The Plush Life

The new Toonzone series YooHoo & Friends marries a popular international toy phenom with an environmentally sound premise and a voice cast led by rap/reality TV star Flavor Flav.

Global network buyers looking for a great new comedy animated series with a strong commercial hook and a positive, environmental message need to look no further than Toonzone Studios’ YooHoo & Friends. The fact that the show is based on a hugely popular plush toy line with strong international brand recognition’YooHoo plush toys have brought in approximately $75 million in sales since 2007′makes it a strong contender to be the next hot children’s toon property.

Konnie Kwak, president of Toonzone Studios, first came across this property at the Licensing Show in Las Vegas. ‘I saw the plush toys and they looked really cute,’ she says. ‘The toys had already inspired a 52-episode animated series for younger kids, which aired in Korea and had received many prestigious awards in that country. But like many Korean properties, it doesn’t translate well overseas. So we plan to repurpose the episodes to broaden the market. We are preparing the show for a six to 12 demographic,’ says Kwak. ‘We are also quite thrilled to have animation veteran David Feiss’who is the creator of Cartoon Network’s Cow and Chicken and has worked on a long list of top animated shows and movies, including Alvin and the Chipmunks, The Ren & Stimpy Show and Open Season‘on board as the series director. His sense of comedy and creativity will bring this series to new heights.’

Toonzone’s series follows quite a zany premise. In this new version of the YooHoo & Friends world, the main characters are originally five corporate executives who think nothing of destroying rainforests and the planet’s other precious resources to make their fortunes. Enter a large magical ogre named Father Time (voiced by none other than Flavor Flav!) who appears out of nowhere and turns them into cute, fluffy animals. ‘Father Time is married to Mother Nature and he is giving her a hand,’ explains Kwak. ‘Since Father Time is little bit rough around the edges, he doesn’t really help Mother Nature often, but when he does, it is out of the ordinary. It may not be how Mother Nature would handle the situation, but he gets the job done!’

According to Kwak, rap sensation and reality TV star Flavor Flav (VH1′s The Surreal Life, Flavor of Love) was on the look out for a cool children’s animated show to which he could lend his distinctive voice. Naturally, he managed to nab the key role of Father Time, who teaches our corporate drones a good lesson and sets the show’s storyline in motion!

‘I think kids are going to really be entertained by Flavor Flav’s contributions,’ says Kwak. ‘He has such a larger-than-life personality and is really perfect as Father Time. As an extra bonus, he also brings a lot of cool, catchy phrases to the show!’

Kwak, who is producing the show with Aurora as co-production partner, believes that YooHoo & Friends is quite unique in the way it addresses environmental issues while being funny and entertaining at the same time. ‘You’ve got these furry creatures who are really corporate executives and this crazy troll who comes out of nowhere and teaches them a lesson. I think girls are going to like the cuteness of the characters, while boys are going to be attracted to the comedy and the adventure elements.’

The series is funded by L.A.-based venture capital group Animation Development Company. Ira Warren, ADC’s founder, also points out that with $75 million in previous plush toy sales, the series has a built-in audience around the world. ‘These days, with so many animated shows being offered to the global networks, you need a proven children’s and parents’ sales appeal to be a sure-fire winner,’ says Warren. ‘YooHoo plush toys have already established a solid fan base around the world, and we know that a funny animated show with all these lovable characters will win the hearts of TV viewers as well. We think we may very well have the next toy-based hit on our hands’just think of the YooHoos as Pok’mon meets The Care Bears with a little twist of Donald Trump’s board room!’

The original YooHoo & Friends property also inspired an online virtual world launched by Aurora World. The website (www.yoohoofriends.com) is free and does not require any codes for entry and is based on plush toys created by the company that resemble real animals in their natural habitats from all over the world. Kids can play games, download wallpapers, calendars and icons, watch previews for the upcoming YooHoo animations, adopt and raise YooHoo & Friends, and learn about each endangered animal.

The animation for the series will be done in-house at Toonzone’s L.A. studio. According to Kwak, the 52 x 11 show will be produced with Toon Boom’s Harmony software. YooHoo & Friends will be distributed by Showcase for Kids, which also handles Toonzone’s other properties Action Dad, Ape Escape (Nicktoons) and Guardians of the Power Mask. Yoohoo & Friends will be available at this year’s MIPTV market in France.

For now, Kwak says she and her team are quite excited about the potential of this interesting new toon show. ‘I think our industry is looking forward to the third and fourth quarter of 2010 when business will pick up for everyone, including all the indies,’ she notes. ‘The purse strings are still very tight and buyers are being cautious and very conservative. I think we’re very fortunate because we have some great, creative projects going forward, which have quite an international appeal. You just have to put the best products out there and hope that broadcasters will realize the appeal of your shows.’

Toonzone at MIPTV 2010

In addition to YooHoo & Friends, Toonzone is bringing the following animated series to the TV market in France:

- Action Dad follows teens Liz and Mick and their unusual family life filled with car chases and ninjoid armies trying to take out their superheroic father. (26 x 22)

- Captain Rock Raygun brings the galaxy’s most bumbling hero to life as he rocks the universe with his dangerous and often backwards plans to save it. (26 x 11)

- Guardians of the Power Masks shows what happens when a Chinese American teen’s summer in China takes a magical turn when she and her martial arts-loving friend discover they are heirs to the Power Masks and charged with fighting evil with their new powers. (26 x 22)