Iconic Montreal, Canada-based performing arts organization Cirque du Soleil has achieved more success in its 30-year history than most companies ever dare to dream about. Since Guy Laliberté founded the company in 1984, its unique live shows have thrilled close to 150 million spectators in more than 300 cities in 40-plus countries on six continents. Generating US$850 million in revenue in 2013, Cirque currently operates 20 different touring shows simultaneously around the world and continues to evolve and expand globally.
In December 2012, it caught the attention of the kids entertainment industry by launching Cirque du Soleil Média, a joint-venture with Canadian broadcast heavyweight Bell Media. The plan was to expand the Cirque brand and its values beyond live shows into new and original youth- and kid-targeted content for television, film and digital platforms.
The joint-venture’s first project brought L.A.-based Saban Brands (Power Rangers, Julius Jr., Popples) into the mix in February 2014 to help launch a kids property that includes a TV series, a consumer products line and interactive content. Eight months later, Cirque and Saban introduced Luna Petunia to the world at MIP Junior, and revealed that an animated TV series of the same name was already in development with Bradley Zweig (Sid the Science Kid, Yo Gabba Gabba!) as showrunner.
The series marks uncharted waters for Cirque du Soleil Média, but the company is confident its collaboration with Saban will move the property in the right direction and open up a wealth of opportunities.
During a recent visit to Cirque headquarters, where a joyful, creative energy permeates every inch of its vast interior, Kidscreen spoke with Daniel Lamarre (president and CEO of Cirque du Soleil), Jacques Méthé (president of Cirque du Soleil Média), Elie Dekel, (president of Saban Brands) and Brian Casentini (Saban SVP of development and production) about Cirque’s move into the kids space and the progress of the series.
Why preschool animation?
When Cirque was initially exploring ways to bring the magic and emotion of its live shows to a larger audience through mass media, it kept coming back to kids animation. “We’ve been toying with the idea of kids animation for many years. We think it is the right way to attract a new demo,” Lamarre says.”It’s very important to expand Cirque’s target demo beyond those who can afford to go to its live shows in person.”
And when it came time to pinpoint a specific age group within kids, Cirque and Saban both agreed that preschool was a sweet spot. “For the majority of the world, adults are the most aware of the Cirque brand,” says Casentini. “So we felt that because moms and parents control the media preschool kids consume, launching a preschool brand first made a lot of sense.”
In addition, Saban’s global success with its own brands and Zweig’s experience in developing and producing TV series were big factors in Cirque’s final decision. “Bradley’s openness to another creative process was a big factor for us,” notes Méthé. “A lot of people when they interact with us see the surface, the acrobatics and colors. He cut straight to our DNA and values. He asked right away, ‘Who is Luna and what drives her?’”
While Luna Petunia will have nothing to do with circus life, Cirque’s values and the whimsical nature of its stage shows will seep into the fabric of the series’ characters, stories and visual world.
The series follows the adventures of a little girl, Luna, who lives in the real world, but plays in a dreamland where she learns to make the impossible possible. She teaches young viewers the importance of believing in themselves and in the wonderful things their minds and bodies can do.
According to Casentini, a bible is complete, the core characters have been designed, and the digital development of the backgrounds has started. The 52 x 11-minute series will be 2D-animated with 3D elements, and Casentini says Cirque and Saban are actively seeking co-production partners. “We are looking at a bunch of different Canadian studios in conjunction with Cirque Média to help us produce the series, but no official decision has been made yet,” he says.
As for scripts, Zweig is currently writing episode one and a number of premises have been turned into full story outlines.
The narrative begins at Luna’s birthday party. After her friends leave, she receives a special gift from her mischievous aunt Zuzu—a mysterious box adorned with a petunia and filled with unusual toy characters. The box is also inscribed with the phrase, “Make the impossible possible today…feel your heart, touch your mind, and swirl away!” When Luna speaks the words, she is magically transported to the world of Amazia, where the toy characters from the box come to life and accompany her on wondrous adventures.
One of Luna’s friends, Sammy-Stretch, is a playful character who is fluent in gibberish (how Cirque!), and has accordions for limbs that make music when they move. He loves riddles and games, and he often challenges Luna to try new things.
Bibi Bubbles, Amazia’s excitable brainiac tour guide, and cuddly Koalaroo, who has a kangaroo tail, the body of a koala bear and springs for legs, round out the core ensemble. A particularly creative aspect of the Bibi Bubbles character is that her thoughts can be seen by other characters because they appear in bubbles that pop out of her ears.
As for unique environments, the series features a mood willow tree that changes a character’s hair color to suit their mood when they walk under it. Wiggly lily pads also react to characters’ emotions.
In the development of the show’s characters, Méthé says a number of Cirque artists were called on for creative input. “A bunch of them are involved and have produced all sorts of elements that are in the present course of development. We will keep on this path because it is working really well,” he says.
With positive early reactions across the board from broadcasters at MIPCOM, and a deal close to being secured with a global distribution partner, Cirque and Saban are confident in the potential of the IP.
“It’s exciting and frightening because we have to deliver,” says Méthé.
Lamarre concurs. “The risk is that we have to produce a series that will not only be appealing to viewers, but that will be a good demonstration of our brand, too,” he says. “Our consumers have very specific expectations of what Cirque is all about, and it’s very important that moms recognize the creativity in the new brand. Obviously, we don’t want to disappoint them.”
With delivery of the series expected for summer 2016, Cirque and Saban are also exploring ways to extend Luna Petunia to interactive, digital, learning and other consumer products. “As the creative is developing, we are paying a great deal of attention to how the storylines, characters and visuals can translate to the other platforms,” says Dekel.
One of the ultimate goals, according to Lamarre, would be to launch an immersive live experience and bring the property back to what Cirque does best. “The greatest reward we could have, and it would be a first for us, would be to establish a character that has enough impact to integrate into a live show.”
This article originally appeared in the February/March 2015 issue of Kidscreen