A pre-school series produced by Ireland’s Paper Panther Productions, “Little Whale” was one of the early-breakouts at this year’s Cartoon Forum. Following their Tuesday pitch, series director Carol Freeman and producer Chris Hees greeted a steady stream of French studios and U.K. buyers, among others, auguring a bright future for the maritime project.
Paper Panther shared this exclusive first-look with Variety.
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Loosely adapted from Freeman’s 2018 short “The Bird & The Whale” – a hand-painted gem that would claim nearly 70 awards throughout its festival run – this series follows the gentle Little Whale and his courageous friend Narwhalia as they travel the ocean blue. Dealing with questions of family and ecology, the program is above all a way for Freeman to share her particular enthusiasm.
“I want to make kids as excited about whales as they are about dinosaurs,” says Freeman. “To spread my obsession to the next generation, because whales are so cool! The biggest creature that ever lived is alive right now — it’s the blue whale and you can even go see it. The T. Rex is old news.”
As screenwriter Kristina Yee (“Goat Girl”) handles scripting duties, Freeman will hone the project’s precise visual approach, drawing lines of continuity with the oily and painted quality of the earlier short while testing out different 2D puppet styles. Along with a unique look, the director would also like to give her project a unique tone.
“We want to showcase [Narwhalia] a strong female character, while showing our male lead as empathetic and gentle,” Freeman explains. “Because you don’t always see that in boy characters. [We want] kids to see themselves on screen.”
Freeman and Yee are also working on “The Lost Queen,” a stop-motion feature aimed at a slightly older age group about a blended family leaving the U.S. to restore an enchanted castle in Ireland. Still a ways off, the feature project has received a development funding from Screen Ireland.
Founded by Freeman in 2014, the Dublin-based Paper Panther has specialized in stop-motion and digital 2D with a homespun style, working on ads and commission while developing its own content. Building on the festival acclaimed accrued by “The Bird & The Whale,” the studio marks an auspicious industry debut at this year’s Cartoon Forum – and offers another testament to Ireland’s dynamic animation scene.
“It’s exploding,” says Freeman. “There are so many opportunities and people are really supportive. With studios like Cartoon Saloon and Brown Bag, we’re standing on the shoulders of giants. They really pushed forward, saying we’re not going to do what’s good for [the Irish market]; we’re going to do what works worldwide. And things really exploded after that, once people saw what’s possible.”
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