Quality Children's Entertainment Family Movie Reviews

Archive for April, 2008

“Jacob Two Two” Animator Gives a Glimpse Behind the Scenes

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

Jennifer Sherman has supervised as well as animated on productions such as “Jacob Two Two,” “Max and Ruby,” “Yummi-Land,” “Futz” and “Peep and the Big Wide World” for 9 Story Entertainment since March 2003.Since graduating from Sheridan College in 1988, she has been involved in the animation industry in Toronto on many levels. Jennifer has animated on a number of television commercials, televisions series, and also worked on a feature film for companies such as Lightbox Studios, The Animation House, Calibre and Nelvana. The transition from classical animation to digital computer animation was a natural progression for Jennifer in 2002.CP: Looking at your background, it seems that you have covered a multitude of styles in animation. What do you feel is your strongest area and what do you enjoy doing the most?JS: What I feel is my strongest area is character driven scenes. I love it when a character makes you feel the way they feel and have you believe in them. There’s something powerful in a subtle head turn or gesture that makes you forget it’s not real. When I watch really well done animation, I love to get lost in the character and the story.CP: What brought you to 9 Story Entertainment?JS: A colleague of mine recommended I apply for a position as an animator. At the time I had no idea how Flash animation was done but he said, “Animation is animation no matter what the format is, it’s simply a different tool.” True enough.CP: Jacob Two Two is very different from Peep and the Big Wide World, which you also worked on. What steps do you take to capture the magic of Jacob?JS: Jacob is geared to a bit older audience than Peep so this allows us to explore a broader range of issues that older kids deal with. There are so many different personalities in the show that each character brings a familiarity with it. Growing up even today, I’m sure lots of kids have to deal with a group of bullies, an annoying older sibling, geeky friends or a science teacher that’s just plain weird. It’s a show that is rewarding to be able to really act out all these different characters. The voice actors really help drive the characters in this show. As an animator you are given the sound track and a roughly timed storyboard to work with. When the sound track is inspiring the animators, imagination can take over and this can really add to the scene.CP: Please give me an interesting anecdote of something behind the scenes in the Jacob Two Two production.JS: There were times when I was attempting to explain how a scene should play out and I would find myself acting out the line for the animator to “get” what I was meaning. It’s pretty goofy to see a grown woman acting out something Greedy Guts would say and do like sobbing at the thought of having his doughnuts taken away.Jacob’s character is a really nice reminder that it’s okay to mess up and not always be perfect at everything you do. The important thing is that he’s always willing to try. That’s something I believe we can all relate to.CP: In your opinion, how has Jacob Two Two benefited from its affiliation with qubo?JS: It’s great that qubo has been able to take a quality show like Jacob Two Two and bring it to a new and larger audience to experience and enjoy.CP: Is there anything you would like to add?JS: I believe all animators are actors inside with the ability to be anyone or anything they create. The only limitation in animation is your imagination, so stretch those imagination muscles kids and dream big!

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qubo® Develops Nutritional Guidelines For Advertising Targeted to Children

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

qubo®, the TV and online entertainment service for children, announced that it has created nutritional guidelines that will dictate advertising decisions on the qubo Channel, as well as on the qubo broadcast programming blocks that air on NBC, ION Television and Telemundo. The effort highlights qubo’s mission of promoting pro-social values including literacy and healthy living. The announcement was made by Kerry Hughes, senior vice president, advertising sales and partnerships for qubo.qubo’s effort marks the latest step in ION Media Networks’ innovative advertising and media initiative to combat childhood obesity announced last summer. Both qubo and ION Life networks are undertaking a series of programs aimed at improving children’s health and reducing the rates of childhood obesity in the U.S. qubo is a member of the Ad Council’s Coalition on Healthy Children while Brandon Burgess, Chairman and CEO of ION Media Networks, which is qubo’s majority shareholder, is actively involved in the FCC’s Task Force on Media & Childhood Obesity.To create these nutritional guidelines, qubo enlisted the help of nationally renowned author and expert on childhood obesity, Goutham Rao, MD, clinical director of the Weight Management and Wellness Center at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC ( see bio on Dr. Rao below). The guidelines list acceptable nutritional intake limits for meals and snacks broken down by calories, grams of fat, as well as saturated and trans fat, sugar, protein, fiber and sodium.Concerned with the growing trend towards childhood obesity, qubo called for these guidelines to guide on-air and online advertising decisions and to ensure parents that qubo provides a safe environment for children with positive messages about healthy living.“By only accepting advertising from companies that meet this nutritional criteria, we believe that we have set the gold standard for the kids entertainment industry and are helping kids make healthy decisions about what they eat,” said Hughes.”We are committed to combating childhood obesity through all of our networks-analog, digital, on-line and soon, mobile,” said John Lawson, ION Media Networks executive vice president for policy and strategic initiatives. “We hope that qubo’s nutritional guidelines send a strong message to parents, policymakers and our business partners about our dedication to the wellness of America’s kids.”“Reversing the epidemic of childhood obesity will require a major, long-term commitment by parents, teachers, physicians and other health care professionals, political leaders and public policy experts,” said Dr. Rao. “qubo’s guidelines are a great first step in the right direction. Children are bombarded with ads for unhealthy foods. One of the easiest ways to reach the largest number of children and families is to make sure the foods and beverages advertised to children meet basic requirements for good nutrition. It was a privilege to work with qubo in creating these guidelines.”In addition to announcing its new nutritional guidelines, qubo also unveiled this month a series of Public Service Announcements (PSA’s) created in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), the Ad Council and the U.S. Olympic Committee designed to promote exercise and healthy eating to children. Featuring several U.S. Olympic hopefuls, as well as qubo’s popular animated characters from VeggieTales, Jane and the Dragon and 3-2-1 Penguins!, the TV spots began airing this month through donated time on the qubo Channel, ION Television and NBC and will be distributed to television stations nationwide by the Ad Council.About qubo:qubo® is a bilingual, multi-platform entertainment destination for children that focuses on literacy, values and healthy lifestyles while celebrating the unlimited possibilities of a child’s imagination. Formed in 2006 by an unprecedented alliance of leading distribution partners and content players in children’s television, including Scholastic, ION Media Networks, NBC Universal, Corus Entertainment and Classic Media, qubo offers dynamic content in multiple environments. Currently broadcast on NBC Saturday mornings, ION TV network Fridays afternoons and Telemundo weekend mornings (check local listings) qubo also includes a 24/7 qubo Channel and website, www.qubo.com.

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Making the Planet a Better Place for Animals, One Backyard at a Time

Monday, April 21st, 2008

Learn how to turn any backyard into a wildlife haven when “The Best of Backyard Habitat: Volume 1” flocks to DVD on Earth Day, April 22 from Genius Products and Animal Planet. Arriving for the first time on DVD, the collection highlights episodes of the do-it-yourself backyard makeover series covering techniques on attracting a variety of wildlife including birds, butterflies and other delightful creatures. The one-of-a-kind show features invaluable information regarding food and water sources, places to raise young and sustainable gardening tips to create a healthy and eco-friendly habitat for wildlife.  Upon completing the step-by-step how-to build projects to entice creatures to their outdoor space, each home is officially recognized as a Backyard Wildlife Habitat™ by the National Wildlife FederationDavid Mizejewski, co-host of this amazing series and self-proclaimed Nature geek from birth, loves the concept of this show since it restores wildlife to neighborhoods. “We as gardeners have a huge power to environmental good.” Never intending to become an author, Mizejewski surprised himself by writing a book entitled National Wildlife Federation Attracting Birds, Butterflies & Backyard Wildlife. Producers at Animal Planet realized he tapped into something the public was looking for. Many people of various ages, incomes and backgrounds have a common interest–nature. With the popularity of reality TV, Animal Planet collaborated with Mizejewski and his co-host Molly Pesce to help families, from novices to experts, create a habitat in their backyard that would attract nature.Photo Courtesy of Animal Planet A big challenge for the crew was time. It’s difficult to develop an inspirational setting when one is filming, and animals don’t have time to discover the new environments. Often producers resort to using stock photos and suggestions of what will happen, however, sometimes the results are nearly immediate. While filming “Chickadees and Toads” in Knoxville, Tenesee, for this series, the family cut tree in yard prior to the television crew’s arrival. The team members drilled a hole in the log similar to what a chickadee would look for in a home and buried log in ground. As they finished filming the episode, a chickadee flew in and checked out hole looking for a place to nest.  Just as in “The Field of Dreams,” the Natural Wildlife Federation believes “If you build it, they will come.”Mizejewski finds that the nature projects give people an additional bonus. In this society of instant gratification, it brings people back to calmness. He firmly believes that patience – moving at the pace of nature – will be rewarded. He also finds that nature projects are great for kids. Recent research shows that children spend almost 6 hrs a day inside, in front of screens. One of the reasons for this is that parents afraid to let kids out unsupervised. When you create a backyard habitat, it not only provides a place for animals, but kids have a haven in their own backyard where they can enjoy unstructured play and experience nature. The best part is that you don’t even have to live in the country to enjoy this. One can create an inviting environment on a high-rise balcony with a container garden.In his experience Mizejewski finds that millions of Americans are interested in gardening activities, but many are intimidated and don’t know where to begin. His suggestion is to start small. Stop mowing a part of the lawn in the back that can’t be seen from the road so animals can move back in, or plant a few shrubs to flowers with nectar to draw birds. According to Mizejewski, there can be massive change in our eco system if everyone did a little bit to help.For more information on starting your own natural habitat, to learn more about the National Wildlife Foundation, or to learn more about Animal Planet’s “The Backyard Habitat,” go to check out the series website. And don’t forget to treat your family by going to the store to catch all of “The Best of Backyard Habitat: Volume 1” on DVD!

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PBS KIDS Celebrates Earth Day

Friday, April 18th, 2008

PBS KIDS is celebrating the Earth with “PBS KIDS Share the Earth Day,” a special programming and online event on Tuesday, April 22 (check local listings). Curious George, Clifford, Arthur and other favorite PBS KIDS and PBS KIDS GO! characters will explore fun and engaging ways to keep the planet beautiful. PBS Parents will offer an Earth Day expert Q&A with Jamie Durie, host of The Victory Garden, discussing how to introduce gardening concepts to kids and what they can learn by digging in the dirt.On the PBS KIDS preschool block, Miss Lori and Hooper teach kids how to recycle their trash, while new stories from Dot’s Story Factory show how kids at home celebrate the planet. Earth Day-themed episodes from CURIOUS GEORGE, CLIFFORD THE BIG RED DOG, and IT’S A BIG BIG WORLD will air alongside themed music videos from the award-winning kids’ rock band, Milkshake.PBS KIDS GO!, for elementary school kids, celebrates Earth Day with themed programming from ARTHUR, MAYA & MIGUEL, and CYBERCHASE.  Throughout the late afternoon programming block, PBS KIDS GO! presents creative ideas of how kids can take care of the environment by recycling, cleaning up their neighborhoods and more.To help parents connect these lessons back to kids’ daily lives, PBS Parents will recommend ideas, resources and activities for parents to share with their children and encourage them to spend more time exploring nature and take an active role in protecting the planet. New web content on pbskids.org and pbskidsgo.org includes a reduce, reuse and recycling theme for Dot’s Story Factory so kids can tell their own stories about saving the planet; a newly redesigned EekoWorld web site, where kids can build their own creatures and learn the basics of how life survives in different ecosystems; and a sustainability and green living site titled “Meet the Greens.”  The Greens are an environmentally conscious family who explore different methods of saving power and reducing waste in a series of short animated episodes.

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Jane and Her Dragon Interview

Monday, April 14th, 2008

Author Martin Baynton and animator Richard Taylor take us behind the scene’s in qubo’s hit series “Jane and the Dragon.”

Watching “Jane and the Dragon” on qubo with my kids has been one of my favorite Saturday morning activities for the last year or two. Not only is the storyline captivating, but I love the breaking of stereotypes as Jane trains to become a knight in her medieval world. She and her comrades deal with issues kids today relate to such as honesty and friendship. And, to my mothering heart’s delight, negative behaviors in the show are discussed at the end of the show with suggestions of how one should have acted in that situation.


“Jane and the Dragon” is a CGI animated series based on the much-loved books by Martin Baynton. In addition to the fabulous storyline, viewers are treated to stunning animation filled with rich color and texture. The visuals are so breath-taking that it isn’t much of a shock to discover that it was done by Weta, the company that also worked on the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and “The Chronicles of Narnia.”

CP: Martin, please give a brief summary of your background, including how you went from Electroencephalography to writing children’s books.MB: My parents always encouraged me to write and to draw from an early age. I remember that all my best marks at school were for my story writing and anything to do with art. At secondary school I also discovered the joy of science, and so I had a very balanced education, but in the end my love of storytelling won out, and I left my job at Barts Hospital in London only a year after qualifying. I have never regretted the decision as it meant I could work from home and be a full time writer and a full time dad with the privilege of being able to spend every day with my two children as they grew up.CP: Where did you get the idea for “Jane and the Dragon” and how did it evolve into a TV  show?MB: The idea for the original books was because I wanted to write a story about a girl who wanted to follow her dreams despite the expectations of her family and friends. And then a young girl told me how she hated fairy stories because the girls were wimps; they waited around for a prince to come to their rescue with a wedding ring. So the idea for Jane sprang from those two themes originally. And to my great delight the books have remained in print for twenty years so I would talk about Jane to two generations of readers, mums and their daughter. Often that talk would be about making Jane as a cool TV show. I have to be honest and say I’m not a big fan of much of kids TV, like many parents I had to search to find things I would want my own children to see, so when I finally decided to bite the bullet and step into the role of TV producer and adapt Jane, I wanted to make a show that would meet all my own aspirations for what great drama could and should be for children. That’s when I went down to visit Richard at weta after being blown away by the extraordinary work he had done making the first of the “Lord Of The Rings” trilogy. We both had exactly the same ideas about making children’s TV, it was a wonderful experience from the first day to be surrounded by a team with so much commitment to quality and to storytelling.CP: Richard, please give a brief summary of your background including how you got into animation.RT: I come from a small rural community in New Zealand. I always wanted to make things with my hands, creating and inventing fantasy worlds. My wife Tania and I established a film and TV effects facility in New Zealand with two friends and we began servicing the creative industries with our technical and creative services. We have established a company called Weta, in Wellington, New Zealand and we have been integrally involved in a number of major feature films including – “The Lord of the Rings,” “King Kong”, and “The Chronicles of Narnia.” For our work Weta has received 6 Oscars and 5 Baftas.I have always had a great passion for children’s television, probably stemming from my childhood days watching shows such as the “Thunderbirds,” “Captain Scarlet” and “Space 1999.” Therefore, when we finished creating LOTR we felt the time was right to realize this dream and begin building our own Children’s Television Production facility at Weta. Our fortuitous meeting with Martin, the skills of our producer Andrew Smith and our creative partnership have further reinforced our desire to make the best animated children’s television we can.CP: One aspect that really stands out in your show is the deep colors and beautiful, rich texture in the animation. Please talk a bit about the animation and how you do it.RT: We wanted to help raise the bar, that’s the honest truth of it. Children should be able to watch a world that is every bit as rich, and colorful and beautiful as the best that is on offer in adult TV. Our designers started by analyzing the way Martin had illustrated his original books. We wanted a picture book style and aesthetic that would feel as if the book had opened and the characters had come to like. It meant creating a whole new way of producing CGI animation, which tends to have a rather flat and plastic look much of the time. The result is a tribute to our CG supervisor Trevor Brymer and the wonderful design and modeling team we have here who approached this with the same delight and enthusiasm as they would for a major feature film.CP: Please share an amusing/interesting anecdote from the filmmaking process.RT: We had a wonderful group of designers working on Jane, many of them being the same exceptionally talented people that had designed “Lord of the Rings.” In fact these people ultimately completed more pieces of design for “Jane and the Dragon” than we did for the whole of the three film trilogy of LOTR. Regardless though, we were struggling with some of the subtle design sensibilities of the Jane world and especially the female characters. That was, until we had the great fortune of hiring an immensely talented woman called Rebecca Tisch who at the age of 17 joined our team and became instrumental in capturing the unique and quirky characters that inhabit Jane’s world. We where so enamored by Rebecca’s contribution that we dedicated a character to her, and Pepper the cook is modeled after this wonderfully talented young New Zealander.CP: What is one of the greatest lessons you have learned in story writing and filmmaking that you would like to pass along to other producers and writers?RT/MB: The heart of it all is story. You can’t save a bad story with pretty pictures or clever effects. Audiences young or old want to engage with the characters and the journey those characters are on. If the characters aren’t engaging or sympathetic everything else is just empty packaging.CP: What, in your opinion, is the unique edge that makes “Jane and the Dragon” a series that kids and their parents should watch over others?RT/MB: I think it’s the fact that there is a full half hour of real storytelling with layers of complexity that mirror the real world. Jane and her friends face the same real challenges that all young people face, and there are no simple right or wrong answers. Jane always does her best with the best of intentions and sometimes her enthusiasm lacks mature judgment and she gets herself and others into hot water. But she always learns and she always does her best. I think that is the key to Jane and the reason that we get such wonderful emails from teachers, grandparent and the kids themselves – it’s because Jane is a true “warts and all” heroine with a big heart.CP: Is there anything you would like to add that hasn’t been addressed about “Jane and the Dragon?”RT/MB: One of the things we set out to do and are very proud to have achieved is that whole families chose to watch Jane together. With so many TVs in some homes, and so much choice there is a trend away from sharing time as a whole family. We are thrilled at the number of emails from families who tell us that Jane is a show they all look forward to watching together. It’s like sharing a book with your children, they love to know that something they enjoy is not just approved of, but is enjoyed by Mum and Dad, and that they can talk about it together as a family with the same common references. Do you remember when Jane did such and such? Sharing time and sharing stories is a way of sharing common truths and common values across the whole family. We are all immensely proud of how Jane is achieving that.

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