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Inside Netflix: The revolution will be animated

In the third of a series of reports from Netflix studios, ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK reveals a coming explosion in animated content

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In a small corner office in a sprawling studio lot in Hollywood, a woman is working on a treadmill. That’s not a figure of speech for being worked to the bone. That’s legendary children’s screenwriter and producer Chris Nee, and her workspace is, literally, a treadmill. It is set up under a standing desk, where she works on her latest animation projects for Netflix. 

Chris Nee

The significance of her office goes beyond the way she works; the very fact that this Emmy Award-winning personality has been lured to Netflix is a clue to the streaming service’s determination to make the same impact on the world of kids’ entertainment as it has for adults. Nee created the Disney series Doc McStuffins, which won numerous awards for children’s programming. It also earned wide acclaim for its portrayal of the African-American lead character, and for being the first Disney Junior preschool series to include a same-sex couple. She had previously also won an Emmy for her writing on a children’s show.

At the end of last year, Nee signed a deal with Netflix to write and produce new animated and live action series for preschool and all audiences.

“The excitement one feels in this place reminds me of working at Nickelodeon in the 1990s,” she tells half-a-dozen journalists crammed into her office. Back then, Nickelodeon had changed the direction of televised animation with its diversity and willingness to deal with real issues facing children.

The brief visit is part of a two-day event at the Netflix studios in Hollywood, California, where a small media group from around the world is given a deep dive into the streaming service’s animation plans, productions and possibilities.

The most revealing session is a tour of the animation studios, where legendary names in the industry, like Nee, are at work on a wave of animated productions, or just tinkering with new ideas. One of them is Mat Layzell, a veteran of Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, who shows off work in progress from his new series, Battle Kitty. Netflix revealed during the tour that it had given the go ahead for the series.

“Kitty is an aspirational underdog with a big spirit of determination,” he tells the visitors. “I want kids who feel small to realise instead that they can stand strong, have friends, and go on to do amazing things.”

Click here to read how Netflix is embracing a new era in animation.

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