When 2D animation service studio Mercury Filmworks started creating its first-ever original 3D series, the development team was laser-focused on what kids already know and love: unicorns. Chief content officer Heath Kenny brought the idea for Unicorn Cove—about kids adventuring in the New Zealand wilderness and searching for magical creatures—to VP of originals Chantal Ling.
But when they first shopped the concept to buyers and partners, the feedback was very much “been there, done that.” As much as kids may love unicorns, people were sick of them.
“Everyone said, ‘It’s just another unicorn show,’” says Ling. “There are characteristics and assumptions that the marketplace attaches to that magical creature, so that’s what we faced, even though the concept itself was very different.”
Instead of trying to convince buyers that this unicorn project was different from all of the others, Kenny and Ling went back to the drawing board.
“We were able to pivot, but it delayed our rollout almost by a year,” says Ling. Inspired by the New Zealand flora and fauna, the pair decided it was time for unicorns to give way to a new set of magical creatures.
“[Kenny] started talking about his time in New Zealand with his cousins, and how he would make up these fantastical creatures, and convince [his cousins] they really existed,” says Ling. And that was how Pangors of Puddle Peak was born.
Set in a town inspired by the Northeast of New Zealand, the show’s 11-minute episodes follow a pair of friends on adventures to dis- cover mythical creatures called Pangors.
A Pangor is an all-encompassing term for a magical being that possesses the traits of an existing animal, with a twist…think a skunk- like creature whose pleasant-smelling spray has the power to knock out an entire town.
The series for five- to seven-year-olds kicks off with Maddie and Max finding a fluffy pink Skwoosh—it looks like a squirrel, but glows when other Pangors are nearby.
Kenny says he got the original idea from a very real animal called a moa, which was indigenous to New Zealand in the Middle Ages. A cross between an ostrich and a dinosaur, the now extinct bird provided inspiration for combining animal traits with some mystical element.
The whole ethos of the series is to encourage kids to get outside and discover the world through adventuring in nature, says Kenny, something that is steeped in New Zealand’s culture.
“It’s [all built around] this idea of kids letting their imaginations run wild,” says Ling. While the island nation provided much inspiration for the show (including the small- town main setting, as well as the background mountain and ocean ranges), Ling and Kenny are still determining how far they want to commit to the New Zealand vibe, including whether or not to hire local voice actors.
The animated series is deep in the development process, and Mercury hasn’t brought the fresh concept back to buyers yet.
The studio is looking for partners to shape development, including licensees, broadcasters and a 3D studio to help execute on the series, says Ling.
“We wanted to really create an experience. With kids properties, we know that 3D has an added depth and reality because you can really play with lighting and textures,” says Ling. “Even though we’re a 2D studio, the originals department is charged with coming up with original IPs, and they can fall under 3D. We’re almost like a boutique company within Mercury Filmworks.”