Toronto-based Little Engine Moving Pictures is in development on new preschool shows Tiny and Tall and Happy Trails, both with Canadian broadcasters attached, and has launched a new distribution arm.
Based on a children’s songs by country singer George Canyon, Happy Trails is a 39 x seven-minute musical series for three to fives that’s in development with CBC. It was co-created by Canyon and Little Engine’s head of creative Ben Mazzotta and sees Cowboy George and his talking barnyard puppet friends come together through song and dance. A four-minute demo, two scripts and a pitch bible are ready for market, and additional funding from the Canada Media Fund has been secured.
“I fell in love with the music, and then [Mazzotta] started developing the characters and the puppets. And we have some incredible puppeteers working on this series,” says Little Engine owner and co-founder Maria Kennedy. “It was the right collaboration at the right time.”
Tiny and Tall (pictured), which is in development with TVOKids as a 39 x seven-minute original, stars two puppets who live in neighboring mountaintop villages. When they cross a connecting bridge, their communities unite and bring the show’s math curriculum to life through lessons on numbers and sorting. Tiny and Tall is on track to deliver by the end of 2022, and has an animated teaser, two pilot scripts and a pitch bible.
The concept was created and presented by Madeleine Donohue as part of an open pitch competition conducted by Little Engine. The prodco optioned three of the 75 pitches that were entered, but Kennedy wasn’t ready to share details on the other two projects at press time.
Little Engine is hunting for international broadcast partners for both shows through its new distribution arm. The team is also looking for educational preschool content from third parties to distribute alongside its own. Heading up the unit is Kennedy and business development lead Kyle Perez, and they’re looking for a distribution manager to join them.
Little Engine’s distribution arm was set up in response to the challenges smaller companies face in getting their IPs sold internationally, Kennedy says. She initially explored the idea of a distribution collective bringing together a number of small and mid-sized prodcos, but the idea was shelved due to the complexity of managing so many stakeholders. Instead, Little Engine opened its own division, which was certified as an international distributor by the Canada Media Fund in June.
And the next step is to start representing live-action, animated or mixed-media preschool series driven by curriculum. Puppet-led series are not of interest, says Kennedy, since Little Engine has plenty of its own to distribute. The new unit has already partnered with Imagine Create Media to distribute its series—including Baby Baby, I Love, Space Kids and The Gumboot Kids—on a non-exclusive global basis.
“We’ve done preschool for the past seven years; we understand the preschool mindset,” says Kennedy. “We’ve been training to make award-winning preschool shows for a long time now, so we want to focus on what we’re really good at.”