Growing Up with Hello Kitty comes to the United States courtesy of entertainment company AnimEigo after a chance discovery during a business trip to Japan. “My wife [Natsumi Ueki] was in Japan in a business meeting, and this title caught her eye,” says AnimEigo CEO Robert Woodhead. A fan of Hello Kitty, she brought the videos home to consider what the company might do with them.
Not only were the Hello Kitty videos different for AnimEigo in the fact that they were teaching videos, but, Woodhead says, “We had never done children’s video before.”
Each story is short, focused on something a small child needs to learn or is having difficulty with - like proper table manners, being patient, or “Don’t touch Daddy’s computer,” explains Woodhead. “They’re getting these messages from their parents all the time. This is a way to reinforce those lessons through characters they know and identify with. It’s a useful thing — it’s why they were made, in Japan.”
Preparing the videos for a U.S. market involved not just translating the words but adjusting the messages. “We had to make adjustments to deal with differences in culture between Japan and the U.S.” He points to having an omelet for dinner — which ended up staying in the new videos — as one such cultural difference.
This would be a very specialized project for the Wilmington, N.C.-based entertainment company, but resources were in their very backyard. “In Wilmington is one of the best voice directors in animation in the world,” Woodhead says. “We were confident we could hand the project to him, with the translated script and cultural notes.” Scott Houle’s final version is so well-dubbed, Woodhead says, that viewers can’t tell it was dubbed.
Growing Up with Hello Kitty is a series of two DVDs, each with six videos. “We picked the 12 most appropriate to the U.S.,” says Woodhead. All but two episodes made the cut; the two unused ones depicted too Japanese-culturally specific situations, such as how to bow properly. Both discs are being released on March 26.
The videos’ core audience is 2- to 9-year-olds. Woodhead expects the kids to be drawn to the Hello Kitty character, and anticipates parents being attracted to the educational quality. “It’s not just entertainment,” he notes. “It has positive messages.”
“One of the fun things about this business is, every so often we run into the opportunity to do a really interesting project. This is the most special one we’ve done,” Woodhead shares. “We thought it would be an interesting challenge, and expected it to be just a niche title. We had no idea it would hit the way it has.”
Photo: Robert Woodhead, getting the creative juices flowing (top), Growing Up with Hello Kitty 1 and 2 DVD box art (bottom)