It’s pretty rare for a kids property to have a licensed visitor attraction before signing master toy and publishing deals. But for animated bilby character Boj, who has an unusual way of problem-solving, the inverted development of his licensing program seems fitting.
After all, Boj—the star of a preschool series of the same name (co-produced by UK-based Pesky Productions and Cloth Cat and Kavaleer in Ireland)—burrowed all the way from the Australian outback to his new home in Giggly Park.
Now, the rabbit-eared bilby is packing his bags once again as he prepares to move to a new home in Birmingham, England’s West Midland Safari Park next winter. The Boj-themed indoor space, tentatively dubbed Bojworld,will consist of a large soft-play area, a café, retail shops, audio visual information points and—here comes the burrowed lede—two real-life bilbies. The Australian creatures are expected to arrive in November, to coincide with the opening of the larger attraction.
“We’ve got what appears to be a backwards licensing program, because we’ve got a theme park before we’ve got a lot of other licensees,” jokes Pesky co-founder David Hodgson, who co-created Boj with his studio partner and wife Claire Underwood and head writer Dave Ingham. “Boj is all about doing things in an upside-down, topsy-turvy way, and here we are doing something back to front,” he adds.
Hodgson may be overstating things slightly. Licensees already on-board the UK program include Redan Publishing (magazine), Paul Lamond Games (puzzles, craft kits), Demon Records (CD), Sega (plush), Gold Ant/Clearvision (DVD), Kennedy Publishing and Immediate Media (magazine), and Rainbow (costume character). Current licensees are slated to release products by year’s end. El Ocho has also signed on as the IP’s licensing agent for Spain.
As part of the Bojworld concept, Pesky has teamed up with the Save the Bilby Fund organization in Queensland, Australia to launch a breeding program. According to Hodgson, this will be the first time the endangered species, which has a population of around 600, will venture off its native continent.
The goal is to get the first breeding program up and running in England and then expand to around 15 other European zoos, each with a breeding pair or two, for a total of roughly 50 bilbies. At the moment, there are eight zoos looking to take part in the program in Russia, Hungary, Czech Republic, Holland, Belgium, Israel and Germany.
“To make a viable population, they have to keep swapping them around to make sure there isn’t any inbreeding,” he says. “One of the great ironies is this animal has the shortest gestation of any known mammal—it can breed in 10 days. But its chief problem is feral cats in Australia that are marauding the countryside and eating every bilby in sight.”
And just as Hodgson and Underwood have learned about the species via their adventures with Boj, they’re looking to pass some of that knowledge on. Following a successful trial program with a school in England and the Save the Bilby Fund in Australia last March, plans are now in the works with Discovery Education to launch a similar, but much larger live event called Boj’s Aussie Safari this fall. With characters from the series serving as virtual field trip guides, more than 1,000 UK students will participate to learn about endangered animals Down Under. Taking place in November, the event is timed with the arrival of the real bilbies to West Midland Safari Park.
So far, Boj has been an on-screen hit. The 52 x 11-minute series launched on CBeebies and RTE Junior in Ireland in May 2014. It has since been picked up by the likes of France5 and Netflix (France), TVE (Spain) and MBC (Middle East).
The IP has also been a hit on smaller screens, thanks to partnerships with Thud Media (games) and Box of Frogs (eBooks).
Up next on the programming side is a 22-minute BBC-commissioned Boj origin story special slated for spring 2017. In the meantime, Pesky and its partners are also exploring other ways to expand the property, such a possible radio show with BBC and animated shorts.