Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween with Casper!

Here are some Casper the Friendly Ghost classics to enjoy the holiday with (presented in chronological order). Happy 60th birthday this year, Casper!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

They Call Him Mellow Yellow: Gustafer Yellowgold

If you're like me you may not know the name Gustafer Yellowgold but you might just recognize his face:

He is a curious little pointy-headed fellow from the sun, come here to Earth (specifically Minnesota) to hang out with his pet eel, the dragon who lives in his fireplace, and a flightless pterodactyl with a keen fashion sense. On a more prosaic level, he's the creation of musician/illustrator Morgan Taylor, based in Brooklyn here in New York City. Taylor came up with the concept in 2005 as a means to create narrative-based multimedia experiences for his live concerts. In these performances he sings and plays with the animation projected up on a screen, giving the kids multiple avenues to get into Gustafer's world (and live music!). Gustafer has since released three CD/DVD compilations: Gustafer Yellowgold's Wide Wild World, Gustafer Yellowgold's Have You Never Been Mellow?, and this year's Gustafer Yellowgold's Mellow Fever. There is a theme running through the titles, as these little films--essentially music videos--and the accompanying tunes are certainly mellow. The quality of the artwork and the musicianship is high, reflecting what I believe to be a general upward trend in the children's music industry, yet it's among the products that aim to let kids sit back and chill more than hop up and dance.

Here's what a recent publicity release said about Taylor and Gustafer, including blurbs from several major-market publications:

"Named “Best Kids’ Performer 2008” by New York Magazine, Morgan Taylor developed the Gustafer Yellowgold experience as equal parts pop rock concert and minimally animated movie. A natural storyteller with a comedic bent, Taylor has dreamed up a whole world of catchy and original story-songs about Gustafer (a friendly creature who came to Earth from the sun), performed alongside a large screen displaying vividly colored animations with karaoke-style subtitles. Gustafer lives out an explorer’s life in a slightly psychedelic version of the Minnesota woods, where he resides in a cottage with his menagerie of friends, including a pet eel, a tuxedo-wearing pterodactyl, and a dragon named Asparagus who inhabits the fireplace and loves corn on the cob. For recreation, Gustafer enjoys jumping on cake.

"Since his creation in 2005, Gustafer Yellowgold has become an international phenomenon, praised by Newsweek as “full of great pop tunes and hand-drawn animation about a li’l fella from the sun.” The Los Angeles Times enthused, "Taylor’s whimsical, lightly psychedelic world forms an interesting bridge between adult and kids’ music.” The Washington Post declared, “He’s a star on stage and screen! … The mix of catchy tunes and offbeat stories has endeared Taylor, and Gustafer, to teenagers as well.” The Chicago Tribune wrote, “Gustafer Yellowgold has made kids’ music so cool that teenagers and ultra-hip bands such as Wilco want to get in on the act … a shiny blend of pop art and pop tunes.” Parenting magazine called Gustafer “The coolest little space invader since E.T. … a hip and trippy sunsation. Parental warning: You, too, will become hooked on the tunes.”"

As I recently watched through the three DVDs I could definitely see where such enthusiasm was coming from, relating back to the mellowness. As I've said before about other products, it's nice to turn down the volume sometimes (a lot of the time, actually) and let kids be quiet and even pensive. Here's a YouTube example of one of Gustafer's exploits. It's one of my favorites, the lead number from the new DVD, "Getting in a Treetop":

In terms of the music, you can hear how Taylor uses a high vocal register, acoustic instruments, and a light touch to create the "mellow" world of Gustafer (although this is one of the most upbeat numbers). It's not so laid back as to avoid a drum set, but it is sufficiently calm that most parents won't freak out if kids want to listen to it again and again--in fact, the property's crossover appeal to adults is one of its key selling points.

You can also see the limited 2D animation at work: this is the visual feel of all the videos. The quality of illustration is fantastic and the karaoke-like frame that allows for the stylish presentation of subtitles is beneficial for literate viewers who want to sing along. For the most part the limited animation (probably done on Flash or AfterEffects--I have no eye for that kind of thing) works well, melding with the light music, although after a while it does start to feel incomplete, like watching an animatic rather than a completed cartoon (compare it with the less-detailed rendering but very rich atmosphere of the Brian Vogan video I posted a few days ago). It's probably as much a budgetary decision as an artistic one, but I found myself hoping that Gustafer will actually move at 30 or even 15 frames per second in the near future, which could be fairly easily done with Flash.

So if the music is hummable and able to stand up to adult music and the visuals are well drawn and adequately rendered, where does Gustafer fall short? Most obviously in the lyrics and the overall tone of the videos. Things in his world are certainly mellow, but at times--quite frequently, actually--the tone slips across the line from the mellow to the morose. There is simply an inordinate amount of sadness, ennui, longing, and unfulfilled desires here. When I first got the DVDs i started watching Mellow Fever with Loretta, who is over 5 1/2 and therefore well within the target demographic. She enjoyed the upbeat theme song and the treetop song shown above, but the third number, "Sunpod," had a different effect. It shows how Gustafer chose to come from the sun to the earth and how his space pod breaks up on entering the atmosphere, preventing him from ever returning home. He's crying when he leaves, his family is crying too, and he's still crying when the song ends with him on earth--thus it should not have been surprising that Loretta was crying also. It was bedtime so in an effort to quickly cheer her up, show her that Gustafer likes his new home, I skipped through to some other songs with happy-sounding names, but I found nothing less disconsolate than that number. I remember getting only partway through "Sugar Boat," about a ferret who has a long-distance obsession with Gustafer (with strong inferences of homosexuality that Loretta fortunately missed) before Loretta was sobbing inconsolably: it was hard to get her to bed and she woke up three times that night in tears, having bad dreams. (And that's where I see the real connection to E.T., a film at which I cried my eyes out in the theater.) There is of course the complete possibility that my child is abnormally sensitive or that it was just a bad time of night to show this to her or that the vibe is completely different in a live performance, but as I went back through the other DVDs and started counting how many times a character was crying versus how many times a character was happy, the balance weighed strongly towards the former, even when it doesn't make any narrative sense, such as when a bee puts together a rock band (something that should be happy). Gustafer may be the only children's cartoon character seen reclining on a psychoanalyst's couch.

So that in a nutshell is where the concept seems to have steered off course. Children have to learn to deal with sadness, death, separation, and unfulfilled desires--it's part of maturation and is absolutely healthy. But they shouldn't be made to wallow in it song after song after song. It is definitely possible to have mellow music and mellow characters who also smile: Mr. Rogers is the epitome of this, and Blue's Clues brought quietness into the new millennium. I really have affection for Gustafer: I like the character, if not all the sidekicks, and I really like the music. I hope, therefore, that Taylor is able to add a sense of joy, or even fun or comedy, into the next edition. That's where a band like Milkshake excels, and Taylor doesn't have to mimic their sound sonically to capture that feeling in the lyrics. (I'm no musical expert, but the Mamas and the Papas are the first example that spring to mind of a group with a bit of that folksy feel--not pure folk like Peter, Paul, and Mary--that still maintain a sense of forward progression and optimism, while staying generally mellow.)

There is humor, particularly in the visuals. The characters are so outlandish that it's quite comical to look at them in different situations and outfits, even if the visual references to Titanic and other such material are lost on kids. And the new DVD has a very funny live-action pseudo-documentary about the actual existence of a Gustafer-like creature out in the Minnesota woods: the visual reference to the famous Sasquatch home movie is spot on, with just the right posture, gait, and turn of the head. Brilliant.

I'd also like to make a quick comment about the quote from the New York Times on the front of all three DVDs, which is a comparison of "Dr. Seuss meets 'Yellow Submarine'!" At first I thought this quite apt, especially from the tranquility of the drawings (Seuss) combined with some of the outlandish zaniness like a pterodactyl in a tuxedo (Submarine). After watching a bit though I've modified the analogy. Dr. Seuss, after all, had more than a little zing in him: his creations were frequently more strikingly original than the Blue Meanies, and he could be acerbic in his films and adult material. I definitely think that UPA's Gerald McBoing-Boing (1950), a Seuss creation, was a necessary step to get to George Dunning and Yellow Submarine in 1968. Not to harp too much on the minutiae of animation history, but rather than comparing Gustafer to Dunning's masterpiece (which with The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is one of my favorite musicals ever), it could be more apt to reference Sylvain Chomet and Belleville Rendezvous/The Triplets of Belleville. I say that just because of the strange mixture of optimism and pessimism in the film; I remember Chomet saying lots of people kept telling him to clean it up, take out the grotesque and offensive bits (like the Mickey Mouse-shaped feces floating in a toilet) and he said that those people just didn't understand the film he was making. So that can be likened to my suggesting that Gustafer be made brighter and happier to appeal more to preschoolers: it may just be that I haven't grasped the kind of product that Taylor is striving to make.

Still, in summary I must maintain that Gustafer has major thematic problems--especially for children that young--but still a lot to offer, particularly for parents whose kids take to the melancholy moments of life better than my daughter. The music and visuals are great, but for my taste the sheer volume of tears makes it a bit of a drag and parents should go in with their heads up. For those in New York City for whom this is not a problem or who already love Gustafer please be aware of a special performance on November 15 at the Jewish Museum on the Upper East Side. It will have a larger-than-usual ensemble with lots of material from the new album/disc. Information is available on the museum website.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Baby Einstein Issues Refunds

Last Friday the New York Times reported on one of the strangest refunds in recent consumer protection history: the Baby Einstein Company, owned for several years now by Disney, will refund up to four DVDs per household, based on the fact that research shows that not only do the movies not benefit children but that watching any television of any type can be damaging for children under three. The refund is the closest thing we're likely to see to an admission from the industry that the product is dangerous. The decision came under the threat of a class action lawsuit prompted by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, one of my permanent links in my blog roll.

Of course there are lots of parents out there who think that television is innocuous for kids under three. Remarkably people in the children's television industry, because they care so passionately about benefitting children, are some of the most cautious when it comes to screening things for their own kids. I'm much more discerning concerning quality than I was a few years ago before wading into this industry. And the consensus for infants is generally that it is completely detrimental. I believe that when Loretta was a baby we checked a Baby Einstein out of the library and I watched it more than she did, and we took it back and never felt we'd missed out on anything. Now with Isabelle (six weeks) we're simply going to adhere strictly to the no-television-before-2 1/2 rule. Spending time with kids at this age is so much more important than any visual media, no matter how good. And if you're really thirsting for something enriching, actual music, art, and poetry, besides the plethora of brilliant board books out there, are all readily available.

There's been a lot of online commentary on this "recall," but let me recommend Dade Hayes' book Anytime Playdate, which includes a lot of thought about media for kids this young and an extensive interview with the Baby Einstein's creator Julie-Aigner Clark. In fact, while I'm on the subject, rather than rag on Baby Einstein unfairly, because I think Clark's original intentions were good, let me include a forty-five minute video of an interview with Hayes introduced by David Kleeman of the Center for Children and Media (both of whom I met at Little Airplane last summer) from last year when the book was new. I haven't seen it all because of the length, but it looks good. Watch it here or on a larger screen on YouTube. With a lot of ranting going on out there right now it can be the kind of thing to put the Baby Einstein phenomenon in a rational perspective.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

"That's How a Pumpkin Grows" by Brian Vogan

With one week until Halloween I suppose I ought to turn my thoughts toward the autumnal and spooky. Last year I posted some video recommendations, for those interested in that, so this year I'm turning my attention to music. Specifically, a couple weeks ago Seattle-based children's musician Brian Vogan released a new music video of his song "That's How a Pumpkin Grows." It's from his debut CD "Little Songs"--a sophomore album will be out early next year--and was animated in marvelous multiplane 2D by Fashionbudda Studio, with direction and illustration by Alberto Cerriteno. I watched it with Loretta, and she particularly enjoys the pumpkin man running around in the background, as do I. Here's the video's YouTube page. Enjoy, and if you like it be sure to check out Brian's site and CD. Happy Halloween Week!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Star Wars Hitchcock Style

About four minutes into last Friday’s new episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars I started experiencing déjà vu (kind of like Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo). I said to my wife, “Hey, this is Hitchcock!” Specifically, the episode, “Senate Spy” written by Melinda Hsu, was a reworking, plot point by plot point, of Hitch’s 1946 masterpiece Notorious, even with, to my memory, quite a few shots quoting the original film—especially the final shot.

Of course, borrowing plots and making homages is a time-honored practice in the motion picture industry. Heck, the entire Star Wars franchise wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for George Lucas borrowing from Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress. I’m currently reading veteran animation writer Jeffrey Scott’s 2003 book How to Write for Animation, and it gives allowance for such a procedure on page 36:

"You can take a familiar story and change its setting or its date or its characters, and make it fresh. For example, take Run Silent, Run Deep, the classic World War II film in which a sub captain (Clark Gable) is obsessed with the sinking of a Japanese destroyer that destroyed his previous vessel. Make it two starships, and it's a fresh idea....

"I borrowed an 'old' idea known as Raiders of the Lost Ark and changed the setting (to a basement) and the characters (to Kermit, Piggy, and Gonzo) and got a fresh idea that turned into 'Raiders of the Lost Basement' episode of Jim Henson's Muppet Babies."

What appears to be the case here is that Hsu is casting a bit broader net than Indiana Jones, reaching back into the classics of American spy thrillers to find new lightsaber-less directions to take the Clone Wars series: The episode centers around Padme and Anakin. The Jedi Council is wary of a spy in the Senate and asks Padme, who used to be involved with this fellow romantically, to act as a spy and determine if he is in fact in league with the Separatists (the bad guys). She rekindles their romance, to Anakin’s chagrin, and travels with him to another somewhat dodgy planet, with Anakin along as their pilot. There the Senator meets with his Separatist friends and reacquaints them with Padme. They, of course, decide to poison her for leverage over the Senator, to force a better deal with him. . On her way to dinner that night Padme receives the poison (in a cup delivered near the staircase), and then afterwards manages to find the Macguffin (Hitchcock’s word for the plot device, itself relatively unimportant, around which the narrative revolves), here a hologram plan of Count Dooku’s new droid foundry, all while Anakin watches pretty helplessly from the sidelines. She falls ill and the Senator confronts his Separatist compatriots, then eventually Anakin walks boldly into the palace and physically carries Padme away, visually challenging anyone to try to stop him. The Senator quickly gets the poison’s antidote and begs for them to take him along, but Anakin and Padme board their ship and leave him behind to face the Separatists who now believe he betrayed them.

Notorious stars Ingrid Bergman as the American daughter of a convicted Nazi and Cary Grant is the government agent who convinces her to enter espionage and infiltrate a group of her father’s former affiliates who have relocated to Brazil. The two fall in love (including one of film history’s most famous kisses), but Bergman is forced to initiate a romance with the character played by Claude Rains (this just a few years after their antagonistic turn in Casablanca). As Grant forces her deeper and deeper into her role, her nerves start to fray; she’s eventually forced to marry Rains in order to maintain the charade. Gradually the Nazis—Rains and his domineering mother, that is—start to suspect her and deliver her doses of poison, initially in a cup of milk brought up a long stairway to her room. (Hitchcock actually put a light inside the milk, for added emphasis.) But she manages to find the Macguffin, during a dinner party, which happens to be some enriched uranium, as I recall, cleverly disguised in wine bottles. Long story short she gets sicker and sicker until Grant barges into the mansion, walks up that long staircase, picks her up, and walks back down, visually challenging anyone to stop him. Rains begs for them to take him along, but they drive off, leaving him to the mercy the Nazis who stand behind him and now know his indiscretion.

Obviously, it’s a direct homage, done quite on purpose. As Catherine Taber, the actress who plays Padme, says, “Dave actually had me watch Notorious before we started working on ‘Senate Spy.’ He wanted me to see the way the pressure builds—especially when love is involved.” (Read the whole short interview here.) In fact, in this second season all of the Clone Wars storylines will apparently be branching out into new areas. Read this interview with supervising director Dave Filoni for more insight about that, but the basic idea is that the folks at Lucasfilm want to show more than just Anakin waving his lightsaber around, so there will be more stories about politics, more about the clones, more about other Jedi we haven’t seen as much of. Which is all pretty heartening.

The entire enterprise to broaden The Clone Wars’ storylines is quite encouraging, but you have to be wary when taking your source from something as exquisitely done as Notorious. For instance, both productions feature a shot of the heroine holding the key to the Macguffin behind their backs—literally a key for Ingrid Bergman, an electronic memory device for Padme Amidala—but Hitchcock’s shot is an immense indoor crane move down several stories, over a crowded ballroom, ending in a close-up on Bergman’s hand; because of the technical problems, such as maintaining focus, that it surmounted and its sheer beauty, it’s one of the more famous shots in cinema. Clone Wars, by contrast, references it in a simple cutaway close-up, close enough to bring the original to mind but prosaic enough that it necessarily disappoints. While that’s a visual/aesthetic issue, there are also problems with the narrative proper, particularly the final two minutes. As Anakin carries Padme down the steps the Senator easily obtains the antidote by merely flashing a blaster, a development the Separatists should have anticipated: as it is, it seems they capitulate a little too easily. Second, it feels much less organic for Anakin to leave his romantic rival there on the launching pad than it was for Cary Grant to refuse Claude Rains a ride. In that moment Anakin comes across as more mean spirited and downright cruel than necessary, as his response was not as motivated as Grant’s was. It was only much later that I remembered that, oh yeah, he is Darth Vader. It just didn’t come across as a “Premonition of Darth Vader” moment in the script.

That said, there is a great deal to say positively about this production. It’s admirable when show runners are going to take a risk like this, in this case making a low-key personal drama rather than a high-stakes and high-action battle scene like most Star Wars fans expect. Subverting the generic expectations here is more risky and hence more rewarding than in something like Muppet Babies appropriating Indiana Jones. Now, I’m all for lightsaber duels, but it’s encouraging to envision what other detours are in store this season. I don’t know that we’ll see blazing lightsabers on the face of Mount Rushmore, but one can only hope that it might be nearly as good.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Wild Things

Well, as everyone at all interested in children's film knows by now, Spike Jonze's adaptation of Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are is finally--finally--in theaters. It was a long and turbulent process, as has been well documented, but the result looks worth it. I haven't seen the film yet, so I can't really comment on it personally (I haven't even seen Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs yet!), but this is a book that has a lot of resonance for me. I loved it as a child, enough so that in my senior year of high school I proposed it as the theme for our week-long homecoming celebrations and wound up drawing eight-foot pictures of all the creatures to adorn the hallways and editing my first videos of clips of various "wild things" (wildlife films, Muppets, etc.) to the song by the same name by the Troggs. Suffice it to say that I gained new respect for Sendak's artistic abilities, something that has quintupled since I started really getting into book illustrations.

Anyway, the film. It's getting mixed reviews and the main complaint seems to be that it's not exactly for kids, i.e. that it's too scary or morose. I'm glad that--evidently--Jonze and co-writer novelist Dave Eggers did not drag Max and his friends through the psychoanalytical wringer like, for instance, Ron Howard did with the Grinch a few years ago, ruining that film. What we have, according to Jonze, Sendak, and everyone involved is a movie about childhood, one that doesn't soften the blows or tie up all the loose ends, one that can be kind of dark but which is appropriate anyway, because childhood is kind of dark sometimes. As a parent of a young-ish child I'm cautious about whether it would be appropriate for her, therefore, but for anyone over six or seven I think it would most likely be a great experience.

Anyway, lots of reviews and articles are out there about it, but I'll link to a few to avoid making people google it themselves. There's a mix here between praise and condemnation--I guess viewers will just have to figure it out themselves.

Reuters that was right there on Yahoo's homepage

Patricia Cohen at the New York Times on Sendak turning eighty last year

And finally Manohla Dargis at the Times with the actual review

Frank James at NPR reviewing the reviews (with links of his own)

Kenneth Turan at the Los Angeles Times basically giving it a thumbs down

And, placing the best last, David Denby's not-so-positive review at the the New Yorker, which they thankfully put online and which has garnered, I think, the most discussion--at least it has in my own little circle. Plus I like the picture. But besides reading every New Yorker review for the past two years I've been reading old Pauline Kael reviews as well, and I just think The New Yorker is a fun place to briefly talk about film.

Here, by the way, is Sendak, who is fiercely defending Jonze's film.

And here is Jonze, trying to get one of his recalcitrant actors into character. 

Now, speaking of The New Yorker, for New Yorkers I've saved the best little bit until last (even better than Denby's review). There are still a couple weeks left (through November 1) in which to see Sendak's original illustrations on display at the Morgan Library. This is worth going to because it's not just the finished illustrations in the book but earlier drawings and sketches as well, plus drafts of the story. It's an amazing opportunity that everyone here in the city should rush to. (Plus there's some William Blake there to boot!) Check it out on the Morgan's website. Here are two examples.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

More Diary of a Wimpy Kid

If you've been avoiding young adult literature or galavanting off to Cannes to learn more about kids' TV, then you may have missed the release on Monday, October 12, of the latest book in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney. In it Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is back at it, getting bullied at school, slacking around the house, and finding ways to avoid doing his cryptology homework. Oh wait, that's actually Greg Heffley--got some wires crossed. But the kind of anti-drama Kinney goes in for should actually be much more grippingly dramatic than learning that the Washington Monument is--gasp--actually a giant phallic symbol. If you're going to read any new book this fall, you'd do best to start with this one, whatever your age.

I of course was one of those folks not aware the new book, number four in the series and subtitled Dog Days, until yesterday; I certainly didn't know a film version was in the works until this very moment. So with apologies I'd like to now share some reviews and things I've come across, starting with one on the same page of yesterday's Times that I cited yesterday. 

Comic Mix on the film

And then the books' official website

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Digital Kids and Homework

The New York Times science section ran an interesting little article today about the ubiquity of digital media in kids' and teenagers' lives and how that affects things like homework and multitasking. It's a good perspective on a topic all parents and industry peeps are intensely aware of. You can read it here

Monday, October 12, 2009

WordWorld's iPhone App

I'm still trying to catch up on all my emails and blog post topics, but here's a note I received from the good folks at WordWorld clear back on September 24. Enjoy!

"It's time to Build-a-Word! WordWorld is thrilled to announce our first iPhone application, now available in Apple's iTunes store.

"Children will watch spellbound as the letters D-O-G transform into Dog and a lovable WordFriend from the PBS series WordWorld jumps to life. Words magically "morph" into animated WordFriends DOG, DUCK, PIG, ANT, FROG, SHEEP, BUG, COW, CAT and BEE and engage children to spell and read.

"This application is based on the Emmy Award-winning PBS television show. WordWorld has been demonstrated by a Department of Education-funded study to improve early literacy skills including: print awareness, letter knowledge and comprehension."

The app costs $3 and can be found through the iTunes store or through a link on the show's website. Episodes are also available for purchase.  

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Astro Boy Advanced Screening

The New York International Children's Film Festival is sponsoring two advanced screenings of Astro Boy next weekend, with director David Bowers appearing for a Q&A session on both Saturday and Sunday (although the latter is apparently already sold out). For more information check out the NYICFF website, and all filmmakers should be aware that they're already accepting submissions for next year's festival. As for Astro Boy, which is a historic anime property now getting made in CGI, please be aware it's PG and has some fighting, but nothing beyond an Incredibles level. Watch this clip!

Friday, October 9, 2009

More MIP

Here are a couple other thoughts about what went on at MIP Jr. and MIPCOM:

And my personal favorite, because it's so portentous of things to come, some thoughts from Brian Goldner the new CEO of Hasbro's TV station. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

MIP Junior 2009

As I believe I mentioned in previous posts, this past weekend was the MIP Junior marketplace for children’s television in Cannes, France. The larger market MIPCOM, which includes adult programming as well, is ongoing through the end of this week, but I was only there for the two days of child-centric activity and would like to give some thoughts and summaries.

The event takes place entirely at the Carlton Hotel (seen here), one of the premiere luxury hotels along the Mediterranean waterfront. (I stayed at the Ibis, by the way; it’s for a much better price and is only about ten minutes from the Carlton—it’s near the train station—and the room was very nice with free Internet. In case you’re planning on going to the festival in May or anything.) It’s therefore very small, with about 900 participants, and it was great to bump into people and be up close with all the creators of children’s television throughout the globe. I was able to overhear juicy bits like one executive director of a major children’s channel (I won’t say which) say The Hive, a much buzzed about new preschool show about a family of bees, is no good at all, while others were praising other shows I hadn’t yet heard of. Those and all the great meetings I was able to set up myself were the plusses, but the negatives were the fact that I had to throw together my schedule so quickly (given the unexpected early birth of my daughter which allowed me to go) and the market-centered nature of the event. It’s definitely about the buying and selling of programs, so anyone going to network and advertise their own services as I did is one step further removed from the purpose of the conference than at a event like KidScreen here in New York in Februaries. MIP is geared to the buying and selling, which is good if you’re buying or selling, but makes it that much more difficult to maneuver if you’re not. That said, there were amazing people there, great shows on display, and plethora of opportunities to trade writing, animation, and other services. Nowhere else would I be able to meet with people from Dubai, Mumbai, Seoul, Ottowa, Quebec City, Melbourne, Brighton, Regina, Brasilia, Bangalore, Brussels, Shanghai, London, and even the exotic Cleveland. That kind of international connectivity is priceless.

At any rate, there weren’t very many conference sessions, but even so I wasn’t able to attend all of them, particularly those on licensing. But the three or four sessions I did get into offered quite a bit to think about. Allow me to skim through my notes and pull out some points from the various presentations:

• Despite the plethora of kids’ programming that’s out there, there are going to be vacuums for content in certain markets. For instance, ABC in Australia is vastly expanding its preschool hours; Disney still needs material for XD, which has just about finished its global roll out; and where is all the boys’ action programming going to come from now that Disney bought Marvel? (Answer: it will come from new independent producers who want to do superhero cartoons, etc.) Oh, and China. There’s practically more money and potential viewers in China than in all other markets combined.

• All broadcasters agree that television is still more important than Internet or interactivity. Make sure your concepts are good for television and then worry about interactive content later. (Let online extend the viewing experience, rather than vice versa.)

• Cartoon Network (Adina Pitt, actually) suggests creating a “backdoor pilot” like a short film, interstitial, or miniseries, a method which really, incidentally, seems to work for Nickelodeon; perhaps CN as well.

• Do not try to sell anime to Japan. They do not want it. (They have enough.)

• Despite what I said about television as the main medium, its revenue stream is dying so eventually “broadcasters” will have to get out of that mindset. (Okay, that point’s not exactly breaking news.)

• Michel Mol of Netherlands Public Broadcasting gave a really good presentation about online privacy and protection for tweens, including one of the only good definitions I’ve ever heard of what a “tween” is, which he did by relating it to parents and freedom vs. control/protection: Tweens are that age group that is no longer completely protected and sheltered by parents but which is not yet competent enough to be left completely out on their own. At age eight kids are still basically taken everywhere by their parents (at least in big cities like this one), told what to do and with whom, etc., but by age twelve they are riding the bus or their bikes themselves, doing activities their parents don’t know about, etc. (hopefully by this age the parents have taught the kids to do good activities). So tweens, those 9- and 10-year-olds, are those who need marginal guidance to learn how to navigate things (the neighborhood, the Internet) for themselves. “They are no longer completely supervised, but are not yet equipped to on their own.” So the bulk of Michel’s presentation was about how his company is instigating higher tech technology to track and protect kids on the Internet, especially social networking sites, so that they can’t fudge their age, get around the rules, etc. This will be very important for children’s safetly online. (Because, yes, “tweens” are really just older children.)

• Go to Cartoon Network’s site and find the game creators for Star Wars, Batman, and Ben 10. They sound fun.

• Shifting gears to the “Next Big Hit” session, don’t look forward for one major hit like SpongeBob or The Simpsons: instead look for a series of medium-sized hits. Given the democratic nature of modern media that is the way future hits will be manifested. (Which reminds me of music: there will be no more super platinum albums anymore because people are downloading only tracks they want, not whole albums.)

• Look for Zing Zillas on the CBBC soon: it’s the Beeb’s first musical children’s show (3rd & Bird is Little Airplane.)

• Disney Channel UK is looking for an animated show that will fit between Hannah Montana and The Wizards of Waverly Place. Well, at least I understood “animated,” but I bet they’d take live-action and that Disney-Burbank would be interested too.

• Another news flash: Given evolving media we’re going to see a breakdown in the traditional broadcaster/producer/distributor relationship. New hits and new series will come out of any and everywhere and just well may “broadcast” any and everywhere.

I guess that’s about it. Sorry for the dearth on marketing and licensing information, which is half of what was going on there. Thanks to everyone who met with me and introduced me to other people, and (still) anyone interested in a writer for your show shoot me an email!