There’s a new lion king staking out his territory in the global kids and family media landscape—but this one’s Turkish, wears a blue hoodie, and answers to the name Shakir.
The teenage feline is the star of King Shakir (pictured), a 2D-animated kids and family comedy from Istanbul-based Grafi2000 (Ali The Cavity And Necati The Microbe) that has become a massive ratings hit for Cartoon Network Turkey. It now airs on CN in 18 countries across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
Since rolling out domestically in 2016, King Shakir has also expanded into a wide-ranging MENA region franchise that includes theatrical feature films (2018’s Game Time and 2019’s Land of Pirates); a pair of 45-minute TV movies (Virus Hunters and Splash); a consumer products program with 300 licensed products in 50 categories; a publishing range that has sold more than six million books; a YouTube channel with 110 million hours of watch time and counting; plus popular theme parks, live shows and digital games.
Now, Grafi2000 is aiming to turn King Shakir into a global brand. To kickstart its goal, the company recently struck a key streaming deal with Disney+ for distribution of the IP’s third CG-animated feature, Recycle (2022), as a Disney Original Movie. After a successful Turkish launch in December, the film (main
character pictured) is now available on Disney+ in 150 countries worldwide, including the US, Canada, France and Australia.
Though Disney+ won’t share any data, King Shakir’s co-creator Varol Yaşaroğlu says the SVOD had a significant advertising budget for Recycle in Turkey, and did a great job localizing the movie for other countries.
“King Shakir is so big in Turkey, it was their choice to invest as much as they did,” says Yaşaroğlu. “Plus, they made some nice changes to the localized versions, while keeping some of our local Turkish culture intact.”
Grafi2000 is currently in negotiations with Disney+ for a hybrid animated/ live-action King Shakir movie.
Yaşaroğlu credits the brand’s success in MENA to its non-violent family-friendly appeal, timely topics, relatable characters and globally relevant storylines that touch on everything from climate action to gender equality and healthy living. King Shakir‘s environmental themes have become so popular, in fact, that the animated character was named a kid ambassador for the United Nations Development Program in January 2022, joining a campaign to introduce children and their parents to the UN’s sustainable development goals.
Created by Yaşaroğlu and Berk Tokay, King Shakir is Cartoon Network’s first and only original Turkish animated series. Set in modern Istanbul, its 11-minute episodes center around the sometimes-intergalactic adventures of a loving family of lions and their friends.
Seven seasons have aired locally to date, and an eighth that’s in production now will bring the show’s total episode count up to more than 250.
Looking ahead, Yaşaroğlu says Grafi2000 is very open to discussions with global distributors, channels/streamers and licensing partners. “We’re currently negotiating with Netflix Turkey on more King Shakir content,” he says, adding that the first two seasons of the series and the first two theatrical films were all top performers on the streamer. “The challenge is to find good partners outside of broadcasting deals.”
One such partner is virtual world brand and NFT marketplace The Sandbox, which struck a deal with Grafi2000 in June to take King Shakir into the metaverse for the first time.
As for regional expansion, Grafi2000 will focus first on Europe, Asia and likely Latin America. “Since Turkey is right in the middle of Europe and Asia, its content has the ability to appeal to both the western and eastern worlds,” explains Yaşaroğlu “We also know that Turkish dramas are doing amazing in South America, so we believe there will be a huge audience for Turkish animation there, too.”
This story originally appeared in Kidscreen’s April/May 2023 magazine.