ON the brink of celebrating his 60th anniversary in 2009, Enid Blyton’s classic character Noddy is getting a few nips and tucks to stay relevant to his new audience of tots. And at the heart of the brand makeover is a new CGI series being produced by IP owner Chorion Entertainment and animated by Dublin’s Brown Bag Productions. Noddy in Toyland promises a fresh take on the character and opens up merchandising opportunities for the brand, which already has a sizeable licensing program. So how has Chorion gone about revamping a property that’s been on UK airwaves in one form or another since the 1950s?
Chorion EVP of creative and development Diana Manson says her team’s first move was to step away from the brand’s last entertainment vehicle, 2002′s Make Way for Noddy, and go back to the original Enid Blyton books to draft a new blueprint for reinventing Noddy’s Toyland backdrop; the new series had to reflect the way kids play today.
‘We tried to imagine the toys in Toyland that children would fantasize about being brought to life,’ says SVP of brand development Jeff Norton. ‘Because we’re in a world called Toyland, it’s so naturally toyetic that the toys became inspired, and it was a virtual circle between product and show.’
As for updating the storylines of the series itself, Manson started by ‘injecting some testosterone into Noddy.’ Criticized in test groups for being too passive – the property’s older and bolder characters initiated the action and ultimately solved episode dilemmas – Manson determined that Noddy should become the hero of his own series. ‘There was an opportunity to make him a more dynamic and proactive protagonist,’ says Norton.
Then came the re-evaluation of Noddy’s supporting cast. ‘I worked on the basis that they were all out unless somebody could give me a good reason why they should be left in,’ says Manson. She insists that assessing which characters were working for the ensemble and which weren’t strengthened the storytelling. While some characters were scrapped, a couple of newbies moved into town. For example, Whiz, a robot originally created for literacy series Say it with Noddy, now runs a garage and is responsible for looking after a host of vehicles that have found their way into the new series, including a helicopter, a submarine and Noddy’s souped-up transforming car that can turn into a monster truck or a hovercraft. Also new on the scene is Lindy the fairy, who has moved into the big city of Toy Town from Toyland’s enchanted wood to apprentice with Whiz.
The team also consulted Blyton’s original stories to create a more exciting environment for Noddy that makes the most of Toyland, instead of restricting the action to Toytown, which in retrospect, didn’t do justice to Blyton’s imagination, says Norton. The hitherto dark and unexplored enchanted wood, for example, has now come into bloom as a home to goblins and fairies. Chorion has also rebuilt Toytown’s harbor, which serves as a home base for a ship of zany pirates and a school of mermaids.
The 2008 twist comes from new developments such as a shell-shaped spa that the mermaids own and operate; Gameboard Street, which incorporates Snakes & Ladders and Checkers; and Doll Street, where a new set of Paper Doll characters lives. And Manson brought in an interior designer to give a feminine touch to the surroundings of some of the female characters, such as Tessie Bear’s picnic basket digs.
An important component of the refresh is a significantly funnier approach to scripts, with more depth in both background and foreground action. ‘There’s always a reason to go back and watch it again,’ says Manson, pointing out that upon first viewing, kids might not see a giant magnet that flies overheard and attracts all of Mr. Beetle’s cutlery into the air in one episode.
Chorion isn’t divulging broadcast partners just yet, but the series is on track for delivery by the end of 2008, and Norton says the property’s new master toy licensee, NFR, is already working on a refreshed toy line that reflects the CGI look of the 52 x 10-minute series. New toys will include an expanded line of vehicles that plays off the new motorized characters.
And for girl fans, Norton says the updated animation style has resulted in a more tactile look for Tessie Bear, which has inspired a cuddly plush doll. He expects the third leg of the refresh to be a pumped up publishing program that will open up new narrative opps for the show’s writers.