Photo: Adventure Time, © Pendleton Ward/Cartoon Network
We’re nearing the end of 2012 and, with Christmas around the corner, the British children’s TV industry eagerly looks towards April 2013, when a tax break on UK animation has been promised. Production this year has been slow, with confidence at an all-time low, so a 25% levy is the best Christmas present this industry could wish for. And the investment promises to give this sector a much needed boost.
The BAFTA Awards in November were a reminder of how much this is needed as old favourites were ruling the roost, with Horrible Histories winning the Best Comedy award for the third year running and Peppa Pig picking up its third gong for Best Pre-school Animation. Both fantastic shows and deserving of their accolade; but you’d be forgiven for thinking there was a dearth of new ideas coming through. However, MIPCOM & MIPJunior in October brought an air of positivity: 2013 promises to be an exciting year for British pre-school in particular. Sarah and Duck from Karrot Animation will make its debut on Cbeebies, and Bing Bunny from Acamar Films (based on books by Ted Dewan) also goes into production for the network.
But, whilst British pre-school comes back into vogue, what about ideas for the older kids? Animation production in the UK for the 6-11’s has tailed off in recent years, although there have been some exceptions with Grizzly Tales for Gruesome Kids (Honeycomb/Grizzly TV) being a good example. But without the promise of incremental revenue to encourage production, channels often look outside of the UK to satisfy this older demographic.
One show in particular has grabbed my attention this year and really stands out from the crowd. Adventure Time is an original series for Cartoon Network and possibly the weirdest and yet most imaginative kids show on TV. It comes from the mind of Pendleton Ward. Crazy characters are at large in the land of Ooo which is also home to Finn, a courageous, head-strong boy, and his best friend Jake, a stretchy dog with the power to shape-shift. The imagination behind Adventure Time is limitless! And with Matt Groening as a fan, you just know it has to be good.
However, there is always an exception to the rule: one of my favourite shows of 2012, The Amazing World of Gumball, was produced in the UK. This multi-award winning series picked up the BAFTA for Best Animation and delivers on every level, being consistently funny. The cleverly-written scripts impressed BAFTA so much that it also won the award for the Best Writer category. It’s refreshing to see that Gumball easily stands up against all US-produced animated shows and with the proposed tax break, it would be encouraging to see more home grown animation of this quality coming through.
Magic Light Pictures saw success in Christmas 2011 with The Gruffalo, based on the best-selling book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. It was a huge success on BBC One, and their follow up, Room on the Broom, by the same authors, will again make its debut on BBC One this Christmas. We also have the long anticipated follow up to Raymond Briggs’ creation The Snowman. The Snowman and the Snowdog, from Lupus Films, will premiere on Channel 4 on Christmas Eve. I’d love to see more family specials going into production and maybe government funds will encourage future investment in this genre.
What I’ve always been encouraged by is that great ideas eventually see the light of day. They may disappear for a while, but they’ll always resurface and end up in the right hands. The UK animation industry is full of talented, passionate people who deserve a break – and 25% will do very nicely, thank you.
Debbie Macdonald is a children’s media consultant. She notably partnered with the MIPJunior Kids Jury at MIPJunior this year. Macdonald was formerly VP, programming director at Nickelodeon UK, having worked in acquisitions at the BBC. You can find her on LinkedIn here, and on Twitter here.