“The Zula Patrol: Animal Adventures in Space!” follows the intrepid team Zula in humor-filled stories that begin with a challenge, and end with a resolution, as they explore how insects, reptiles, mammals, plants and rocks form and interact with each other. Creator Deb Manchester, an audiologist turned filmmaker tells us about creating this title.
CP: You took topics (metamorphosis and ecosystems) that have been covered several times and made them fresh, fun and interesting. How did you do this?
DM: We try to put ourselves in kid’s mind. It’s fun to play with this topic. How would kids react? We take in the nature of kids reactions to make sure that it feels genuine. To make it fun and interesting — that’s where the villains come in. Our villains are not bright. They always foil things. They’re not aware of information and knowledge. Kids learn what the villains don’t know and the villains never understand. The kids get it when the villains don’t.
CP: How do you decide the songs and song styles that go into each
DM: I wanted a retro sound like the Jetsons or Flintstones. I love the big band sound, especially for the theme song, so we hired a real band. The lyrics are written by head writers, a husband and wife team, and they make the lyrics so funny that the composer is motivated to write music to match it. We cover a gamut of music. I originally asked Jeff Daniels to work with us because I loved his music in another kid’s show. He has four kids who also loved the show.
CP: Please give an example of an obstacle you had to overcome while
producing this title and tell us how you overcame that obstacle.
DM: You take a topic and it seems simple at first, but it’s a fine balance getting enough real science without cheating the topic. For example, we might do an episode on planets that are talking. How far can you go with the imagination, but keep it true? Kids have a great sense of understanding what’s real and what’s not, but a main theme of ours is that we don’t teach the topic. We want it to be organic/real make sure that comes through. It’s difficult to keep true in a fantasy show.
CP: How have you grown as a producer while creating this title?
DM: When I first started producing this I was in the entry-level. I have learned so much in many areas. How much goes into the writing — we have incredible writers. A show needs to have good writings before it goes any further. Without the writing, it won’t make it. Music is also very important. I learned that we need to set goals for education without overdoing it. At first we started with three or four major goals, but we’ve learned that it’s better off doing one or two major learning objectives and maybe one or two minor objectives. This helps you develop a topic into a nice story. I also learned about working with animation studios overseas and working with cultural differences. Episodes 1-26 were filmed in South Korea and the episodes after 26 were filmed in China, and there were many cultural differences we had to overcome. I also saw how important was to have the right actors. Making a movie involves a huge team that pulls together.
CP: Please give an example of something funny or inspiring that happened
DM: After the show was released, a parent sent in a video of a five-year-old son who was dressed as a stage of a frog. He was singing the title song with a homemade microphone. Right at the end of the song, the microphone broke and the look on his face was precious. It was so cute to see him so excited about singing, and that he was so absorbed in the show that he wanted to be a tadpole.
CP: What do you hope viewers will come away with after watching this
DM: We think we found the formula for making learning fun. Now we have an educational web site that makes learning fun. Targeted at ages five through 10, children learn while going on fun missions and playing games. Parents and educators also love the technological components that complement the school kits. This is a very exciting time for the company as we launch Zula World. We do have some episodes up on the site in our theater section.
Check out the fun interactive Zula Patrol website and look for “Zula Patrol: Animal Adventures in Space” in stores near you. In “Larvae or Leave Me “(the first episode), Skip the grasshopper can’t find his friend Wriggly the caterpillar – until he discovers, with help from The Zula Patrol, that Wriggly has transformed into a beautiful butterfly! Four additional stories on the DVD are: “Egg Hunt,” “There Goes the Neighborhood,” “Choosing Sides” and “Camp Worm.”