If there had been one studio that had mastered the art of pure family entertainment, it’s the UK’s Aardman Studios.
Since the release of their first theatrical short subjects starring Wallace & Gromit, they have managed to come up with one masterwork after another, including feature films such as Chicken Run, Flushed Away and the entire W&G series. They’ve also come up with their share of edgy TV shows, including Rex The Runt, Angry Kid and, most recently, Shaun The Sheep.
Now as many Aardman fans know, and they are not only legion but international, there’s an interesting thing about Shaun. He actually started off as a supporting character in a Wallace & Gromit short, A Close Shave (1995). Over time Shaun wound up with his own TV series, which also featured a rather bratty little lamb that soon started sporting his own name, Timmy.
As it happens, Timmy is now starring in his own series, Timmy Time. It just made its American debut on Disney’s Playhouse this Thursday, September 16. It will air every weekday Monday through Friday at 5:30 and 7:00 a.m. If the time seems to be a bit early for most of us older kids, that’s because it isn’t for us. Unlike all past Aardman shows, Timmy Time is specifically designed for pre-schoolers, who have a nasty habit of getting up that early anyway.
“Absolutely!” series executive producer Miles Bullough concurs on the phone from Aardman’s home office in Bristol, UK. “Timmy is an out-and-out, straight-up aimed at pre-school show. There’s no attempt to engage adults. I mean we hope parents who watch while their toddlers are entertained. We even try to throw in a few jokes we hope only they would get. Really though, Timmy Time is a pre-school show.”
Bullough should be considered an Aardman veteran, having been with the company since it first started garnering Oscars with Creature Comforts. He moved over to TV midway through this current millennium on such shows as Shaun, Chop Socky Chooks and Creature Comforts America. He also worked on the latest Wallace & Gromit short, A Matter of Loaf and Death.
As such, one could say he understands why Timmy is going to be the next big hit amongst the kneebiters.
“It’s a spin-off of a spin-off,” Bullough admits. “We think it’s a world’s first. It just kind of shows the enduring strength and warmth of Wallace & Gromit’s creator, Nick Park’s, characters. You can have a third generation character, and people are finding him incredibly cute.”
Cute really is the operative word here. Like Shaun there isn’t a word of English spoken throughout the entire series. All the characters speak like animals, communicating to each other with their share of bleets, mews, barks, hoots and growls. Instead, the series relies heavily on one of Aardman’s main calling cards, incredible personality animation. The ‘acting’ conveyed through their plasticine-coated puppets is extremely expressive. When you put it all together it communicates right at the level of Timmy’s targeted audience.
Yet that isn’t all. The series is designed to hit on an experience all pre-schoolers can relate to, and that is going out of the house for the first time to attend pre-K.
“In Shawn The Sheep, Timmy is the only lamb in the flock,” explains Bullough. “He had everything his own way. He was spoiled by the rest of the farm animals. Now we’ve sent him to nursery school, and he has to learn how to socialize with other kid animals. So Timmy Time is really about the first social experience that comes when we go to nursery. We just use kittens, owls, badgers and foxes.”
And the takeaway is these easily understandable mini-adventures of what one could call the Ram-bunctious young sheep is already an international hit.
“Not just in Britain either,” Bullough crows. “It’s out in Australia, France, Germany, and Canada. Being all the dialogue is mews, baahs and such, it translates very well. The only thing we had to translate is the theme song, which we didn’t have to do for any English speaking country. In fact, the only languages we’ve translated the song into are French and German so far.”
From the looks of things, it will be another hit over in the U.S., too.