CinemaCon 2012: 'Teletubbies' Pioneer Tries to Revolutionize Children's Entertainment
Kenn Viselman speaks to THR about his plans to change the theater experience, family interaction and marketing all at once.
It would seem an unlikely brew, a combination of the Teletubbies, Tyler Perry's Madea movies and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but if all goes according to plan, it could mean big changes for family programming.
Kenn Viselman, the man who brought the aforementioned multi-colored British plushies and Thomas the Tank Engine to American television, is betting that his new movie series will force all producers to change the way they make and exhibit family entertainment. Titled The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure, the movie will feature big, costumed characters not dissimilar to the Teletubbies in an interactive theater experience for parents and children.
Ironically, the movie initally came about after Anne Wood, the Teletubbies' creator, refused offers to turn the series into a motion picture.
"For years, I thought about how can I win an argument with her to say, see this is why we should make a movie," Viselman told The Hollywood Reporter. "And that turned into to me kind of deconstructing the entire movie-going experience. Why would a child not be happy in a movie theater? Eventually, what it really breaks down to in really simple terms is that young kids are asked to be adults when they go into the movie theater. They're asked to go there and be quiet, don't talk, eat your popcorn and drink your soda and just be quiet. That's not the way children interact."
As he was meditating on that question, Viselman found himself in a theater showing Tyler Perry's Madea Goes to Jail, marveling at the way the audience shouted out advice to the characters and generally made the screening a community event instead of a solitary two hours. Mix that with a friend's account of The Rocky Horror Picture Show screening, with all its pagentry and participation, and the idea was born.
"I just got that what we need to do is allow children to be children, allow them to behave the way they would behave. And so if we created a film that allowed for that, that actually embraced it and encouraged it, we would have an incredibly different experience -- not only would it be a different experience on the screen, but it would be a much more successful experience on the shelf," he explains. "Because you can bond with these characters in a way that you can't bond in another film, because now they're your friends, now they're asking for your help. We break the fourth wall down -- we use auditory and visual cues to tell kids when to stand up and sit down. Literally, they are the catalyst for the adventure. And it changes the whole experience."
The characters are creatively named, and have some big voices behind them: Christopher Lloyd voices Lero Sombrero, Cary Elwes voices Bobby Wobbly, Cloris Leachman is behind Dotty Rounder, Chazz Palminteri is Marvin Milkshake and Toni Braxton is Rosalie Rosebud.
With concert prices skyrocketing -- he heard reports of Miley Cyrus tickets going for $1200, he felt that an event such as a movie screening could be a viable, affordable option for families. It would also provide entertainment that was less scandalous than what even teen stars provide these days.
"Everything I do comes from what life was like in the 1950s," he says. "The idea for me is the safety that you felt in the 1950s, where you didn't lock your door, small town America, everybody knew each other, people said thank you and held doors for each other, it was just a very sweet, polite, loving time where there wasn't a lot of fear. It's never really about being overly technological, just about being more compassionate and more loving and more understanding of your child."
The Oogieloves will be featured in a series of plush, bendable action figures, which Viselman, a longtime toy guru, considers a big step over traditional plastic figures.
The entire package will be on display at CinemaCon 2012, which starts Monday in Las Vegas. And ever the marketer, Viselman will be holding a drawing for a brand new car -- open to anyone who comes to see his display.