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Hyperion cooks up Jambalaya

The Proud Family, a black animation pilot pitched by Glendale, California-based Hyperion Studio's new multicultural toon entity, Jambalaya Studio, was purchased by Nickelodeon and is under consideration for a half-hour series. The pilot was created by Bruce Smith, director of the...
December 1, 1999

The Proud Family, a black animation pilot pitched by Glendale, California-based Hyperion Studio’s new multicultural toon entity, Jambalaya Studio, was purchased by Nickelodeon and is under consideration for a half-hour series. The pilot was created by Bruce Smith, director of the only African-American animated feature film in recent history, Bebe’s Kids, released in 1992, which Hyperion produced and Paramount Pictures distributed.

The Proud Family is a comedy series centering around an African-American family in a middle-class black neighborhood. As most recent black animated series have focused on ghetto life, Smith plans to portray a wider range of socio-economic classes in the toons Jambalaya pursues for its production slate. ‘African-American history in animation is not very good,’ notes Smith.

With funding and staff support from 16-year-old indie animation studio Hyperion, Smith launched Jambalaya Studio on October 15 out of Hyperion’s Glendale headquarters. Jambalaya is arguably the only black and multicultural toon studio in the U.S., and will capitalize on the participation of ethnic celebrities who will voice and provide music for the toons.

‘We’re trying to fill a void-no one’s doing this,’ notes Hyperion’s senior VP Kurt Albrecht. Albrecht attributed the lack of minority-targeted animation to major studios’ fear of anything that’s not tried-and-true. ‘Why would you risk something that might not make money for you right out of the gate?’ Albrecht notes.

While certain Jambalaya projects will take the traditional pitch-to-broadcast-outlets route, launching some new toon concepts on the Web will lower costs for Jambalaya. The studio’s Web site (www.funkymango.com), which is under construction, will contain animated fare for kids, teens and adults alike. Jambalaya aims to pursue a variety of animation forms such as stop-motion/puppet, cel- and computer-generated animation for the site.

To date, Smith and Albrecht are the only principals on board. With Hyperion since 1992, Albrecht has exec produced 26 episodes of The Adventures of the Animal Rescue Kids (Discovery) and The Adventures of Tom Thumb & Thumbelina, an animated video feature for Miramax. His co-producing credits include Playing by Heart (Miramax), The Brave Little Toaster to the Rescue and The Brave Little Toaster goes to Mars (Buena Vista Home Video). Smith’s own credits include a number of projects for Walt Disney Feature Animation. As supervising animator on Disney’s Tarzan, Smith was recently responsible for bringing life to Kerchak, the respected gorilla patriarch. His other credits with Walt Disney Feature Animation include Sport Goofy. He also worked as an additional animator on the landmark 1988 film Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

According to Smith, a host of famous minorities have expressed interest in participating in Jambalaya’s toons, including sports figures, celebrities and, perhaps most importantly, recording artists in the hot R&B and hip-hop categories. ‘Animation is a very musical medium. This is a chance for an artist like Puffy [Combs] to be seen in an environment where you’re not used to seeing him,’ Smith notes. Kids love R&B and rap music, Smith adds, without labeling it white or black music. ‘Everyone has embraced this culture through music and TV,’ he says.

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