More than a decade in, Jungle Beat keeps swinging into new formats.
The hit CG-animated TV property from South Africa has entered a new growth period with its first-ever feature film. Produced by Sandcastle Studios, in collaboration with Cape Town-based Sunrise, the feature premiered globally on June 26 as a digital-first title on Amazon Prime Video, Google Play and Apple TV. It will also roll out on South African VOD platforms DSTV Box Office and Truth TV.
Jungle Beat: The Movie is based on the non-dialogue, short-form preschool series created by Sunrise writer-director Brent Dawes. Now in its eighth season, Jungle Beat has generated 91 x seven-minute episodes, plus spinoff series Munki and Trunk and a popular self-titled video game app. The series airs in 200-plus territories on networks including Boomerang in Central and Eastern Europe, RTE in Ireland and Gulli in French-speaking Africa. The brand also has more than three million subscribers on YouTube, and a billion-plus channel views to date.
The 3D/CG feature will give the non-dialogue characters’ voices for the first time, targeting kids ages three to eight and their families with a story aboutan alien spaceship that crashes near the African jungle. Written and directed by Dawes, the film is part of a long-term, first-look deal between Mauritius-based animation studio Sandcastle and Sunrise that was struck in 2018.
Jungle Beat: The Movie follows in the footsteps of DreamWorks’ Trolls World Tour and Warner Bros’ Scoob!, which both went straight to the video-on-demand market due to COVID-19′s impact on theatrical runs. Sandcastle and Sunrise were expecting an August premiere for Jungle Beat: The Movie in South Africa and Mauritius until the pandemic forced the producers and their distributor, Timeless Films, to pivot their strategy.
“When COVID-19 happened, we had to pull a U-turn,” says Sunrise producer Rita Mbanga.
In the lead-up to its June 26 streaming debut, Jungle Beat: The Movie attracted an early industry audience at this year’s online Annecy International Animation Film Festival. Since the event started on June 15, the movie has been viewed more than 2,000 times, according to an Annecy spokesperson.
Mbanga says she’s inspired by the success of Trolls World Tour, which made more money for Universal Pictures (nearly US$100 million) in its first three weeks of digital sales than the original Trolls movie did with its entire five-month domestic theatrical run.
“If we can make our money back and then some, that would be amazing,” she says. Dawes and Mbanga can’t reveal the film’s budget, but the production did take advantage of a 30% to 40% tax rebate from the Mauritius government and additional funding from a local private investor.
Mbanga also sees opportunity in the delayed release schedule of competing animated features, which might have otherwise cluttered the market. Beyond fewer competitors for viewership, there’s been a knock-on effect that works in Jungle Beat‘s favor. For example, still hanging on hope for a theatrical release, the producers of French film Calamity opted to provide an introduction from director Rémi Chayé and a behind-the-scenes presentation on Annecy’s digital platform, rather than showcase the completed film. “This is lucky for us,” says Mbanga.
The movie is still pegged for theatrical release in seven markets, including Vietnam, Greece, Israel, Slovakia and Czech Republic, thanks to distribution deals that weren’t (yet) affected by COVID-19, she says
“We want to do theatrical releases at some point after August or in early 2021,” adds Mbanga. “And we will eventually do special screenings in South Africa and Mauritius, but every release comes with the caveat that there may be more delays. And it’s hard to gauge how the backlog of movies will affect us down the road—especially since we had to flip our strategy so recently.”
In the meantime, an influencer campaign featuring six-year-old YouTuber Like Nastya, as well as Robert and Bindi Irwin from Animal Planet series Crikey! It’s the Irwins, is creating additional buzz for the movie. The marketing campaign is also encouraging families who watch the film at home to post pics of their viewing parties on social for a chance to win a jungle-inspired luxury trip.
Sequels and spinoffs
As the movie gains momentum, Dawes says he can turn more of his attention to the eighth season of the Jungle Beat series, which is a third of the way through production and will be ready in 2021. Dawes says the show will remain dialogue-free because it’s one of the reasons why the series travels so well globally. But while the upcoming season will stick to its original dialogue-free roots, he adds there is a talking spinoff series in the works.
A sequel to the movie is also in early development, though a greenlight will depend on the initial feature’s success. “We’ll see what the response is to the first movie and we’ll go wherever Jungle Beat takes us,” says Dawes.