Translating an iconic kids property from one medium to another is a tall order at the best of times. And taking one beloved by multiple generations whose last move from book to screen was critically panned is something altogether more difficult. (We won’t allude to Mike Myers again.) However, Toronto, Canada’s Portfolio Entertainment and UK-based Collingwood O’Hare are more than up for the challenge presented in bringing Dr. Seuss’s 50-year-old character The Cat in the Hat to life in a new 2-D animated series.
As it turns out, competition to produce new preschool toon The Cat in the Hat Knows A Lot About That! for Random House Children’s Entertainment was stiff. ‘[Random House and Dr. Seuss Enterprises] were really looking at our aesthetics and the creative style we were proposing for the series,’ says Portfolio co-president Lisa Olfman. ‘Our goal was to lift it off the page and be true to the books,’ she adds. What the animators came up with was a look that Olfman says keeps the round lines and soft palette of the original illustrations, staying true to core Seussian elements, while putting a fresh spin on the character and his environs.
After Portfolio/Collingwood O’Hare scored the production deal (Portfolio also holds international distribution rights), US pubcaster PBS Kids and Canadian 24/7 preschool net Treehouse signed on for the US$15-million series.
Portfolio co-president Joy Rosen says the next challenge was coming up with the 11-minute story concepts that make up the series’ 40 half hours, focusing on one very engaging character – The Cat in the Hat. To do that, the writing team is pulling from Random House’s 12-year-old beginner reading franchise The Cat in the Hat’s Learning Library, which concentrates on relaying facts about science and nature. The Cat’s neighbors and best friends, six-year-old Sally and Nick, also star in the series along with his two zany helpers, Thing One and Thing Two. Enigmatic, curmudgeonly Fish makes an appearance, too.
In each ep, Sally and Nick approach The Cat with a burning question, such as how rainbows are created or why a bird in their backyard disappeared. After setting up the story, The Cat whisks them away via his one-of-a-kind Thinga-ma-jigger vehicle. The trio then takes a journey to uncover the answer, often meeting new creatures such as polar bears, starfish and penguins. The pursuit of information takes them far and wide. Undertaking an ocean voyage to meet a whale, flying over the rainforest to see animals that live in the great Kapok tree, or entering a beehive to see how honey is made are all possible in The Cat in the Hat Knows A Lot About That!
Scripts and voice-overs for the series, slated for a fall 2010 launch on both networks, are underway. Olfman and Rosen say one of the production highlights so far has been working with legendary comedian and Second City alum Martin Short. He’s voicing the ever-mischievous lead character.
‘[Short] does three takes,’ explains Olfman. ‘He does the first take from the script; another, adding some of his own dialogue; and then an improvised one, where he lets go and has a great time.’
On the publishing side, Random House is creating a complementary book series. The publisher has access to Portfolio’s scripts and Random House Children’s Books VP and publisher Kate Klimo is overseeing the development of the line. Klimo also has first-hand knowledge of how Theodore Geisel, the man behind the Dr. Seuss moniker, worked – she was his long-time editor. ‘Kate really holds a lot of the brand’s DNA because of her rich experience working with Mr. Geisel for all those years,’ says Rosen.
Random House will also be producing a website for the series that will be made available to broadcasters, and Portfolio has brought on Dallas, Texas-based NCircle Entertainment as its home entertainment partner. KC