Disney + ‘s Bluey is undoubtedly made for kids, but its high spirits, exuberant imagination, and astute observations about parenting and family made it an equally fun (and sometimes truly moving) experience for the grownups in their lives. The Heeler family – mom Chilli (Melanie Zanetti), dad Bandit (Dave McCormack), and daughters Bluey and Bingo (ages 6 and 4, respectively; like all the kid characters, their voice actors’ names have never been made public to protect their anonymity) – are an Australian family of cartoon dogs going about their lives with a healthy dose of imaginative play. We follow them to the hardware store, to school dropoff, to their backyard, and more, and each seven-minute episode shows the magic in even these mundane activities when seen through the unfettered imagination of children.
Part of what makes this endlessly inventive, laugh-out-loud funny show really special is its view on parenting as both invigorating and exhausting, frustrating and wildly joyful. Bandit may be a cartoon dog, but he is also one of the best dads on television, with an enviable store of energy and playfulness and, just as important, a willingness to own up when he’s not done his best. To celebrate Father’s Day, here are nine episodes that show us some of Bandit’s very best moments as a dad.
Magic Xylophone (Season 1, Episode 1)
In its very first episode, Bluey gives us one of its greatest examples of Bandit’s commitment to imaginary play. Opening with a round of Bum Bongos, it leads into a game based around the power to freeze and unfreeze people with the chime of a “magic” xylophone, which inevitably results in Bandit wearing silly costumes in silly poses, all in full view of the neighbors. When the girls’ squabbles over getting a fair share of the xylophone’s powers resolves in a team-up against their dad, Bandit ends up willingly taking the spray of a garden hose to the face, never wavering from his commitment to the game and to reinforcing the lessons learned about sharing. It’s very sweet without turning saccharine, immediately introducing Bandit’s playfulness with his kids and the ways he shows them by example how best to treat other people – er, dogs.
Takeaway (Season 1, Episode 14)
Bandit is faced with one of parenthood’s toughest challenges: corralling a pair of restless, hungry kids – including one who has to pee – on an errand that’s taking longer than it should. When the takeout joint forgets the family’s spring rolls, Bandit has to keep inquisitive Bluey and Bingo under control for five minutes, weathering demands for showers in the public tap, questions about plants and atoms and babies, the need for a “bush wee,” and spilled and spit-out spicy food. When it all spirals out of control, a food-spattered Bandit is reminded by a well-timed fortune cookie that “a person never has the chance to be young again” – so he lets the kids gleefully play in the water rather than rushing home . Sometimes being a good dad does not mean keeping everything well in hand, but instead making the very best of it when things go awry.
Rug Island (Season 2, Episode 10)
Bandit has to get to work; he really can not play. The girls are disappointed, but quickly recover and turn a box of felt pens into Rug Island – an island just for kids. But then a business-attired Bandit washes up on shore and must learn the island’s rules, including which markers are fruit and which are snakes. When their neighbor throws a football into the yard, Bandit tries to impose grown-up rules on the kid-only island. “Grownups do not belong on Rug Island,” Bluey admonishes a disappointed Bingo. But just as he’s about to give the neighbor back the ball, Bandit swaps it instead for a marker-snake – and the neighbor plays right along, extending the kids ‘fantasy (and the adults’ escape from adulthood) a little longer. Eventually Bandit really does have to go – adulthood and its responsibilities have finally caught up to him. But Bingo sends him away with a special present: a golden marker as a reminder of Rug Island and the fun he had living as a child again. When Chilli asks what Bingo gave him, this loving dad’s answer is simple: “Everything.”
Tickle Crabs (Season 2, Episode 17)
Not every imagination game is a winner: “Not Tickle Crabs!” moans Bandit upon his daughters’ excited suggestion. “I hate Tickle Crabs!” But he’s no match for the girls’ “please faces” and ends up playing the game while Chilli dashes away to avoid it. The game is just what it sounds like: the girls are crabs who love to tickle, brought home from the beach by mistake. As he runs, hides, and tries to outsmart them, he searches for his true love to help him: Chilli, who has successfully escaped the game. But after taking responsibility for saving himself and then giving himself over to their tickling claws, Chilli shows up as a seagull to carry the crabs back out to sea. Bandit gets over his own aversion to the game in order to make his girls happy – and then sprints off for “a half an hour on the couch” once Chilli literally swoops in. Hey, self-care is part of good parenting too!
Yoga Ball (Season 1, Episode 16)
“No time for games, squirt,” Bandit says, immediately before pretending to take an elevator behind the kitchen island to his daughters’ delighted giggles. He is not actually kidding, though – after a few rounds of Elevator, he really does need to work from home. But the girls have other ideas, stealing the yoga ball from his desk. Bandit bounces them on the ball, tosses the girls playfully onto a bed, and sends the ball rolling after them as they sprint down the hall. When Bingo, younger than Bluey but wanting to keep up, finds that the games that are good for her older sister are too rough for her, she has to find her “big girl bark” to let Bandit know to play more gently. When she comes to talk to him, Bandit abandons the work he has been trying to do all day to listen carefully, apologize, and come up with a plan for how they can play together in a way that works for Bingo. Being playful is normally what sets his parenting apart, but here Bandit handles the serious chats with equal aplomb.
Dance Mode (Season 2, Episode 3)
This one is all about Bandit’s less-than-stellar parenting moments. First, he eats Bingo’s last French fry before she was finished with it – a transgression every parent makes at one point or another. To make it up to her, he gives her three Dance Modes: the power to make a member of the family dance, at any moment, no matter where they are (another lesson: do not overpromise something that’s going to make you miserable) . As they run errands, members of the family convince Bingo to give them her Dance Modes one by one, until finally Bandit straight-up bribes her to give up her last one rather than use it on him (a third parenting no-no). But when it becomes clear that Bingo has felt unheard all day, Bandit owns up to his screw-ups, apologizes, and commits to a very spirited, very public dance. “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m doing this for my kid,” he announces, before roboting, worming, and shimmying all the way back into Great Dad status. In episodes like this, his imperfections make his parenting all the more enviable by showing that it does not always come naturally; it takes work and, sometimes, a really good beat.
Daddy Dropoff (Season 2, Episode 8)
The episode kicks off with Lila, a new character. It’s her first day of Kindy, and the shy Lila doesn’t know how to make friends. We flashback to the Heeler house, where the girls wake Bandit up with a game of Pet Feet before he snaps into action to get them to school on time. He packs lunches, makes breakfast, and hustles them out the door – all while still playing along with the kids’ various games. In the Kindy’s parking lot, they find they’ve ended up late anyway, but Bandit still makes time for Wind Up Bingo, a game that sends Bandit through the school door as a wind-up toy. When Bluey asks why he played the game, despite it making them even more late, he shrugs and says “would not be as much fun” if they hadn’t. In the kind of lovely twist the show is fond of, we come back to Lila, who winds Bingo back up when she winds down, making her first friend – one who we see through a series of flashforwards will be with her for many years to come. Bandit’s parenting ethos – a commitment to fun and imagination – ripples out, providing courage to another kid and a lifelong friend to his daughter.
Pirates (Season 1, Episode 27)
Even Bandit’s not immune to embarrassment. When the girls and their friend Missy want to play Pirates at the park, Chilli and Bandit put them in a hammock and begin telling a seafaring story. Bandit’s in charge of swinging the hammock in the wind and making the sounds of an attacking giant whale. As Bandit encourages the frightened Missy to be brave, he spies another dad looking askance at the bellows of his blue whale (or poo whale, according to Bingo). He immediately clams up, letting out a half-hearted “hee hee, ha ha” as the girls tickle the whale. But Missy’s bravery in rejoining the game inspires Bandit to let his whale songs loose again. Part of parenthood is putting the kids first – even over the judgy glances of the other playground dads.
Bike (Season 1, Episode 11)
Bandit actually does very little in this one, but that’s the point: Sometimes being a good dad means sitting back and letting the kids make their own mistakes – and earn their own triumphs. He and Bluey, who is frustrated by her inability to ride her bike, watch from a bench as Bingo tries to get water from a tall fountain, Bentley tries to reach the monkey bars, and Muffin tries to get on a backpack. With running commentary from Bandit, Bluey learns about perseverance, ingenuity, and the value of sticking with a tough task even through disappointment – and she learns that her dad will always be there cheering for her and believing in her while she figures it out. When Bluey determinedly gets back on her bike to try, try again, Bandit’s gentle “Nice work, Bluey,” is all the encouragement she needs.