Like tube-riders catching perfect waves in Florianópolis (Brazil’s island capital of surfing), kids content creators and broadcasters in Latin America are gathering momentum of their own as they look to grow the region’s fledgling original production industry.
One company at the forefront of a LatAm drive to produce more high-quality original kids shows with international appeal is Mexico’s Ánima Estudios.
Launched in 2002, the studio has produced hit feature films including Top Cat: The Movie, as well as successful animated TV series El Chavo, international co-pro Teenage Fairytale Dropouts and Pig, Boat, Banana, Cricket for Nick US.
Ánima also has the distinction of producing Las Leyendas (The Legends), Netflix’s first animated original series from LatAm. Set to bow globally on the streaming service this year, the 13-episode series is based on a trilogy of Ánima Estudios local kids films (La Leyenda de la Nahuala, La Leyenda de la Llorona and La Leyenda de las Momias), and characters created by producer Ricardo Arnaiz.
With writing from James Krieg (Spooksville, Ben 10), Las Leyendas follows the otherworldly adventures of a reluctant but heroic teen boy who can communicate with ghosts and monsters.
The project, according to the studio’s VP of international sales and co-productions, Gaston Cami, is an important one from a global perspective. More international networks, distributors and prodcos are eyeing the region for fresh new talent and partners, and they’ll be watching this one closely.
“We’re happy for the greenlight because we’re the first Latin American company to secure a global animation deal with Netflix for an original IP. The series will also be Ánima Estudios’ first to launch on the same date worldwide,” says Cami.
Although the deal is significant, Ánima Estudios is no stranger to international growth. The company already has a foothold in Europe through its Madrid-based studio Ánima Kitchent (Cleo and Cuquin) and has ties to the US, thanks to a relationship with the L.A.-based office of leading Latin American animation/management prodco Chatrone (The Book of Life).
“It’s very important to acknowledge where we are from, but look for global content, too. Ánima invests in good scriptwriters, developers and producers from around the world to feed the global market,” says Cami. “We have to keep building strong partnerships and develop interesting and flexible new IPs.”
To give the sector a boost, Ánima Estudios put its money where its mouth is last May when it joined forces with Chatrone and the world’s top-ranked animation school, California Institute of the Arts. The collective launched a continuing education pilot program for training professional artists and animators across Latin America in art history, storytelling, storyboarding and performance animation.
Chatrone, for its part, is now working with both Ánima and the Office of Global Initiatives at CalArts to facilitate new partnership introductions and logistical support for the industry throughout LatAm.
Aaron Berger, who co-founded Chatrone with Carina Schulze in 2007 and later set up subsidiary offices in Brazilian cities Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, Brazil, says the first development stage of the program’s curriculum is complete.
“We’re now looking to expand into stage two, which is finding other academic partners in Mexico City, laying the foundation of the curriculum there, and then expanding to the rest of Latin America. It’s a great cultural exchange,” says Berger.
Beyond the program, Chatrone has been busy on the production side and expects to premiere the first movie based on its Emmy-nominated children’s telenovela, Gaby Estrella, later this year.
“When we started the series, we already thought about it as an IP that would have a life outside of TV, which was something very new in Brazil at the time,” says Schulze.
“We did three successful seasons totaling more than 100 episodes, and Gaby was the first independently owned Brazilian product in live action to have an L&M program.”
The series was also sold to Italy and Portugal after a successful run on Brazilian kidsnet Gloob.
“Up until about two years ago, nobody thought about making a show in Brazil that could sell internationally,” says Schulze. However, it’s still a challenge, she notes, to sell live action into Europe and North America.
“Even though Latin America is more open to the telenovela style of teen drama, in North America there is still a resistance towards live-action kids content that’s not largely comedic.”
Looking to shake things up, Chatrone’s next live-action series, Juacas, is a surfing-themed co-pro with Disney LatAm and São Paulo-based Cinefilm.
Set to air on Disney throughout LatAm later this year, the 26 x half-hour series, according to Schulze, highlights action in a way that hasn’t been done before in the region’s kids space.
“It’s unique because it’s shot entirely on location on the beaches of Itacaré. The stakes, action and adventure feel real because we used real surfers to do a lot of the surfing scenes, and the actors also underwent three months of surfing training. We have a nice balance of comedy, too,” she says.
Also in the works for Chatrone is an original animated preschool project, Mommy Knows Best (working title), in development with Amazon.
“It will be Amazon’s first kids series with a Latin American studio and one of the first animated shows produced in Brazil for an outside market,” says Schulze.
While SVOD giants Netflix and Amazon are new to original LatAm collaborations, Cartoon Network has a much longer history working in the region.
Five years ago, the Turner-owned kidsnet premiered its first Chilean original production, Zumbastico Fantástico, then launched its first Brazilian Cartoon Network original, Jorel’s Brother, in 2014.To date, the latter has aired in Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Chile, and production has started on a second season. Brazil, in fact, is where Cartoon Network LatAm currently has its highest levels of investment in original production, with three to four shows being produced simultaneously.
“For original productions, it’s a very good time to be in Latin America. There’s more investment, the quality and talent are better than ever, and we are hoping to play a big part in it,” says Cartoon Network LatAm’s head of content, Pablo Zuccarino.
“Our team is here to support the local market because it’s less developed than others like Canada, the US, France and Asia.”
Mexico, in particular, is a region to watch, considering the growth of its TV audience.
According to the Federal Telecommunications Institute of Mexico (IFT), the country’s pay-TV market reached 19.5 million subscribers in Q2 2016, an increase of 15% that moved it past Brazil to become the largest market in Latin America.
Recognizing the number of smaller Mexican studios trying to understand how to create their first kids shows, Cartoon Network recently partnered with Ánima Estudios on an open call for projects from young Latin American creators.
The resulting contest attracted 200 entries from LatAm and the Caribbean and saw The Seventh Knight from Colombia nab first place in the animated short film category. WTQ: What the quest is this? from Mexico, meanwhile, was tops in the animated series category.
Zuccarino says Colombia is the next region on Cartoon Network LatAm’s radar. “It represents a big share in the pan-regional ratings scheme,” he says. “If you’re aggregating data, Colombia represents more than 20% of the ratings for LatAm. It’s home to nearly 50 million people, and is an interesting place, culturally. We’ve already premiered one show there, Mr. Trance, that’s a co-pro with Colombia and Spain.”
Cartoon Network LatAm also recently aired its first Costa Rican project, Rocket Cartoons’ 22-minute Halloween special Terror in Doomsville.
For its original digital productions, the network is currently working on an unnamed fourth YouTube series after successfully launching Another Week on Cartoon Network (now in its third season), Toon Tubers (a gaming show based on Regular Show) and Cartoon Anything (a series based on the net’s popular mobile app).
Another major LatAm broadcaster experiencing a surge in its originals pipeline is Discovery Kids.
The channel, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary, has a number of new animated productions on the go including Floribella (a tween series with Cris Morena Group, pictured), Baby Rockers (a co-pro with Argentina’s Mundoloco) and Underdogs (a series based on the movie by Oscar-winning director and Mundoloco co-founder Juan Jose Campanella).
“For our development and co-production slate, we’re working with creators and partners from all over the world, including the US, the UK, France and Canada, as well as key Latin American territories such as Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Argentina,” says Carolina Lightcap, EVP and CCO of Discovery Networks Latin America/US Hispanic.
“We’ve actually been able to ramp up our development pipeline quite rapidly, while continuing to look for strong shows with original and unique voices that can stand out in a world where kids have myriad choices at their fingertips.”