Cartoon Forum Forecast

Jungle sounds abound in MacKinnon & Saunders' pre-talking vehicle Rah Rah!
September 1, 2008

Jungle sounds abound in MacKinnon & Saunders’ pre-talking vehicle Rah Rah!

Even before they learn to speak in sentences, most wee kids will pipe up and tell you that a lion says ‘rah’ and a monkey says ‘ooh-ooh, aah-aah.’ And MacKinnon & Saunders’ Cartoon Forum pitch Rah Rah! taps into this common bit of early childhood knowledge. Based on an original concept by Bob the Builder production designer Curtis Jobling, this 52 x seven-minute stop-frame series was inspired by classic kids song ‘Old MacDonald’s Farm’ and the animal noises it calls for.

The show centers around a diminutive lion named Rah Rah who has adventures in the Jingly Jangly Jungle with onomatopeically named friends such as Snap Snap the crocodile and Who Who the monkey. Besides using their individually unique animal noises to communicate, the characters talk to each other with very simple vocabulary that incorporates fun rhymes, repetition and rhythms. In each episode, they set about solving a simple mystery that leads to an adventure.

When they hear something ticking in the jungle, for example, the critters venture far beyond their home turf to find the source of the mysterious, scary sound, which turns out to be a harmless little alarm clock.

Rah Rah! is designed for the two to four crowd, so it has an undercurrent of teaching early communication skills to kids in the process of moving on from the ‘me, me, me’ phase of infancy and reaching out to the world around them through language. Besides small words and animals sounds, the characters use key communication tools such as eye contact and body language to interact with each other, and M&S is consulting with experts who specialize in children’s communication to properly develop these unique storytelling techniques.

With a lead broadcaster almost in place, the London-based shop has already started production on Rah Rah!, working with a budget of approximately US$4.4 million. M&S producer Jackie Edwards says Canada’s CCI Entertainment is already on-board as a co-production partner. She has also shown the concept to a select number of buyers, but no deals have been inked yet. The goal coming out of Cartoon Forum is to lock in broadcast partners, and Edwards is aiming for sales in most major territories.

Why Alphanim’s green comedy Pok & Mok rocks

Broadcasters may well fall in love with Pok & Mok’s green-centric stories, which are certainly de rigeur these days, but the project’s edgy visual style is a more immediately compelling calling card and should draw a crowd in Ludwigsburg. Alphanim’s creative team has layered wacky 2-D animated characters over a detailed miniature model environment peppered with real-world photos to set the stage for this 78 x seven-minute comedy series starring a gregarious boy with crazy facial expressions (Mok) and his hyperactive pet (Pok).

Producer Clément Calvet explains that while each episode of Pok & Mok delivers a subtle message about environmental sustainability, aiming for a six- to 10-year-old audience makes high doses of slapstick and silly gags imperative to bury any inherent preachiness. So, for example, the lead characters learn the hard way why Pok shouldn’t jump down the drain to see where the water flows, and why Mok shouldn’t dose his science experiment with pesticides to make it grow faster.

It should also be noted that the series writers are being very careful to avoid black-and-white eco-judgments. When Mok and his father decide to take two different vehicles to get to the DVD store – Dad drives his car, and Mok hops on his emissions-free bike – the only conclusion drawn is that cars are better for longer distances, but bikes are a useful way to get around town.

With France 3 on-board as a co-producer, Alphanim will have a pilot and test scenes for each character ready to show at Cartoon Forum. Calvet says he’s working with a US$9.2-million budget and hopes to attract terrestrial broadcasters from Italy, Germany, Spain and the UK, or a pan-Euro net such as Nickelodeon. He’d also welcome a co-pro partner, particularly from the UK, Italy or Canada.

Kindle serves up music appreciation for tots in The Troubadours

One need only look as far as The Wonder Pets! and The Backyardigans to see that music-based shows work like a charm in the preschool market. But London, England-based Kindle Entertainment is aiming to take this winning model a step further in its follow-up project to first release Big & Small, which is on track to join the CBeebies schedule this fall and is also gaining significant international sales traction.

The Troubadours is 26 x 22-minute CGI concept based around a trio of traveling minstrels on a quest to set the world on fire with their music. Basso the baritone, mid-range sound specialist Toots and dancing soprano Lindy Pop use sounds from their environment to find harmonies and compose new tunes in each episode. Kindle director Melanie Stokes says the creative team’s goal was to go beyond song-based dialogue and develop a show that unpacks musical instruments that are usually kept away from curious little hands, introducing preschoolers to music basics like rhythm, beat, echo, volume and dance with an epic story leading the way.

When a letter arrives from the butterfly community asking the troubadours to write a song about collecting nectar, they set off on a journey to find inspiration. Jumping over boulders in a river delivers a one-two-three-four beat that becomes the foundation of a tango built up with more discovered sounds over the course of the episode, providing insight into the textures and layers of musical composition. To add a bit of jeopardy to the mix, the trio is constantly side-stepping Eugene the hungry dragon – a comic villain who sets an endless number of completely ineffectual traps to catch them.

The Troubadours is in production with an investment from Granada International, which will manage worldwide distribution and licensing rights. Stokes and co-creator Anne Brogan hope to attract additional co-production partners at Cartoon Forum, where they plan to present a bible, a pilot and a few songs from the series, which will cost about US$485,000 per episode to produce.

Squidge and the Hardnuts points out the humor in being drastically different

No two individuals could be more out of place than Squidge and his sidekick Splat, a pair of amorphous blobs who must learn to live in a harsh geometric landscape of straight lines and pointy corners. This is the premise for Squidge and the Hardnuts, a new 104 x five-minute preschool series from Manchester’s Cosgrove Hall.

The backstory is all about how Squidge and Splat are bounced right off of their bubble-like planet Splodge during a wobblequake and land on Planet Hard, where they stand out amongst the angular and clunky native population of Hardnuts. The two tribes’ physical differences are emphasized by the mixed style of the series – Planet Hard and the Hardnuts are rendered as stop-frame models, while Squidge and Splat are done in CGI. And an audio track that switches up between soft dulcet tones and mechanical clockwork sounds serves to play up the juxtaposition of the two worlds even more.

Cosgrove MD Anthony Utley has consulted child psychologists to make sure scripts suit the cognitive abilities of the show’s three- to five-year-old target, and he has also sought their professional advice about effectively using narration to complement the dialogue, which in this case consists mostly of sounds and expressions.

Squash-and-stretch hilarity abounds in the concept’s storylines. For example, when Squidge accidentally breaks a slide that was clearly not made for his frame, he doesn’t want to leave the Hardnuts disappointed, so he transforms himself into a wading pool and Splat jumps right in and changes into water to fill it up. Soon after the Hardnuts start splashing around, Squidge ejects them from the pool, and then shape-shifts into a giant bouncy castle for more fun on dry land.

Designed with cost efficiency in mind, the show’s backdrop is a clean white canvas that doesn’t require vast acres of model sets. So its budget will likely run close to US$7.8 million, but this figure could scale down as low as US$3.9 million if need be. Utley plans to focus on introducing the project to production companies from North America, France, Germany, Spain and Italy at Cartoon Forum, but he’s interested in talking to potential co-pro partners from all major territories.

Imira powers up on Korean CGI actioner Myo & Ga

Packing a one-two punch with a development strategy that covers a TV series and video game, Flash animation specialist Imira Entertainment is bringing a CGI martial arts-based project to Ludwigsburg in search of European presales.

The concept behind Myo & Ga, a 78 x seven-minuter for kids six and up, was generated by the creative team at South Korea’s VOOZ Character Systems, and Korean animation network Tooniverse is already on-board to air the series when it’s wrapped. Imira MD Sergi Reitg says the studio partnered with VOOZ specifically to tap its CGI expertise, but plans to work on scripts and storyboards in-house in Barcelona to keep the series on the right path towards robust international sales.

Manga-inspired animation that leans heavily on Matrix-style fight sequences and video game sound effects provides the perfect backdrop for the quest to track down the legendary Dragon Pearls of Wong, which will save the God of the Sea and protect the natural world from destruction. On the case are Myo the rabbit, Ga the turtle and their best friend, a hapless chicken named Kuu.

Each episode follows along as the questers journey to another remote locale that houses a pearl – moving from barren deserts, to mountaintops, to the icy North Pole. As luck (and common video game narrative conceit) would have it, the God of the Sea’s archrival is also after the pearls in a bid for power, and he employs three sneaky villains to follow Myo and Ga and steal their precious cargo.

Imira’s team of writers are working on a rich backstory to feed the video game at the same time as they pen the TV episode scripts, and Reitg expects the series will come in at a cool US$6 million.

Mouk’s World Tour travels from page to screen with Millimages

Building on a longstanding tradition, Millimages is bringing another charming preschool book adaptation to Cartoon Forum this year. Mouk’s World Tour is based on an illustrative book called Le Tour Du Monde De Mouk, which was released last Christmas by Paris-based publishing company Albin Michel. It stems from a broader series of small-format books about a little bear named Mouk and his adventures abroad, and Millimages promptly picked up the rights with a 62 x 11-minute TV series in mind.

Company chairman Jonathan Peel says the natural storyline that bubbled up from the purely visual book sees Mouk help his granny solve a riddle in each episode by hopping onto his fantastical bicycle and going on a globetrot with one of his many international friends. A series of clues invariably leads to an animal or plant from a different country. For instance, one of granny’s riddles asks, ‘I hide my petals in the dark. I disguise myself as a green bean, bathe in the sun and smell good. What am I?’ And Mouk finds the answer – a vanilla bean – halfway across the world in Madagascar.

The concept’s 2-D digital animation style borrows elements from the pages of the book, including a world map and a red dotted line that traces Mouk’s travels from one country to another. Peel expects the budget to run in the range of US$9.2 million to US$10 million for the whole project, which will include 20 to 30 one-minute stand-alone shorts for web and mobile platforms. Millimages is also developing an online component that will offer games and a virtual scrapbook where kids can collect and display images. And if the series takes off, the plan is to roll out more of Mouk’s adventures in print form. Mouk’s World Tour is being developed with France 5, and Peel will be on the hunt for additional presales in Ludwigsburg.

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