Although it aired in the UK on Nick Jr., Netflix has sewed up the Puffin Rock premiere for America, Canada, Latin America, France and Germany. Taking place on an ethereal island off the coast of Cartoon Saloon’s native Ireland, its puffling protagonists explore the nation’s wondrous natural environs in animated form through 13 episodes aimed at 2-5 year olds, with standard age-appropriate messaging about learning, friendship, and family relationships.
Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan and Jane
Netflix’s other series all debut in 2016, including this interesting twist on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ legendarily loin-clothed hero. Executive produced by Avi Arad, who brought Marvel’s heroic roster alive for a series of uneven straight-to-DVD animated features before Disney arrived with bags of cash, Tarzan and Jane transports the class-crossed teenage lovers back across the pond to London for eight episodes, where they clumsily but assuredly solve crimes of many kinds, most notably “environmental injustice,” according to Netflix’s press release. The plot thickens.
Kulipari: An Army of Frogs
Speaking of environmental injustice, this 13-episode animated adaptation of pro footballer Trevor Pryce’s book trilogy is anchored by a perpetual war of existential primacy between the poisonous scorpions, spiders, and the frogs that used to scare the living daylights out of its 6′-5″, 290lb. author. Pryce’s first book in the trilogy was titled Army of Frogs. so you can likely bet that if its animated iteration, premiering worldwide exclusively on Netflix, plays its heart out, The Rainbow Serpent probably won’t be far behind.
Cirque du Soleil Luna Petunia
Arriving in fall 2016 from Cirque du Soleil and Saban Brands, home of Digimon and the Power Rangers, Luna Petunia differs from Puffin Rock in that it already has a franchise plan in place for everything from toys to a live tour. It too relies on a sense of wonder to transmit to the preschool set, alternately taking place in our own world as well as a “dreamland where [Luna] learns how to make the impossible possible.” Season one debuts worldwide with 11 episodes exclusively on Netflix, which along with Kulipari gives the streaming giant two properties of its own to gamble with as it goes up against more established studios with longer histories.
Netflix also announced exclusive American first-runs for three series. They include the awesomely named The Day My Butt Went Psycho, from Canada’s Nelvana Studios, which began streaming this month. Norway’s preschool series Elias is also now exclusive streaming on Netflix in the U.S. as well as Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand. And then there is Russia’s intriguing Masha and the Bear — about a sweet but mischievous girl who causes a retired circus bear, and plenty of other forest animals, lots of trouble — which arrives in August.
It’s a somewhat interesting mix, one that perhaps may help Netflix climb the animated television ranks currently overlorded by names we all know well — especially if their franchises become hits. Whether or not they do, Netflix is making a serious bid as both a producer and distributor of cartoon fare. The company is expected to spend $450 million on original programming in 2015, up from $243 million last year.