Preschool is a huge focus for us with two new series premiering in the fall,’ says Eleo Hensleigh, senior VP of marketing at Disney Channel. The channel’s standout entry to the preschool genre is Rolie Polie Olie, a digitally animated series based on the work of children’s book author and illustrator William Joyce, which was produced by Nelvana. ‘We’re so excited about the quality of Rolie Polie Olie-and the opportunity to provide more variety for that audience,’ she notes. Thirteen half-hour episodes of the series will debut in October, airing within the channel’s preschool block at 8:30 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
In animating the series, models for the main character of Olie and his family were created digitally, never drawn. While the animation is cutting edge, infusing objects and characters with a three-dimensional look, the emotional tone of the series is anything but high-tech, according to Joyce. The author was closely involved with the development of the series, which was loosely based on a poem he wrote. The story centers around Olie, a simple, robotic boy who lives in a fully functioning, blinking, moving world in and around his tea kettle-shaped house.
‘The intent was to evoke old classic animation,’ says Joyce. Influenced by the round shapes and bumbling movements of characters in such early classics as Steamboat Willie and early Mickey Mouse episodes, Joyce instructed animators to evoke ‘an old tech feel.’ One particularly strong influence was the circular construction of the character of Mickey. ‘I looked at how they styled Mickey,’ notes Joyce. ‘There seems to be something comforting to [kids] about the shape of roundness.’
So far, the results of this creative process have attracted adults as well. ‘We want to make sure that any show we create has inclusive qualities [for adults],’ says Joyce. Storylines that truthfully and humorously chronicle everyday interactions among a core family group are simple, yet adults can relate to them. ‘There are responsible parents in Olie’s world, but in these everyday, ordinary slices of life, there’s nothing that separates, that says `this is for kids’ or `this is for adults,” notes Hensleigh, adding that one aspect that lends the product a much warmer feel than most computer animation is that the shadows are done in color, versus the typical stark black shadows.
Disney Channel is holding off on licensing and merchandising, as well as major promotions, until the series has had a chance to catch on. ‘We’re looking at this as a long-term series. We’ll be doing an ad campaign much further out,’ says Hensleigh, explaining that three-year-olds are not event-based, but rather are inclined to build routines and habits. Disney Channel plans to give the series time to build an audience-a luxury it can afford since, as a non-commercial channel, it doesn’t come under pressure from advertisers.