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New tale for preschoolers' best friend

It's always hard, as a grown-up, to insert yourself into the preschool-television mind - set. If you count yourself part of the first MTV generation (which happens to be the first `` Sesame Street " generation), your aesthetic tends to be fast-paced and snarkily self-referential.

``Blue's Clues," by that measure, is a little slow -- in a deliberate sense, not a doddering one. It's a gentle half-hour of understated music and problem solving that, unlike some of its competition, isn't especially manic. The series's most distinguishing characteristic is the pregnant pause; the show asks questions, then stops and waits for kids to answer. According to Nick Jr.'s research, they generally do.

That success has helped propel ``Blue's Clues" to a decade's worth of high ratings; Nickelodeon celebrates the show's 10th anniversary with an hourlong movie that premieres tonight. The network public relations machine has been using the word ``groundbreaking," and in this case, it's fair. When it premiered, ``Blue's Clues" launched some new ideas about how preschoolers can interact with TV shows. It also proved that commercial networks could produce quality children's shows -- and launch a lucrative industry of licensed children's products.

Things change in a decade, and tonight's movie, ``Meet Blue's Baby Brother," is emblematic of the newfangled ``Clues." It's hosted by Joe (Donovan Patton), the younger brother of original host Steve (Steven Burns), who left the show for ``college" when Burns decided to pursue a music career. (It turns out, he's a punk rocker, which must please some of today's 14-year-olds.) Most significantly, the movie features the talking-puppet version of Blue that was introduced in 2002; before that, the dog was solely a barking cartoon.

Parent purists grouse about this verbal Blue, who's now featured on a regular segment of the show. But actual kid viewers haven't seemed to mind. ``Blue's Clues," after all, is a world filled with dinosaurs and talking salt-and-pepper shakers, so perhaps it's silly to quibble over rules.

It might make more sense to lose yourself in the spirit of the show, which seems to be designed exclusively for kids; there isn't much winking or inside-joking for parents' benefit. Joe and Blue travel through an animated ``Puppy World" filled with clean lines and familiar markers -- pawprint ``clues" and a ``thinking chair" -- as they try to figure out which is Blue's baby brother.

The answer is no giant surprise, though I'll avoid spoilers to protect any reading preschool savants. Suffice it to say that getting there involves a basic knowledge of letters, numbers, colors , and shapes. The final scene is sentimental without being overly sappy. And preschoolers will probably be yelling at the screen.

Joanna Weiss can be reached at

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