Animating award-winning success

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By Debashine Thangevelo

Cartoon Network’s The Amazing World of Gumball has won 17 major international awards since its launch last year. Debashine Thangevelo caught up with Daniel Lennard, the vice-president of original series and development, EMEA, Turner Broadcasting, to find out about the runaway success of a series conceived during his tenure.

CHATTING to me from a chilly London, Daniel Lennard was in unmistakably high spirits about The Amazing World of Gumball’s global reception.

With a staggering 17 awards amassed since it aired in May last year, the vice-president of original series and development, EMEA at Turner Broadcasting, has every reason to be smiling.

An English literature and film and drama graduate, Lennard started at the bottom of the television rung as runner for London Weekend Television. He advanced to writing, directing and producing Nickelodeon, before being appointed development executive at Turner Broadcasting, then director of original series and development, and later to the position he now holds.

On why he gravitated towards kiddie shows, he says: “I think it was certain shows that I saw that appealed to adults and children.

“The best thing about cartoons is that they have every single format in one: beautiful art, great scripts, music and voice-overs. And there have been huge advances made in animation in television and in movies.

“It was my goal to match some of the movies. I wanted a tone that could work for adults as well as kids and for it to have that naughty and quirky feel. So I set up a development studio, hired six artists who I thought had the potential to make the show as they understood design, animation and storytelling.”

Explaining how the story for The Amazing World of Gumball was conceived, he said: “One of the guys, Ben Bocquelet, a young French guy, came up with the amazing visual style. He wanted to have something about rejected animated characters… but that wasn’t in the spirit of Cartoon Network.”

Once Lennard green-lighted the final story idea with Gumball Watterson (voiced by Logan Grove), a light blue cat, as the main protagonist who embarks on a series of misadventures involving Darwin, a goldfish (Gumball’s best friend), Anais (Gumball’s sister), a light pink rabbit who is the smartest in the group, Nicole (Gumball’s mother), Richard (Gumball’s father), Penny Fitzgerald (Gumball’s crush), Leslie (Penny’s cousin), an obnoxious flower, and Banana Joe, a team were assembled to ensure the project reached fruition.

Lennard says Bocquelet (writer and executive producer) and Mic Graves are the chief writers for the series.

“It is really a labour of love for them,” he adds.

Unlike most kiddie shows, they decided to forgo the idea of a trial screen test.

“The show is about the creator. I felt strongly that if it was not perfect, we would make it right. After a few episodes, we tested it in about three different countries – we had some translated. And we had amazing results. We also did one in America. Once that was done. It was easier. I was told when I started the development studio, ‘No one is expecting it to be a number one show’.”

Of course, it ended up surpassing everyone’s expectations.

Sharing his thoughts on why the series has resonated so well with audiences, Lennard says: “I think it is a couple of things. Initially it is the look (2D and 3D CGI). Then it is the combination of the sweetness, partly from the family concept, and Gumball and Darwin supporting each other and the gags. Very often, there are exciting chase sequences, which the boy audiences love. Stripping everything aside, the stories are also very strong.”

In the new season, Lennard says audiences get to discover a lot more about the secondary characters like Hector and Idaho, who is a potato.

The animated series has been given the nod for a third instalment.

• The Amazing World of Gumball airs on Cartoon Network (DStv channel 301) on Wednesday at 5.25pm. There is also a special Christmas episode on December 21 at 6.15pm.

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