“I think so much of Brisbane is really beautiful, the sky, the colours and the architecture” – Joe Brumm.
I’ve literally caught Bluey creator and Brisbane dad Joe Brumm just before he sets foot on a flight to New York. Click on the podcast player above to listen to the full interview! He’s off to sign the international distribution rights for the ABC KIDS show Bluey, after the runaway success of the program, which launched last October.
In only 6 months Bluey has swept all before it, becoming the most downloaded show ever on the ABC’s on demand service ABC iview, as well as having been the most watched kid’s program across all TV channels.
Bluey tells the adventures of a 6 year old blue heeler and her family – 4 year old Bingo, her dad Bandit and mum Chili. Bluey lives in a Queenslander in suburban Brisbane. With St Brigid’s Church atop Red Hill, and the Mt Coot-tha TV towers in the background – think Paddington and Red Hill.
But before the show debuted last year Joe, who spent 10 years working on children’s shows in London, including the BAFTA award winning Charlie and Lola, wasn’t so sure of success. “Before it went to air I was a little nervous that kids wouldn’t be into it, or parents wouldn’t be into it, or both,” explained Joe.
“Before it went to air I was a little nervous that kids wouldn’t be into it, or parents wouldn’t be into it, or both”
With new Bluey episodes set to hit our screens on Monday, I was keen to find out what Joe thought was the x-factor driving the success of the show. “I hope that it’s because parents and kids are seeing their lives reflected, and that kids see relationships that are familiar to them. The way their parents play with them and the way they play with their friends.”
I mention that this is one of the reasons that Bluey is so popular in our house; that what we are going through in our parenting journey with young kids is accurately represented on screen. Joe replies “What an experience for a kid to watch a TV show that they love, and their parent is on the couch too and not just watching it out of duty, but because they love it too.”
“It must be such a great feeling for a kid to genuinely share that, creating that feeling would be a great goal.”
Some Key Differences
Bluey differs from other children’s programming in a number of ways; the way that creative, imaginative play is put front and centre, the fact that Bandit (Bluey’s dad) is a strong role model for fathers, and the place grown-ups share in the episode’s narratives. The episode ‘Takeaway’ is a great example of the show’s reach in engaging both children and parents.
“That episode involves taking some pretty big risks. Like a few other episodes the leading character in that episode is the dad, and it’s his story. When you do that every one shouts at you saying you can’t have the adult as the leading character in a kids show”.
“We had to trust ourselves that we could and it won’t exclude the kids, and I think it’s worked.”
The show has been widely praised for the portrayal of Bandit; rather than the dopey Homer Simpson style father figure, he’s working hard, juggling the pressures of work and family life. He’s getting stuck into the housework, and forgoing his own interests to spend time with the family. In keeping with the Brisbane theme, Bandit is voiced by Dave McCormack, frontman of the legendary Brisbane band Custard. “Dave really throws himself into the voice records – he doesn’t hold back!”
But is Bandit Joe’s version of the modern dad? Joe responds, “he’s my version of me and my brothers! I wouldn’t say he’s the modern dad but he’s just what I see. When the kids come there’s a lot of work to do, and you start doing it – whether it’s nappies or school runs.”
“When you think kids cartoons is this other world of parenting, I wanted to put in what it’s actually like – it’s a lot of work but it’s really rewarding.”
Brisbane Bluey fans have also been wowed by the way the city has been recreated in cartoon form. The artwork is astounding, and the show features well known locations such as New Farm Park, Southbank, The Powerhouse, and landmarks like the Riverside Expressway and the Sky Needle. Bluey is produced locally by Ludo Studios in their Fortitude Valley office, with Brisbane crew and talent.
“Cartoons work really well when they have a sense of place” Joe quips when I ask him why Brisbane – why not just set it in a generic Australian setting? “Originally I was going for the generic Queensland look, I was born out west and I grew up in North Queensland and then moved to Brisbane, so I was going for that spread. I wanted it to look beautiful, and I think so much of Brisbane and the tropics is beautiful. So we set it in Brisbane, but I didn’t want it to be so idiosyncratic that people would get lost.”
Joe’s favourite Brisbane location to recreate is coming up in one of the new episodes. It’s an episode based around the creek, which is such an iconic Australian location. Check out the teaser video on Facebook. He’s also dropped a few other tidbits of what to expect in the new shows. “There’s an emu called Sean who’s going to turn up, there’s an episode where Bingo is in hospital which is a very personal one for me, and they go camping which is such an Australian part of life.”
New episodes of Bluey will launch on Monday April 1st at 8am on ABC KIDS, and will be available afterwards on ABC iview, and the iview app.