The real world can be a scary place, especially for kids, which is one of the reasons sci-fi and fantasy—major tenants of old-fashioned escapism—reigned supreme at Asian Animation Summit this year. Everything from androids and aliens to spirits and shapeshifters stole the spotlight at last week’s eighth-annual event in Seoul, South Korea.
This year’s Best in Show, Australian prodco Pop Family Entertainment’s Escape from Pirate Asylum, didn’t monkey around, and took on this idea of escapism with its tale of a boy and an orangutan who are captured and imprisoned on the world’s most impenetrable island prison, Pirate Asylum. (The Rimba Family from Anak Rimba came second, and third place was a three-way tie between Snowcat from Loco Co, Ball Bear Friends from Studio M, and Boxania.)
Boxania, from Malaysia’s Lil Critter Workshop, was the other escapist hit, and doubled down on the theme of magical fantasy worlds by introducing a magical place hidden inside a toybox where playthings come to life. The 52 x 11-minute preschool series focuses on making friends as new toys are introduced into the world of the characters.
But sci-fi and fantasy are evergreen genres, so to capture kids’ attention, creators will have to come up with a truly unique concept, says Mary-Ellen Mullane, executive producer of ABC Children’s content.
“Some of the producers are going down that pathway, thinking it has international appeal,” she says. “Zombies are the gift that keeps on giving, but they have to have their own take on it. The fresher it is, and the more specific it is, the better.”
Running from November 20 to 22, AAS 2019 played host to 209 delegates and featured 25 animation concepts from Australia, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia and Thailand. The summit is designed to connect producers with co-production partners and financing within APAC, as well as internationally, and saw the concepts pitched live over three days.
Since AAS launched in 2012, roughly half of the projects that debuted at the summit have gone into production, including Bluey (2017), Balloon Barnyard (2014), Kuu Kuu Harajuku (2013) and Bottersnikes & Gumles (2012).
One project that was popular with delegates this year was The Rimba Family (pictured) from Malaysia’s Anak Rimba. The show, which revolves around a group of baby endangered animals, focuses on friendship and community.
“I liked the environmental agenda and the animal preservation theme,” says Ed Galton, CCO and managing director of London-based CAKE. “It was very early in development, but the majority of shows presented need more development—that’s why they’re here. That means there’s room to shape it.”
Chris Rose, VP of animation production and development for Nickelodeon UK, also named The Rimba Family as a standout, along with the similarly environment-conscious CGI-animated series Broccoli Expedition from South Korea’s Popcorn Pictures. The preschool show follows a trio of cuddly creatures as they go on missions to protect the home of endangered animals.
“I think this year’s event proved that strong character animation is the most important thing,” Rose says. “The shows with heart and warmth really won people over.”
Additionally, the 2019 projects continued to build on last year’s focus of diversity and locally relevant content that can travel, especially for global platforms. Several pitches emphasized how they would incorporate different cultures into the world of their show, like Tales Down Below from Malaysia-based Spaceboy Studios. The series, which targets kids thirteen and older, centers around an inter-dimensional gateway that introduces audiences to legends of folklore from around the world.
But there is still work to be done.
Kim Berglund, executive director of development for Disney Junior, says she hopes to see more female protagonists and characters of color at future AAS events.
“Everyone wants a show that works globally, and it seems like some producers think a person of color or a girl won’t travel as well. We’re seeing Asian productions with white character leads, and I hope to break out of that mold. We also need more girl characters. There’s a real imbalance,” she says.
Berglund will also be on the lookout for quieter, softer shows being pitched at AAS in the years to come, as she says the more mean-spirited humor stemming from slapstick shows would be difficult to translate for the US.
“That character component wasn’t there for the content that was very silly or action-driven,” Berglund says. “That relationship piece was missing and to appeal to the US, audiences need to have a deeper bond with the characters.”
And as producers work to incorpate feedback from the summit into their properties, Mullane believes the relationships they form at AAS will contribute not only to the strength of their shows, but to the industry as a whole.
“There are a lot of really good ideas, all coming at different stages,” she says. “These projects take a lot of time, and this can be the first step.”
AAS is owned and produced by Kidscreen, and the 2019 event was supported by hosting partner KOCCA (Korea); presenting partner BEKRAF (Indonesia); and supporting partners DITP (Thailand), MDEC (Malaysia), Screen NSW (Australia) and Screen Queensland (Australia).