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Roll with it, baby
April 1, 2006

Roll with it, baby

From Toronto, Canada’s Sinking Ship Productions comes a short-form series to help preschoolers develop lifelong exercise habits. Nothing gets three- to five-year-olds up and moving faster than seeing other kids dancing around, and Roll Play blends images of active kids with black-light puppetry created by Toronto’s Famous People Players. Viewers will be inspired to mimic the movements of the puppets by pretending to swim like a whale or erupt like a volcano.

Each five-minute episode tells a story via a child’s voiceover. The kids and the colorful puppets act out the story with easy moves for the viewers to emulate at home. In one episode, the tale of a hermit crab that finally gets the courage to leave its shell is recreated with imaginative postures. The Famous People Players puppets demonstrate how hermit crabs scamper across the sand, while the kids show the children at home how they can pretend to move sideways like the critter.

The 52 eps are budgeted at about US$800,000, and it’s been presold to Canada’s Treehouse and French-language Radio-Canada. Delivery is set for September of this year, and the distribution team at Toronto, Canada’s Picture Box is actively looking to secure a U.S. presale.

ER banks on live action for another hit

Talk about a major deal. England’s CiTV and ITV1 have commissioned 260, 11-minute episodes of Jim Jam & Sunny from London, England’s Entertainment Rights. The brainchild of Tweenies creators, former Tell-Tale heads Will Brenton and Iain Lauchlan, the live-action preschool series will feature yet-to-be revealed animatronic puppet characters acting on a life sized set. Animated interstitials and glimpses of real life are also planned to bridge the episodes.

The show stars Jim Jam and his older sister Sunny, who continuously learn life lessons through play. Big sis Sunny loves reading to her brother, but in one episode a book on wild animals scares Jim Jam into thinking he sees the long, striped tail of a tiger in the laundry basket. When the duo pluck up the courage to approach the tiger, they see the tail is actually a shirt sleeve and learn it’s sometimes very easy to jump to conclusions.

Budgeted at about US$8 million, JJ&S is set to be delivered to terrestrial presale buyers for Q3 2006. Plans are in the works to incorporate Britain’s red button technology into the show to add an interactive element of play for U.K. viewers. Now that Tell-Tale is under Entertainment Rights’ umbrella, Brenton and Lauchlan will act as series producers under their new prodco, Wish Films. ER has retained all rights for the series, and will be courting broadcasters in the U.S., Japan, Australasia, Scandinavia, Benelux, Germany and France at MIPTV.
p>Underground Ernie makes tracks to the Beeb

The iconic transit system in the U.K. is about to get a kid-friendly spokesperson. The Underground Ernie concept has been six years in the making for London, England’s Joella Productions. In each episode, underground supervisor Ernie works hard to keep the system running on time. He even teams up the subway trains – some of which are named after London tube stops and possess their own personalities – to help passengers who are in need.

In one episode, an American athlete rides into the International Hammersmith and City station to take part in a big race. But a case of the nerves takes over and Rocky Two Shoes runs off just before the competition is set to begin. Even though Ernie is supposed to take his prized cauliflower to a veggie competition, he drops everything and corrals the help of the trains to search for the missing runner. When he’s found at the Fun Fair, Rocky learns Ernie may now miss the competition and races the cauliflower to the farm. In helping Ernie win a medal, Rocky regains the confidence to compete in the gold-medal race himself.

The 26 x 12-minute CGI preschool series is set for a launch in Q3 2006 on the U.K.’s CBeebies, which acquired it earlier this year with the option to commission a further 26 eps. Joella is in the process of appointing a distributor to sell the US$5.5-million series worldwide.

A maraca-playing superhero?

What happens when you marry the charisma of a mariachi music man with the stealth qualities of a ninja? You get Mariachi Ninja of course, the new Flash-animated series from nascent toon hub Cartoon Quarry in Tarzana, California. Targeted for the six to 12 year old set, the show takes a surreal action/comedy look at a hero’s life.

Although scripts are still being hammered out, one ep potentially has him assigned to break into a safe to steal a precious gold item belonging to a high-profile auto body businessman. But as he’s uncovering the code, he almost gets taken out by a large group of men who are ready to fight. Sensing he’s in danger, Mariachi Ninja flips on a radio switch and throws his hat onto the floor – casting a spell that makes the men dance uncontrollably. He returns to
finish cracking the safe and discovers the gold item is in fact a cheesy car horn that plays ‘La Cucaracha.’ Unfortunately, the peeling notes of that song break the dance curse and our hero is left to outrun his would-be attackers.

The production team is currently wrapping up a seven-minute pilot, but the plan is to hook up with interested international co-producers to develop the show into 13 half hours. The approximate budget is US$350,000 per half hour, and Cartoon Quarry is angling for a Q2 2007 delivery date.

Decode digs deep for Urban Vermin

Living amongst the shadows in the mean city streets are two brothers – once the best of friends, but now the bitterest of enemies. They’re both out to control the one and only currency of the underground: stinky garbage. Why? Because it’s what racoons Ken and Abe eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The two bros couldn’t be more different. While Ken is quite cunning and evil, older sib Abe is pretty uncool and wants to just stop the feud so he can return to his normal life.

Some rough ideas for the series include an epic dumpster fight that gets the pair deposited into a junkyard, far away from home. Unable to find their way back to the battleground, Abe and Ken are forced to work together. Naturally, their alliance gets thrown out the window as soon as they return to the gritty downtown streets.

This CGI series, geared for the eight to 12 set from Toronto, Canada’s Decode Entertainment, is presold to YTV. Budgeted at about $300,000 per ep, the team is in early talks with potential co-pro partners and hopes to top up the budget for a Q2 2007 delivery.

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