Riding the wave of global popularity for its impossibly adorable collectibles-based Tsum Tsum franchise, Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media has extended the brand—and the division’s creative skills—even further with the newly launched short-form digital series Tsum Tsum Kingdom.
The live-action/puppet series for all ages arrives on the heels of Disney Japan’s animated Tsum Tsum Shorts web series and the As Told By Tsum Tsums bite-size retellings of classic Disney movies like Star Wars and Alice in Wonderland that feature little plush Tsums and simple animation.
Taking fans deeper into the Tsum lore, Tsum Tsum Kingdom offers a nature documentary approach that examines the lives of Tsum toys in their natural habitat when no one is watching. “It almost has the feel of a Disneynature film or Discovery Network show, where you peel back the curtain on the secret lives of our Tsum creatures,” says Michael Hundgen, director of content strategy and editorial for DCPIM. “We have a lot of fun tying the episodes to themes that are relevant within the Walt Disney Company right now. Our June episode about Nemo plays into a migration journey storyline where Nemo gets separated from his family and has to find a way back with help from the Tsums.”
The eight-episode first season kicked off May 12, and new eps are rolling out every second Thursday of the month across Disney’s YouTube, Disney.com and Facebook channels. To date, the first two eps have respectively amassed 5.2 and 1.9 million cumulative platform views—they have a combined 2.7 million-plus views on YouTube alone. “We’re also seeing great fan engagement across Facebook, our video players, in some of our apps and within the Disney.com portals,” adds Hundgen.
Interestingly, Tsum Tsum Kingdom marks the first time DCPIM has developed a complete series that features puppetry. “We’ve experimented with it in the past, but we’ve never built out a full show around it,” says Hundgen. “We had to really learn how to use puppetry in unique ways because the Tsum characters are quite small. You can’t just stick your hand in and operate them, so we had intricate rigging. We’re also doing some fun things with the movements so that they feel authentic to what you might see in a nature doc.”
Hundgen notes that when Disney originally envisioned the project, the team thought it would be a fun, novel form of storytelling to help extend the franchise, but the series became something greater. “We’re really pushing ourselves from a creative and technical standpoint to ensure the episodes look and feel as premium as they do,” notes Hundgen. “In the process, the entire show has become a little bit bigger and is requiring more effort, but it’s also yielding a better end product.”
As the series rolls out, the newest episode investigates tribe culture within the modern office space, because Tsums, according to Hundgen, are very much desk adornments for many of Disney’s employees.
“What’s also great about the series is that there is a tremendous long tail. So as we release new episodes, we find people go back and want to watch the first one again, or they’ll see it if they hadn’t seen it the first time,” he says.
“The appetite for Tsum Tsums is large and we don’t see the momentum slowing. We have Tsums that cover Marvel and our Star Wars properties, as well as our favorites from Disney and Pixar. And with each new feature film, be it Zootopia or the upcoming Moana, there are whole new casts of characters and worlds to explore.”
This story was first published in Kidscreen‘s July/August 2016 issue.