Claudio Biern Boyd, distributor, producer, writer, and creator of numerous iconic animated franchises in Spain and abroad, died on Monday at the age of 81. Biern’s prolific career and unparalleled stretch of successful animated shows in Spain earned him the local moniker of the ‘Spanish Walt Disney’.
Biern was born in Palma de Mallorca on November 21, 1940, and as a young adult studied law at the Bilbao University of Deusto. In 1972, he founded the sales and distribution company BRB Internacional in Madrid to handle the Spanish rights to animated characters like the Pink Panther, Pippi Longstocking, and Vicky the Viking. In fact, the Pink Panther pastries which are still sold in Spanish shops today were a marketing plan formulated at BRB. Biern later founded the production and licensing company Apolo Films, where he remained involved up until his death.
Japanese animated series such as The Adventures of Maya the Honeybee and Mazinger Z were also distributed in Spain by BRB, fostering a unique relationship with that country’s animation industry that paid off when the company began producing shows of its own in the early 1980s. BRB’s first original production, Ruy, the Little Cid (1980), was a hit in Spain, co-produced with Japan’s Nippon Animation. Biern would continue to work with Nippon for years to come.
Biern’s first big global hit was Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds, again co-produced with Nippon Animation. The show remains one of Spain’s most successful tv shows of all time, both at home and abroad, to this day. Dubs and remakes of the series eventually aired in more than 100 countries on 150 networks. The franchise received several specials and series over the years, and was most recently rebooted in the 2021 feature Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds, produced by Apolo Films.
BRB teamed with Nippon Animation on 1983’s Around the World with Willy Fog, an adaptation of Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days which is still fondly remembered by generations of viewers. It too spawned several iterations over the years, and Apolo is currently developing a feature revival of the franchise.
In the U.S., Biern’s most-loved creation was David the Gnome which was renamed The World of David the Gnome by Nickelodeon, who aired the show on Nick Jr. from 1988 to 1995. The U.S. dub was produced by Canada’s Cinar in association with Miramax Films. Several sequels were also produced by Biern and BRB following the success of the original.
Biern always had his young audience in mind when working on a series and was a firm believer that anything produced by one of his companies needed to have a message and provide its audience with the chance to learn something.
“You must entertain while educating,” he told Spanish newspaper El País in 2021. “In Dogtanian there is no blood. We see fights, of course, but no one dies. There is action, but not violence. I’m not a sadist like Disney,” he added, laughing.
“Each of my products defend concepts such as loyalty, persistence, or in David the Gnome, environmentalism,” he explained. “I’ve argued that if the world had listened to the gnomes 35 years ago, we wouldn’t be where we are today with climate change.”
Biern always considered the ending of David the Gnome as one of the greatest mistakes in his career, although only with the benefit of hindsight. In the show’s finale, David is turned into a cherry tree, and according to Biern, “People still blame me. But, who wouldn’t want to live for 400 years, never paying taxes, happily married, no banks, and be returned into the logical cycle of nature?”
He explained that he never imagined the show would find such incredible international success, and that he wouldn’t have so irreversibly altered the series’ protagonist had he known the franchise would continue, forcing him to invent new characters.
Biern also lamented the one-dimensional nature of many of the female characters in his earlier shows. To help remedy that oversight later in his career, he took special care to include important and complex female characters in his productions. In 2010, for example, early in the development phase of the Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds feature reboot he put characters Juliette and Milady in prominent and powerful roles rivaling their male counterparts. Both were drastic departures from the original series.
The Dogtanian feature marked another key shift for Biern, as he began to focus almost entirely on feature animation after decades working in tv. “I prefer to focus on the big screen,” he explained. “Children today are always on Spotify and Tiktok, practically living on their phones… but there is still one cathedral left, the movie theater. It’s the only place where children attend without distractions, where families can enjoy leisure together. It’s an experience like no other.”
Apolo is currently in production on a feature adaptation of its popular Youtube series Bernard Bear (which it co-produced with South Korea’s RG Animation Studios), titled Super Bernard, and in development on feature adaptations of Willy Fog and The Gnomes, as well as a series revival of Dogtanian.
Throughout his half-century career, Biern was honored with dozens of awards, among them the Extraordinary Talent Award from the Spanish Television Academy in 2017; best communicator with children at the El Chupete International Children’s Communication Festival in 2014; the President Macià Work Medal from the Generalitat de Catalunya (the regional government) in 2011; and the European Tribute of Honor award at Cartoon Forum 2007.