Thursday, December 06, 2012

Nickelodeon Talks About Their Brand New Adaptation Of "Peter Rabbit"; To Fully Premiere On Nickelodeon USA In March 2013; To Be Supported With Merchandise; "Peter Rabbit's Christmas Tale" To Air In The UK Christmas Eve On BBC1

From The New York Times:
Bet Your Camomile Tea, Peter, You're a TV Star Now

Nickelodeon approached “Peter Rabbit” with the hopes that the series would have built-in appeal to parents who grew up with the blue-coated anthropomorphic bunny.

[Above image courtesy] Nickelodeon;
Lily Bobtail, Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny in the holiday special “Peter Rabbit’s Christmas Tale,” appearing Dec. 14 on Nickelodeon. A series begins in March.

In Beatrix Potter’s first version of “The Tale of Peter Rabbit,” a menacing Mrs. McGregor leans over a kitchen table and presented a steaming-hot pie to Mr. McGregor, who holds a knife and fork at the ready. The pie, of course, is stuffed with the remains of Peter’s father.

An original illustration of Peter Rabbit from 1902.

Potter’s publisher, Frederick Warne & Company, said the image was too horrific for young children. She protested, and the publisher decided to keep the story line but remove the illustration from the 1902 edition.

You might think young viewers today would be much harder to shock. But Nickelodeon, which is remaking Potter’s books as a “Peter Rabbit” animated series, concluded that the death by pie was still too horrific for children even 110 years later. But executives did want the story to be set up around a single mother, which appealed to test audiences.

“Here’s a single mom raising four bunnies,” said Teri Weiss, executive vice president of production and development for Nickelodeon preschool. “That’s an important element we thought kids could connect with.”

Nickelodeon embarked on “Peter Rabbit” with the hopes that the series, regular episodes of which are to go on the air in March, would have built-in appeal to parents who grew up with the blue-coated anthropomorphic bunny. The network, which has seen its ratings decline recently, took a similar approach with older viewers in September when it introduced an updated “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”

But redoing “Peter Rabbit,” one of the most popular and beloved children’s properties, comes with potential pitfalls. Change too much, and audiences who loved the original will cringe. Don’t change enough, and it could come off looking like a stale imitation of the idyllic original.

“You can’t fundamentally mess with something that has been around for that long,” Cyma Zarghami, president of Viacom’s Nickelodeon Group, said. “It was about freshening up his look.”

The new “Peter Rabbit” features computer-animated imagery in soft pastel hues. Peter and his friends get into the same type of outdoorsy adventures as they used to, set against the backdrop of the sweeping landscapes of the Lake District in England, which Potter devoted her later life to preserving. Animators visited the district and took more than 3,000 photos before embarking on recreating the scenery.

[Above image courtesy:] Nickelodeon; The newer [Peter] rabbit.

A team of animators worked exclusively on the fur of the bunnies, foxes and badgers. They made sure it blew in the wind realistically as the characters slid down a frozen lake or looked sufficiently damp after a snowball fight. “Capturing that warmth in CGI is really important,” Ms. Weiss said. “You want to feel like you’re holding a furry bunny in your hands.”

But showing Peter’s father’s death didn’t seem so warm and fuzzy. “That would scare a 4-year-old witless, and it wouldn’t get past standards and practices these days,” said Waheed Alli, the British media mogul whose Silvergate Media bought the rights to “The World of Beatrix Potter,” which includes Potter’s library of animals, and is a co-producer of the Nickelodeon version.

The series instead portrays a fatherless Peter and a cruel Mr. McGregor but doesn’t go into gory detail. In “Peter Rabbit’s Christmas Tale,” a holiday special having its premiere Dec. 14 on Nickelodeon, Peter’s mother passes down his father’s journal, filled with chronicles of adventures, and several empty pages for Peter to fill in.

Peter and his risk-averse buddy Benjamin get into outdoor mischief similar to what was in the books. The only rule the Potter estate insisted on was that Peter wear his royal-blue coat, a hand-me-down from his father, in the television series. Nickelodeon added a character, Lily Bobtail.

Lily, a city rabbit whose doctor father recently moved the family to the rural Lake District, has a pet ladybug and a “just-in-time” pouch that stores an array of helpful items that get the bunnies out of problematic situations. “We wanted a strong female lead and that was Lily,” Lord Alli said.

In the British edition, which will be broadcast on Christmas Eve [Monday 24th December 2012] on BBC1, the bunnies will have English accents. (Mr. McGregor is English in both versions.) Lord Alli said the timing was fortuitous given the recent news that the duchess of Cambridge, the wife of Prince William, is pregnant. “Princess Diana was a huge fan, and William grew up with Peter Rabbit,” he said. “We’re really keen to have a royal baby with Peter Rabbit.”

Potter initially wrote and illustrated stories about a troublemaking rabbit named Peter in the 1890s to entertain the ailing 5-year-old son of her former governess. After several publishers rejected the book, she published “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” herself in 1901. Frederick Warne & Company put out a commercial edition a year later. “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” became one of the best-selling books of all time and, along with the next five titles in the series, sold more than 150 million copies in 36 languages.

Shortly after the first 28,000 copies of “The Tales of Peter Rabbit” hit bookshelves in Britain in 1902, knockoffs began to appear in the United States. With no United States copyright, unlicensed issues of “Peter Rabbit” started to emerge, and Potter and her publisher could not stop them.

“Nickelodeon’s series is just one of a long run of spinoffs going back to the original first edition,” said John Bidwell, the curator of an exhibition on Potter’s illustrated letters currently on display at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York.

And like the Nickelodeon series, in most of those spinoffs publishers and animators took out Potter’s scarier story lines. “I think it’s a just criticism of the modern Beatrix Potters is that they lack the sardonic humor that makes Beatrix Potter so much fun for kids and grown-ups,” Mr. Bidwell said.

Of course the Nickelodeon version is not a knockoff. Penguin Group, which now owns the “Peter Rabbit” publisher Frederick Warne & Company, is much more vehement about copyright. Warne retains underlying ownership and has global rights to all publishing based on the classic books and the new series. Lord Alli’s Silvergate owns merchandising, licensing and animation rights to “The World of Beatrix Potter.” Viacom partnered with both companies to bring “Peter Rabbit” to Nickelodeon.

In addition to the “Peter Rabbit” television series, a line of plush bunny toys, books and related accessories will arrive in stores soon. Nickelodeon already sells products to go with its aging “SpongeBob SquarePants” and “Dora the Explorer” series. The company said “Peter Rabbit” clothing and stuffed animals could help it make inroads with babies and their parents, a group that a competitor, Disney, already appeals to.

That may initially sound like a big United States media conglomerate turning an artistic classic into a commercial cash cow, but it’s not far from what Potter herself did after she realized she had a hit. She had Peter-inspired dolls, wallpaper, tea sets and porcelain dishes, which she called her “side shows,” Mr. Bidwell said.

Lord Alli added, “She was the first person to do licensing and merchandising.”