It was a hundred years ago and details are fuzzy, but I remember as a kid, seeing a skit on The Electric Company about a chef who was fired because he confused cabbage and lettuce in all his recipes.

The original cast of The Electric Company

I guess the idea of mistaken identity among everyday objects has always tickled me. After digging into my creative subconscious recently, I dreamt up an idea for a short-form animated series called Don’t Mix Us Up!

This absurd musical offering would feature pairs of inanimate look-a-likes singing about how despite their visual similarities, they are really quite different. The idea sat on the proverbial shelf until suddenly and without much warning, Toca Boca called. 

I’m guessing if you’re reading this piece, you have the same obsessive love for everything Toca Boca makes, but in the slight off-chance you happen to be my grandmother and don’t know Toca Boca, I’ll simply say that Toca Boca is the Holy Grail of children’s digital media. Consistently, in the last six years, Toca Boca has broken just about every record, won every award, and earned a top spot in each list of the world’s greatest apps for 3-5 year-olds. Their stuff is adored by kids and parents around the globe and is in a word, amazing.  The hallmark of the Toca Boca experience is what’s called “sandbox games.” No winner, no loser, no goals or objectives – just a fun experience. Toca Boca doesn’t make digital games. They make digital toys.

Toca Boca announced it was building a new platform for short-form programming called Toca TV. The aim of Toca TV is offering kids the same kind of no-stress and fun digital experience – but targeted now to a 6-9 year-old demographic who had aged out of the Toca Boca apps designed for preschoolers.

I immediately blew the dust off my weird look-a-like idea and whittled a (way too giant) list down to the following resemblers: Salt & Sugar, Zero & Letter O, Whipped Cream & Shaving Cream, Mustache & Eyebrow, (and of course) Cabbage & Lettuce.

The first order of business was simple: author snappy lyrics with clever rhymes, personifying otherwise lifeless props, while lightheartedly extolling the virtues of each, and constructing observational distinctions between them.

I realized the second my pen tip touched the paper, I was in trouble.

To appeal to the ever so choosey target demographic, the Don’t Mix Us Up! lyrics had to be comedy gold. Hilarity at its finest. Yet, no matter how hard I tried, my words kept ended up flatter than flapjacks.

Here’s an early verse of Cabbage & Lettuce. Embarrassingly, this horrible version is the one that came after I already had thrown out about 16 other versions I thought were bad. I cringe at the thought of anyone reading this, but sadly, it’s important for storytelling purposes:

We’re cabbage and we’re lettuce,
Same size and shape and hue.
And though people try not to,
They always confuse us two. 

The rhymes were juvenile and predictable, my grammar was cloying, and my iambic pentameter was all over the place. I began to agonize over the project. Somehow, I had five segments due, and I didn’t even know how to even begin the first one.

Then it happened. Like a conquering western hero kicking up dust and riding in steady on her mighty steed, she galloped (in slow motion) into my subconscious with a six gun by her side and a mighty impressive catalog of heart-wrenching tunes bursting from her sweet country heart.

 
 

That’s right. Dolly Parton. Somehow Spotify decided I should be listening to classic country tunes one morning on my walk to work, and boy, howdy, am I glad it did.

Have you really ever listened to Dolly Parton’s songs? The woman is truly a lyrical genius. I urge you to put down this blog right now and pick up your music player and see just what I’m talking about. (On second thought, finish reading the blog first. I worked hard on this thing.)

Two things especially struck me as I was listening to Ms. Parton’s early stuff. (as with most performers, her early stuff is really the best stuff.)

  1. Her lyrics always sound like they rhyme, but a lot of times, she’s uses, ALMOST rhymes.
  2. Just when you think you know what she’s gonna say, Dolly zings you with an unexpected word.

Here’s an example from Coat Of Many Colors (one of my favorites.)

Back through the years I go wandering once again
Back to the seasons of my youth.
I recall a box of rags that someone gave us
And how my momma put the rags to use.

Did you catch that? She just rhymed YOUTH and USE and it totally worked. I listened to every Dolly Parton song ever recorded – some songs over and over again trying to get some of that country storytelling brilliance into my blood. Then, with confidence, I went in for round two of my Cabbage & Lettuce song.

We look a little bit alike
But you’ve got to get it right
I’m cabbage
And I’m lettuce
Don’t Mix Us Up!

See what I did? I rhymed ALIKE and RIGHT and it totally worked. Or as country music’s royalty taught me, “It’s as OK as ol' Blue layin' on the porch chewin' on a big ol' catfish head.” (That’s a good thing.)

The rest of the lyrics gushed out of my pen like the mighty Mississippi and I couldn’t be more proud of how the segments came out.

Hearing the final dance-mix vibe (composed brilliantly by Junior Joe), you would never in a million years guess that country music had anything to do with the genesis of the segments.

kidscreen awards

Now Don’t Mix Us Up! is a finalist for a coveted 2017 Kidscreen Award and if I happen to end up on the stage holding the shiny award and you see me lean over and say into the microphone – as I’m surely being played off the stage – “I want to dedicate this award to Dolly Parton.” You’ll know exactly what that’s about.

Please enjoy the final Cabbage & Lettuce segment below. I dare you not to wake up at 4:00 a.m. with this tune stuck in your head. You can watch the other four episodes we made for Toca TV on YouTube, and be sure to download the app for hours of playful fun!

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