Martin and Chris Kratt are back for more wildlife excursions, but this time, they’re even more animated than usual.
Roving nature documentary star Martin Kratt recalls the first time he thought it would be a good idea to develop a fully animated show based on his and his brother Chris’s adventures. ‘We were filming our primetime documentary show for National Geographic in Botswana, and these three lions jumped on the back of an elephant to make him tip over,’ says the exuberant filmmaker. ‘Then the elephant leaned over on the hood of our Jeep.’
Martin, who is 44, and Chris, 41, are no strangers to children’s television. They first rose to national stardom in the mid 1990s with their popular PBS series Kratts’ Creatures, in which they introduced kids to various forms of wildlife. That was followed by Zoboomafoo, a 65-part series aimed at preschoolers, in which the brothers shared the spotlight with a lemur at a fun place known as Animal Junction. In 2003, they launched their National Geographic Channel show Be the Creature, which was a more straight-forward nature show aimed at adults.
The Kratt brothers, who are originally from Warren, New Jersey, now find themselves living in beautiful Ottawa, Canada where they set up their own animation studio a few years ago and are working on their new animated series called Wild Kratts. Co-produced with Toronto’s 9 Story Entertainment (Peep and the Big Wide World, Survive This), the 40 x 22 series features animated versions of the brothers who take kids along on their many adventures to help wild animals in jeopardy.
“Chris and Martin Kratt are brilliant entertainers who have parlayed their enthusiasm for animals and ever-growing popularity with family audiences into a renowned family entertainment brand,” says Vince Commisso, CEO of 9 Story Entertainment.
‘We realized that there was so much going on in the natural world that no matter how long we stayed on the road, we could never film all of it,’ says Martin, during a recent phone interview. ‘After 15 years of wildlife filmmaking, we knew we could do things in animation that weren’t possible in real life. Kids can learn about all kinds of creatures’star-nosed moles, giant squids, aardvarks, cheetahs, aliens of the deep, you name it. It’s a comedy action show and we really want to entertain the whole family. But the beauty of it is that the rules are those of nature and science and the characters are real animals.’
According to the brothers, the show’s animation is inspired by the popular minimalistic style of famous American illustrator Charley Harper (1922-2007). The show’s stylishly drawn backgrounds were also influenced by Genndy Tartakovsky’s much-loved Cartoon Network series, Samurai Jack. Jenn Kluska, a former storyboard artist at DreamWorks, is the show’s animation director.
‘Our goal was to be true to the real natural world, so our animals don’t talk like in other cartoons,’ says Chris. ‘They act like real animals, but they have character just like real ones. For the animation, we use Toon Boom Harmony, which offers a really fun look and makes it easy to animate. We just screened our first episode and were very happy with the quality of the animation.’
In the series, the toon versions of Martin and Chris are aided by a brilliant inventor called Aviva Corcovado (named in honor of the Costa Rican park), who creates all kinds of animal-inspired gizmos and tools. One of her best inventions is the Creature Power suit, with which the brothers are able to channel the powers of various animals to fight villains such as a restaurateur who serves endangered species or a fashion designer who makes lizard earrings and belts.
Of course, the limitless possibilities of animation opened up a new world for the globe-trotting adventurers. ‘Sitting still has always been our biggest challenge,’ jokes Chris. ‘On the plus side, in animation, you can go anywhere and tell dramatic stories that entertain and educate young viewers. When we were shooting our live-action show, we were always at the mercy of the animals and whether they’d show up when we wanted them to be there. With animation, you can do it at any angle and any point of view, and you don’t have to run across the mud under tough conditions to shoot anything!’
Martin also jokes that he loves how buff his animated alter ego looks in the show. ‘Man, every time I see the show I think I’ve got to hit the gym more to look as fit as he does.’ Chris also points out that their toon personas are able to climb higher, move faster and solve problems better than the real-world brothers.
All joking aside, over the past decade, the Kratts have done a lot to raise awareness of the plight of animals all over the world. They also set up the Creature Hero Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering kids to help animals in jeopardy, and were able to raise a million dollars to build a wildlife refuge for grizzly bears. ‘One of the reasons we have always loved doing shows for children is the enthusiasm they naturally have for animals,’ notes Martin. ‘It’s been one of the most gratifying aspects of our lives. Kids and families would come up to us and say, ‘Hey, we love the snow monkey or the ocelot we saw on the show. What can we do to help them?’ That’s why we hope to continue to raise awareness and fund charities like that in the future.’
You can find out more about the Kratts at www.krattbrothers.com and www. ninestory.com.