The Kiwis in Bluey heaven
My name is Sarah, and I’m jealous of an animated dog. Actually, I’m jealous of two of them. Two sisters close in age, they squabble but obviously love each other. They are nearly always playing together and spend an enormous amount of time playing with their mum and dad, who somehow find the energy and patience to join in their often ridiculously detailed, tiring and back-straining games. I’m jealous of Bluey, and I’m not the only one. Animated TV show Bluey first screened in Australia in 2018, after a successful pitch at the Asian Animation Summit. Set in Brisbane, the real-life home of Ludo – the production studio that makes the show – Bluey is about a family of four Blue Heeler dogs: mum Chilli, dad Bandit, younger daughter Bingo and elder daughter Bluey. Australia immediately opened its heart to what felt like an authentic representation of growing up Down Under. In New Zealand, it became an instant hit on TVNZ Ondemand. Season 2 followed, cementing Bluey’s Australasian success and leading to Disney+ picking it up in the United States. The programme also became an international hit, knocking Peppa Pig off top spot and introducing a generation of American kids to phrases such as ‘‘cheese and crackers’’ and ‘‘lobber dobber’’. It also won the Ludo team the 2019 International Emmy Kids Award for Best Preschool Programme and the inclusion on many Best TV of 2020 lists, including Rolling Stone magazine’s Top TV Sitcoms of All Time. The idea for Bluey came about in London from the mind of Australian Joe Brumm, who was working on the animated children’s show, Charlie and Lola. There he met two New Zealand animators: Rich Jeffery and Mark Paterson. When Brumm returned to Australia and found the television options for his own kids’ viewing were lacking, he decided to create the show he had talked about in London. Paterson helped create the main character design for the pilot, which eventually became the Bluey episode, The Weekend. Bandit’s dad dance moves in the opening credits – the lawnmower and the sprinkler? That is Paterson at work. Based in Auckland, Paterson says he enjoys working remotely. He animates about 15 scenes per episode, and each six-minute episode represents about four weeks’ worth of work. ‘‘I am so grateful for technology,’’ Paterson says over Zoom. ‘‘When I began in the industry, I was working on paper. Literally sending boxes of pages, always scared something would happen, and they would disappear.’’ Paterson trained in New Zealand at what is now the Yoobee College of Design in Auckland. Just a few years behind Paterson at Yoobee, was Bluey series director Rich Jeffery. Both credit Footrot Flats as being a significant influence on their animation careers. In Bluey, Mackenzie, a black and white sheepdog, is a tribute to Dog from Footrot Flats, and Jeffery voices Mackenzie’s dad. ‘‘My New Zealand accent isn’t the best any more. It’s a bit embarrassing,’’ Jeffrey says. Mackenzie isn’t the only Kiwi friend of Bluey. The terriers are resolutely Kiwi, and the new season promises more New Zealand content, with some notable high-profile friends of the show lending their voices to new characters. Who exactly? To say security is tight over the new season is an understatement. Everyone involved is sworn to secrecy, but Paterson says keep an eye out for the episode Obstacle Course in particular. ‘‘It’s a really fun, energetic episode that was also challenging to animate – and it shows that Bandit isn’t always the perfect dad.’’ For a show aimed at kids, there’s been a lot of discussion about parenting and Bluey. Lately, some parents have complained Bluey makes them feel like failures because they can’t live up to the show’s standard. Then there are people like me who wish they had grown up like Bluey – with parents like Chilli and Bandit, and a sibling relationship like Bingo and Bluey’s. I played games with my parents, but 40 years ago, it wasn’t the same. There were different expectations of behaviour for children and parents, and there weren’t many children’s television shows that equally captured the attention of both parent and child together. And that’s the critical difference between Bluey and a lot of other kids’ shows. Parents turn it on and want to watch it with their kids. ‘‘It sounds cheesy, but Bluey has heart and soul, and it’s relatable and positive,’’ says Jeffery. ‘‘It’s genuine, and people can tell.’’ ‘‘It’s the sincerity mixed with fart jokes,’’ says Paterson. ‘‘Slapstick and sincerity, fun and real emotions – even the big ones.’’ Talk to any group of parents about Bluey, and the episode Sleepytime usually comes up. Written by show creator Brumm as a tribute to his children growing up and learning to sleep in their big-kid beds, it’s an epic, sweeping episode with barely any dialogue that references Kubrick, Holst’s The Planet Suite, and Watership Down. Likening a mother’s love to the sun’s warmth, it manages to be highly emotive and very funny. The episode Markets from season one, made several Down Under fans of Bluey living the US laugh when they noticed an unusual edit. The beautiful Buttermilk, a pony available for rides at the fair, provides an all-natural, allcompostable punchline during the episode when she poos loudly, immediately after Bluey and her friend praise her for her incredible beauty. Except in the version that aired in the US, the pooing is mysteriously gone, and the joke loses its punchline. Some parts of life Down Under are apparently too real for an American audience. Season 3 of Bluey will be available to stream at TVNZ Ondemand from December 19.