mission to find a missing tadpole, who, it turns out, has transformed into a tree frog. That's not enough drama.

Maybe PBS should take a cue from another preschooler science show, which it rejected. ''Peep and the Big Wide World," which airs on Discovery Kids and TLC, is an animated series featuring a hilariously self-absorbed duck, a naive chick, and a helpful bird. Their neighborhood adventures, while educational, are also absorbing. (WGBH produces the series and airs it on weekends and on its cable channel, 'GBH Kids.)

''Peep" won an Emmy Award this year for best animated children's show. Snook needs to be less sloth-like if he wants to be considered in 2006.

Suzanne Ryan can be reached at

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