Canadian Animation News: Rainmaker no more and the “new” Nelvana


2016 has been a big year for Rainmaker. The Vancouver-based animation studio launched the direct-to-video revival Open Season: Scared Silly and the theatrical adaptation of Ratchet & Clank this spring, continued work on the Bob The Builder and Barbie franchises, and continues prep for the upcoming ReBoot: The Guardian Code TV series. 2017 is set up to be a landmark year; not only as more of those projects come to fruition, but because Rainmaker itself will undergo a transformation. That transformation sees the addition of two new partners, an executive reshuffling and a new name: WOW! Unlimited Media.

What’s prompting this change? Well, yesterday Rainmaker announced their acquisition of Frederator, the New York company behind The Fairly Odd Parents, Adventure Time, Cartoon Hangover, and so much more. If that wasn’t enough, Rainmaker also purchased Ezrin Hirsh Entertainment, a Canadian company managed by media veterans Bob Ezrin, Michael Hirsh, Neil Chakravarti, and Christian Davin. Hirsh, who co-founded Canadian animation giants Nelvana and Cookie Jar, will act as WOW’s CEO and Chairman. Fred Seibert, the founder of Frederator, will be the new company’s Chief Creative Officer. Bob Ezrin takes on the mantle of Vice Chairman, while Neil Chakravarti will enter as President and COO of WOW. Staying on from Rainmaker, Bryant Pike will act as CFO of WOW!, while Michael Hefferon will become Executive Vice President and continue as President of Rainmaker Studio. The total cost of these acquisitions is $22.2 million, with $17 million of that devoted to Frederator, while the rest goes for Ezrin Hirsh.

It sounds like the buying spree might not be over either, as the press release states that after the new company is settled, WOW! will pursue “complementary acquisitions to its existing assets as well as organically developing marquee franchises.”

I’d rethink the name.

Speaking of names, I wonder what this means for the Mainframe brand. Rainmaker revived it for their own television business and presumably planned on stamping The Guardian Code with it. Back to the drawer with you?

Rainmaker isn’t the only one with a new look, as Nelvana unveiled its new programming slate and updated branding at last week’s MIPCOM conference in Cannes. The Toronto animation studio highlighted Mysticons, Hotel Transylvania: The Series, the Sesame Workshop co-pro Esme and Roy, and Bravest Warriors. Wait, what? Frederator, Pendleton Ward and Cartoon Hangover’s Bravest Warriors? Apparently so! There’s been no word on if Nelvana is simply distributing the web series or if they’re actually developing it for TV.

Alongside the new shows comes a new logo design, which Scott Dyer, the company’s president, says in an interview with Kidscreen, reflects not only the rebrand their parent company saw earlier this year, but also the animation studio’s new approach. That new approach will see Nelvana shift away from merchandise driven programming in an effort to “become a haven for creators.” Nelvana wants to better engage audiences and boost ratings. Dyer adds, “we really think story and character should come first, and merchandise second. We haven’t seen a big push in legislation globally, but we can expect that the discomfort with what are essentially 30-minute commercials to continue. Our focus is on making great shows.” The hope is that Nelvana will produce more evergreen properties like Franklin and Babar, presumably instead of fads like Bakugan and Beyblade. While the company builds out its creator portfolio, Nelvana plans on working with more third party brands.

Overall, Nelvana is expected to increase its production output to 150-175 half-hours each year, in addition to working on more co-productions and an increased mix of 2D and 3D shows.

It's nice to see they're being modest.

It’s nice to see they’re being modest.

A creator focused look is exactly what Nelvana, a studio that I felt had been stuck in a rut largely making derivative, offensively inoffensive shows, needs. However, it’s hard to look at their current lineup and think it isn’t failing Dyer’s intentions. Outside of Bravest Warriors, which Nelvana didn’t create, none of their shows seem particularly creator-driven. In fact, series like Mysticons and the recently premiered Polly and the Zhu Zhu Pets, were produced in conjunction with a toy company. That’s why it’s important to remember that animation takes time to make. While Dyer is no stranger to Nelvana, having first joined the company in 1997, he found himself doing other things at Corus until returning to the animation studio last fall. Who knows when his first slate of shows will start to crop up.

The new Nelvana does put doubt over some of the company’s previously known productions, and unfortunately that seems largely concentrated on most of their action shows. Where do things like Battle of the Planets: Phoenix Ninjas, Mech Mice and Chub City fit in this new direction? Much like Mysticons and Polly and the Zhu Zhu Pets, all three have toy deals in their DNA. None of the three have officially been mentioned at all since their initial announcements. While it’s not uncommon for animated series in development to vanish for years a before resurfacing right before broadcast, some of these are overdue for an update. Chub City, as unfortunately named as it was, seems dead. Initial planning dates back all the way to 2009 when Denstu Entertainment bought the collectible car brand. Things really heated up in 2013 when Nelvana and Fuel were brought on to help produce the 52-episode series for $15 million. The show was intended to bow last year, but never did, and Dentsu has since removed it from their website. Maybe not a huge loss? Battle of the Planets and Mech Mice were both only announced last year (I got the jump on Corus there …), but with their projected 2017 releases ever drawing nearer and absolute silence, who knows if they’ll actually surface.

Possibly in relation to all of this, Sunrights sold the broadcast rights to the entire Beyblade franchise to Disney in the US. That implies Nelvana no longer has the license to distribute the older entries. It’s an interesting twist in this saga, as Nelvana acted as a co-producer on all of the Metal Fusion-era shows.


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