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Animating the future of kid's cartoons

By Xu Fan | China Daily | Updated: 2018-02-01 09:11
The upcoming animated series, Kim and Jim's Wormhole, features two kids' adventure to meet prehistoric animals through a time-travel tunnel. [Photo provided to China Daily]

As the father of an 8-year-old boy, Wang Lei has often sat alongside his son as he watched television cartoon programs.

But Wang, director of the Beijing-based animated studio Escape Velocity, was disappointed to discover that many domestic cartoons featured confrontational or violent sequences that seemed unfit for children and inappropriate for teenage audiences.

With a wish to tailor a heartwarming, healthy production for primary school students like his son, Wang began to conceive a script for a new animation in 2016.

Influenced by children's literature classics such as the Scottish playwright J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan, and English writer Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Wang believes a children's story should be larger than life as well as reflecting the joys and sorrows of their daily routines.

"When I was penning the draft, my son had become fascinated with prehistoric creatures like the dinosaurs, and often asked me to read to him about them from encyclopedias," recalls the 40-year-old.

Those giant reptiles which once dominated the Earth but disappeared around 65 million years ago become the lead characters in Escape Velocity's upcoming animated series, Kim and Jim's Wormhole, which is aimed at viewers aged between 6 and 11 years old.

The first 22-minute installment of the 26-part animated sci-fi comedy series was highlighted at a recent event unveiling the lineup of forthcoming animated series by Escape Velocity and its parent company Jetavana Entertainment, a Beijing-based company with links to Hollywood.

Set in a northern Chinese city, Kim and Jim's Wormhole follows the daily lives of an 11-year-old sister and her 6-year-old brother, who discover a time-travel tunnel that sucks in a dozen prehistoric animals including a Tyrannosaurus rex and a mamenchisaurus to the present day.

But the story doesn't unfold as a thrilling adventure where the children try to send them back to the past, but instead centers on the joy and surprise that the unexpected arrivals bring to the children's daily lives.

The series was entered at several international festivals looking to elicit awards for best new concept, and was shortlisted by the 41st Ottawa International Animation Festival and at the animation competition at Singapore's Asian TV Film Forum & Market in 2017.

Unlike the majority of domestic titles that usually add English subtitles during postproduction, Kim and Jim's Wormhole employed a different approach to try and win a wider share of the domestic and overseas markets.

Top scriptwriting duo Dan and Nuria Wicksman, the couple behind the hit British animated series Thomas and Friends, were invited to be the story editors and screenwriters for the English version of the series.

"When we finish one story, we send the script to the English writers. If there are some local sequences that seem confusing to foreign audiences, we discuss them with the scriptwriters and make revisions until the storyline makes perfect sense," explains Wang.

Having taught animation as an associate professor at the Communication University of China for many years, Wang says foreign audiences are becoming increasingly interested in Chinese animation.

"They want to find out what is happening in modern China, and better understand its culture, food and landscapes," adds Wang.

The first season of Kim and Jim's Wormhole will wrap up production this fall, and is scheduled to air on television channels and major videostreaming websites in the winter.

South Korean character designer Kim Sung-jae is in charge of creating the animals' cartoon images, while Taiwan singer-songwriter Patrick Brasca, who sang the theme song for Kung Fu Panda 3 with Jay Chou, writes and performs the series' theme song, I Wanna Be with You.

Jetavana's founder Ivy Zhong, says the company-which also has subsidiaries in literature, stage shows and merchandising-will help develop the series into an enduring franchise.

"At present, the domestic animation industry has enjoyed great momentum in its development. Data shows that China has more than 200 million infants and children under the age of 14 years old. China represents a large and stable market for children's entertainment," says Zhong.

Besides Kim and Jim's Wormhole, Escape Velocity is also working on several animated series aimed at different age groups, including Wool Wool Town for children aged between 3 and 6, and superhero tale Panda Squad which is pitched at teenagers.

"We have a young team. Some of our animators are young parents. They not only want to make quality productions, but they also want to change the culture of cliche and bias," says Wang.

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