Annie the rag doll and Teddy the gruff old bear from the television special of the same name have lost their children yet again. This time in this 13 x 11-minute series, the pair are left on an airport baggage carrousel en route to a family holiday. Annie and Teddy must now set off on another quest to find their home.
Hibbert Ralph Entertainment, U.K.
Link Entertainment, U.K.
Sony Wonder, U.S.
United Film and Television Productions, U.K.
How the partnership began:
Hibbert Ralph Entertainment’s animation director Graham Ralph reads a children’s book called The Night After Christmas to his daughter and they both fall in love with it. However, Ralph is too busy directing commercials for Hibbert Ralph Animation to develop the idea.
After the formation of Hibbert Ralph Entertainment, Ralph writes to the book’s author, James Stevenson, to ask if he can buy the rights in order to make an animated film. Stevenson, who had previously turned down Hanna-Barbera, agrees when he sees another Hibbert Ralph production called Spider. Ralph is granted the rights in 1991.
Ralph approaches U.K. distributor Link Entertainment, the distributor for Spider, to discuss funding for the new project. Link’s chairman David Hamilton is keen to support it, but warns of the tough economics in trying to get a high-quality animation special off the ground. Link touts a treatment and a poster around program markets for two years before the first financial backer (Sony Wonder) signs on.
With Sony contributing 25 to 35 percent of the budget in exchange for North American TV and video rights, Link is able to secure serious interest from other parties. After another six months, the next slice of the budget is provided by ITV regional broadcaster Meridian. Janie Grace, Meridian’s head of children’s programming at the time, recalls, ‘I said yes before they’d left the room. It was a delightful project.’
With Meridian on board, Susanne Müller, the executive director of children’s programs at German broadcaster ZDF, also signs on the dotted line. Now all that remains is to get a commission from U.K. broadcaster ITV.
The project’s name changes to The Forgotten Toys. The book’s name is dropped because Link is keen to avoid the program being shown just once a year.
By the time MIP-TV rolls around, ITV has given the go-ahead for a 25-minute special that will cost about £500,000 (US$778,500), approximately half of which is provided by the production partners. Production begins in March, and distribution takes off. Scandinavian broadcasters Danmarks Radio and SVT International are two of the first to sign on.
December 26, 1995
The half-hour The Forgotten Toys special gets its first screening on ITV. It scores critical success and high ratings. Video distributor First Independent sells 30,000 units of The Forgotten Toys in its first month on the market. The special then g’es on to win best children’s film and best short film at the Berlin Film Festival.
With the success of the special, ITV decides it will repeat the program at Christmas 1996. More significantly, the production partners signal a desire to make a 13 x 11-minute series of The Forgotten Toys. Meridian (now United Film and TV Productions) and ZDF are lined up as prospective co-production partners. Link, which now has financial backing from Guinness Mahon Development Capital, makes the series a priority on its expanding production slate.
This will be the first time that The Forgotten Toys series is presented at a market, says Link’s director of international sales, David Llewellyn Jones. Link’s priority is to get commitments in anticipation of the series getting the go-ahead from ITV.
The major merchandising push will commence around the Christmas of 1997, assuming the series gets the green light. Japan, where there is a strong market in soft toys, is expected to be a key market for the main characters Teddy and Annie.