Toonz Media Group has partnered with independent producer Kenn Viselman (pictured left) to launch a new co-venture called itsy bitsy Animation that will create a pipeline of new films and series for kids and families.
Toonz is starting off by turning Viselman’s Li’l Pet Hospital IP (which he launched in 2001) into an animated series. The concept will target kids ages four to seven, revolving around animals who learn how to find joy and humor from difficult moments like getting hurt or having the rain ruin their fur. Viselman has published three Li’l Pet Hospital books with Harper Paperbacks, and his own company Kenn Viselman Presents has released a line of plush animals in the US, but this will be the brand’s first move into TV content.
For Toonz, which produces original series and recently launched its own film division, the deal represents a chance to create a slate of original, positivity-themed content, says CEO P. Jayakumar (pictured, right). Because the company is also in the early stages of exploring a consumer products strategy, he says Viselman’s properties are ideal because they lend themselves well to merch. “We have matured as a business, and now we’re ready for a long-term relationship where we can create a slate of projects that have licensing and merchandising potential,” says Jayakumar.
Viselman even has his own e-commerce platform called itsy bitsy wow, which launched in April. And he recently closed a deal with US beverage company The Icee Shoppe to sell its branded apparel and consumer products online.
For Viselman, the venture is a game-changer. He’s spent 30 years working in the kids industry, and has had success producing other companies’ shows, including Teletubbies and Mondo TV’s MeteoHeroes (which airs in 200 countries).
But this success has come at the expense of his own work, which has been sitting on the shelves (in some cases, literally). Viselman has penned two self-published kids books, I Love You Bunches (2004) and My Most Special Gift (2004), and beyond that, he’s got three decades worth of family-friendly concepts he’d like to turn into animated content. He says the goal with this Toonz partnership is to introduce one new project to the market each year. “There’s huge demand for content, and we’ll be busy developing shows that celebrate wonder and positivity.”
Projects Viselman is bringing to the table include Bop, a comedy-driven feature film starring a piñata having an existential crisis about knowing that his purpose in life is to be broken. Then there’s the animated series Bunches of Fun!, an adaptation of picture books I Love You Bunches and My Most Special Gift, which Viselman describes as “Anthony Bourdain for the preschool set.” These characters explore different cultures (sometimes fantastical ones, like moon-dwellers) and the food they eat. And finally, Night Night Lovies is a preschool series concept that focuses on bedtime rituals.