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All Hail the Prince

Come one, come all. Come see the Prince.

See him wear the finest clothes. Behold his golden crown. Bask in the light of his rugged handsomeness. Observe that he never sweats. His teeth are like pearls; no cavities can touch them. When he speaks, even William Shatner can envy … the dramatic pauses … he gives.

Do you wish to be like the Prince? First you must know … what the Prince is like.

The Prince does not cheat–unless he finds it necessary.

The Prince does not lie–until he finds it necessary.

He fills the air with cigarette smoke. He stuffs himself with the greasiest chicken, and extra helpings of mashed potatoes, loaded with butter. Abundant salt on his carrots. Big pieces of creamy pie. And mmmm, tasty donuts. A meal fit for a Prince.

The Prince will sell you a magical flying cape which works–if you use your imagination.

He will adorn his head with the feathers of the rare, exquisite, one-of-a-kind Dodo bird.

He will not allow girls at his royal ball, for he has decreed that girls are not funny.

He is the role model we should aspire to be, is he not?

For he is the Prince, and the Prince is he.

Who, you may ask, is this Prince? What kingdom does he rule?

Ah, but the Prince has no name. He needs no name. He is simply … the Prince. His kingdom … is himself.

Who was worthy of playing the Prince? Let the credits decree the Prince was performed to princely perfection by none other than … Jesse Collins.

This was not the first time Collins had performed with Dudley. Along with Alex Galatis and Charlotte Moore, he had starred in the TV production of The Conserving Kingdom in October 1986.

Two years later he would star in Katts and Dog aka Rin Tin Tin: K-9 Cop, in which he played policeman Hank Katts, the human partner of a German shepherd police dog named Rudy. Collins also directed several episodes of the series, which lasted five years. In 1995, he re-entered the world of Dudley the Dragon, starring as the Prince in the final episodes of Season Three, “The Frog Princess” and “The Royal Crown.” As befitting a prince, he had a marvelous singing voice, perfect for the show’s musical interludes. Collins was hilarious in the role of an anti-role model. So, it was no surprise he returned the following season in “The Prince’s New Clothes” and then in Season Five in “The Royal Cup” and “Cinderella Ha-Ha,” both of which he directed.

Collins has appeared in numerous TV and stage productions, and has recently transitioned to web development with his own company, MOXY Webworks. Their demo reel is here.

Learn more about the man behind the Prince here.

Photo © Breakthrough Entertainment Inc.

Dudley’s Kids

For the first two seasons, brother-and-sister Matt and Sally served as Dudley’s human contacts in the modern world. To the viewers at home, they had at least three functions on the show.

(1. They provided a reality-based anchor in a fantasy world.

(2. Young viewers had young heroes to relate to. Viewers could learn from their mistakes, or be encouraged by their successes.

(3. Matt and Sally served as foils, or “straight men” to a comical dragon. Often they had to help Dudley from his own predicaments.

But as the show progressed, problems would inevitably arise with child actors.

(1. They were growing up. Would they lose viewer identification?

(2. They were professional actors. What if they committed to another project between seasons?

(3. They were, after all, human. What if, in real life, they became sick, or suffered an injury, or worse? Or what if ego problems developed and they became difficult to work with?

Because the show was aimed at kids 3 to 6, the actors were cast for “age appropriateness.” As the original kids grew older, younger actors were introduced as Season Three approached.

Terry (Robin Weekes) made his first appearance in episode 24, “Dudley Meets the Alien,” though he was formally introduced (with a front-end credit as a “special guest star”) in episode 25, “Imagine That!” He was a smart lad who operated a wrist computer, with a knack for inventing things like magnetic claws.

In the beginning, Terry had an antisocial personality, a bold move on the part of the producers. Dudley’s world was upbeat and optimistic. Terry was the opposite. He was a loner, a skeptic and a fault-finder. Grandpa Robin would say, “I’ve been around the world seven times plus two,” and Terry would point out, “That’s nine.” Nevertheless, soft-hearted Dudley befriended him.

Hey, Terry’s no fool. If an 8-foot talking dragon wants to be your friend, let him. And so, Terry joined the gang as a recurring character.

“Imagine That!,” the season-ender, also marked the final appearance of Didi the Woodpecker. A colorful bird, but apparently, her usefulness had come to an end.

Episode 26, “The Living Doll,” was the real start of Season Three, as it introduced two new humans to the cast, a modified costume for Dudley, and a new performer for Dudley, Kirk Dunn (voice-looped by Alex Galatis). This episode would later be reclassified as part of Season Two.

But Sally and Matt were missing. As Mr. Crabby Tree would say, “What th- ?” Until this episode, viewers had come to expect these kids to be mainstays in the series. Viewers had shared in their adventures. Suddenly, they were gone. The show opens with a new kid, Mickey (Daniel Tordjman Goodfellow), playing a game of hide-and-seek with Dudley. They find a doll—a “living” doll by the name of Julia (Natasha Greenblatt). Who created her? Unknown. Why did she exist, and for what purpose? Unknown. Essentially, she’s a female Pinocchio. She wants to be human. With the help of Dudley and Mickey, she’s magically transformed into flesh and blood. She, too, becomes a recurring character.

But with Dudley as a surrogate parent, how would she mature? Can you imagine a child raised by Dudley the Dragon? This could have been the first time that a child had to raise a parent!

Would we see Sally and Matt again? Oh, yes. In the very next episode.

What happened after that was another matter.

Photos © Breakthrough Entertainment Inc.
Special thanks to Peter Williamson.

Dudley on Parade

In 1995, Dudley had another opportunity to be in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. This time, he would appear as a $350,000 balloon: 65-feet tall, 28-feet wide, 45-feet long wearing 20-foot sneakers. And he would lead the parade! Behind him would trail 22 floats, 14 marching bands, 1,000 cheerleaders and marchers, and 17 other large inflated characters. It was all very exciting.

After a two-and-a-half mile trip, arriving at Macy’s in Herald Square, Dudley would float before the cameras of NBC-TV. Fame awaited the character, and for the merchandisers, fortune. Or so it was hoped.

Three weeks before the parade, the regular-sized Dudley was supposed to attract attention outside NBC’s ground-level studio at Rockefeller Center during the morning Today Show. Unfortunately, his scheduled appearance was pre-empted by a funeral. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had been assassinated two days earlier (November 4); so the event was still top media coverage.

Meanwhile, the Dudley balloon was pumped up for a trial run on November 5. Manny Bass, Macy’s head balloon designer, noted, “He fits right into New York, doesn’t he? Looks like he just came out of a steam pipe.” The successful test run was captured on video. This, as it turned out, was a good thing.

The day of the parade, November 23, the balloon was reinflated to its full 65-foot glory. Just as the parade began, the wind blew it into tree and a lamppost on Columbus Circle. It snagged, causing a gash. Out came the helium, and Dudley quickly deflated, as did the hopes of the merchandisers, who had expected the dragon to appear before millions of viewers.

Meridian CEO Robert Stone, flabbergasted by the balloon’s collapse, received a call from his mother: “Congratulations, I saw Dudley in the parade. He looked great. He was floating high. It was a beautiful shot.”

NBC, which had been televising the event, had quickly switched to footage of the balloon from its trial run. Parade hosts Willard Scott and Katie Couric remarked about the balloon as if nothing had happened. NBC, meanwhile, had covered itself with a disclaimer superimposed at the beginning of the program: “Portions Prerecorded.”

The parade’s organizer and producer, Jean McFaddin, told New York Magazine, “There is nothing as disappointing as running a blank space and saying, ‘We’re sorry, the balloon didn’t make it.’ Nobody wants to hear that on Thanksgiving.”

Dudley was not invited back to Macy’s. The following year, McFaddin said, “Poor Dudley. He’s taking the parade off.” The reason, she said, was, “We wanted to find the balloons that the kids love the most.”

First photo: AP Photo by Mark Lenihan. Licensed by Associated Press.

Second and third photos: © Breakthrough Films & Television Inc. Photos by Randy Brooke. Used with permission.

Sources: Peter M. Nichols, New York Times, November 19, 1995, ; Emily Prager, New York Times, November 19, 1995, “He’s the Master of Inflation,” p. 53; Norman Vanamee, New York Magazine, vol. 28, no. 49, December 11, 1995, “Miracle on 34th Street II,” p. 22; Richard Murphy, compiling from wire services, The Wichita Eagle, December 17, 1995, “What You’re Seeing May Not Really Be There,” p. 23A; Associated Press, The Press of Atlantic City, (NJ) November 28, 1996, “For This Dragon, Parade’s a Big Letdown; Once upon a time, a lovable Canadian dragon named Dudley came to the Big City for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade,” p. B2.

There’s Gold in Them Thar Dragons

Dudley the Dragon’s merchandising potential was enticing.  Already, Breakthrough had seen its gross revenue rise from $100,000 in the mid-1980s to $5 million as of May 1994.

By June 1995, Breakthrough had signed 72 licensees—52 American, 20 Canadian—to market Dudley products.

The Canadian licensing agent, Art Kraus of Castle Licensing Inc., estimated that Dudley’s worth would reach CAN$200 million in the U.S. and CAN$40 million in Canada.  By October, Kraus projected CAN$100 million over the next two years.

Venture, a CBC news magazine akin to CBS’s 60 Minutes, devoted a segment to merchandising the dragon.  They showed Breakthrough’s Peter Williamson discussing the fall promotional strategy with U.S. licensing agent Fred Paprin and his associates.  “Remember,” Williamson said, “we talked about targeting critics that had kids, for example, that might be a little bit more interested in the show, rather than sort of hard-boiled, grizzled critics. It’s very important to have a sense of which journalists will be more interested than others. I mean, some people will just not get over the Barney thing.”

Barbara, an associate, replied, “The fact is, we don’t even bring that up in the same breath. And everybody’s been wonderful about the fact that we’re not Barney. The people aren’t talking about Barney and Dudley anymore in the same breath. Dudley stands on his own. Everybody said he was the next Barney, and that wasn’t the way that we wanted Dudley to be known. We wanted Dudley to be, you know, Dudley.”

Paprin wanted his sales rep to sell the show as hard as he could, to tell station managers, “We think Dudley is the next thing since sliced bread. All the previously well known big winners were years in the making, and nothing happens without a lot of effort, a lot of push, a lot of fighting, a lot of discussion between the various partners. It’s all part of the creative process, and if you’re not doing it, it won’t happen. So it’s my job to make sure that everybody’s getting pushed.”

The heavy sales approach must have worked.  By the fall, The Adventures of Dudley the Dragon reached a peak of 245 PBS stations.   14 new episodes were added to the package.  In October, Season Three began showing on YTV, a youth-specialty channel in Canada.

With more stations broadcasting the show, “there’ll be more recognition of the character, there’ll be more public relations on the character, and children will relate towards the character a lot more often,” said Joe Sutton of Happiness Express Inc.

“When you create a demand you develop a wave,” Sutton said, “and these are the things that took place over the years throughout the toy industry. And what we want kids to do is to want Dudley. We don’t want to give it to them, we want them to want it.”

Sources:  Gayle MacDonald, Financial Post, Toronto, Ontario, December 22, 1994, “Watch Out Barney, There’s a New Reptile in Town,” Sec. 1, p. 5; Dana Flavelle, “Dragon Set to Breathe Fire Into Licensing,” Toronto Star, May 11, 1995, Sec. B. p. 1; Howard Green, Venture – CBC Television, Toronto: October 15, 1995, “Dudley the Dragon,” with comments from Peter Williamson, Joe Sutton, Art Kraus, and Barbara [last name not provided].

 

The French Connection

According to the Toronto Star, Dudley the Dragon was the first children’s series to be produced simultaneously in English and French.  This was done for the first two seasons.  The show would first be shot in English, with Asia Veria (playing Sally) and Daniel DeSanto (playing her brother Matt) interacting with Dudley.  They would be watched by the French-language actors, Annick Obonsawin (Sophie) and Anael G. Roy (Max), who would afterwards perform the French version, Les aventures d’Arthur le dragon.  The eighth episode credits list the same puppeteers performing in both languages, with James Rankin as M. Rouge-Gorge (Mr. Robin) and Wende Welch as Mme Rouge-Gorge (Mrs. Robin) and Irène (Katrina) the whale.

In Canada, The Adventures of Dudley the Dragon played on Knowledge Network in British Columbia, Access Alberta in Alberta, SCN in Saskatchewan, MTN in Manitoba, TVOntario, CFCF in Quebec and MITV in the Maritimes. Les aventures d’Arthur le dragon played on TVOntario/La Chaine, Canal Famille in Quebec and MITV.

Obonsawin only appeared in the first season.  Today she’s probably best known for her voiceover work as Inez in Cyberchase and Sophie in Total Drama Island.  She addresses her Total Drama fans here.

Information about Les aventures d’Arthur is sparse; this is all I’ve been able to ascertain.  My remaining questions would be:

Why call Dudley “Arthur” in French?

Who dubbed “Arthur”?

Why were only two seasons done in French?

Why did Obonsawin leave after one season?  Who replaced her?  Was the replacement a new character or just a new version of Sophie?

Did the English guest stars reprise their roles in French?  If so, did they perform speaking French or were their voices dubbed?  Or were they, like the kids, replaced with French-language actors?

What were the differences in characters, or actors, beyond the language?  What were the cultural differences other than the language?

To be continued.

Sources:  Kathy Kastner, Toronto Star, October 2, 1993, “He’s No Dud; Dudley the Dragon is joined by moppets, puppets and people in adventures that help children discover the world around them,” Section C, pg. SW4; Suzanne Gill, The Lethbridge Herald, September 30, 1994, “The Big, Green Success Story,” TV Scene, pp. 1, 3.

Pinto Salute!

Starting today, a 1,600-mile Pinto Stampede celebrates the car with a reputation for exploding when rear-ended.

Here’s a tribute to the Pinto from the movie, Top Secret!

The Pro-Social Dragon

Dudley’s second season began the weekend of October 1-2, 1994 in Canada.

The show had lost most of its environmental sponsors but gained financial support from other sources.  (See previous posts.)  With a change in sponsors came a change in themes.  And so it would be for the remainder of the series.

Season One taught how people should treat the world.  Stories emphasized environmental protection and conservation.

Season Two dealt with how people should treat themselves.  Good health and safety was promoted.  Dudley and the gang tackled the topics of smoking, nutrition, fire safety, bigotry, and family life.

Season Three explored how people should treat each other.  Stories involved dealing non-violently with bullies, the importance of keeping promises and the dangers of second-hand smoke.

Season Four focused on morality and self-esteem.  Dudley and his friends tackled issues of jealousy, greed, self-confidence, and being anything you want to be.

Season Five entered philosophical territory by addressing free will, the nature of war, cheating, responsibility, peer pressure, sibling rivalry and the meaning of friendship.

“It’s got a lot of social value, but,” Peter Williamson pointed out, “it’s really fun.  We didn’t want it to be dour.  We really wanted to create contemporary fairy stories for children and their parents.”

“It had to be fun and campy,” Alex Galatis stressed.  “We’ve created a surreal world that’s one-third cave, one-third forest, one-third la-la land.”

Sources:  Scott Moore, Washington Post, April 2, 1995, The Adventures Of Dudley The Dragon,   TV Week, p. Y56; Brad Oswald.  Winnipeg Free Press, September 1, 1995, MIXED MEDIA—”TV’s Dudley the Dragon Set for BIG Time; Big-Screen Theatres Eyes for Two Local Sites,” p. C4; Suzanne Gill, Brandon Sun, September 30, 1994, Cover Story, TV Book pp. 1-2; John McKay, The Vancouver Sun, June 29, 1996, Dudley Does Right in U.S. Market,” p. C12; Kathy Kastner, Toronto Star, October 2, 1993, “He’s No Dud; Dudley the Dragon is joined by moppets, puppets and people in adventures that help children discover the world around them,” Section C, pg. SW4.

 

Dudley vs. Barney

The press inevitably compared Dudley the Dragon to another preschool property, Barney the Dinosaur.  The purple T-Rex had created a huge sensation in the United States.  Toddlers loved him, though his cloying attitude created a huge backlash amongst parents.  Nevertheless, Barney & Friends generated more than $500 million in toys and apparel in its first three years, selling 23 million video cassettes and two million records, according to the Financial Post.  In 1994 alone, Barney earned $1 billion for its owners, the Lyons Group, according to the Toronto Star.

Then Dudley came on the scene.  Headlines proclaimed, “Look Out, Barney, Here Comes Dudley the Dragon” and “Watch Out Barney, There’s a New Reptile in Town,” and “Barney’s New Rival? – WEDU Discovers Dudley the Dragon, A Challenger to the Purple Dinosaur.”  It was an easy attention-grabber for the readers.

“From our point of view,” said Breakthrough executive producer Ira Levy, “Barney’s been a great thing because it’s opened up the whole area of children’s programming.  It has allowed for much more of the type of programming that Dudley is: non-violent and educational but entertaining programming.”

Peter Williamson pointed out a major difference in the properties.  “Barney is aimed at children about 1 to 4,” he told The Press-Enterprise. “Dudley kicks in with kids about 3 to 7. And because we are basically a narrative drama we tend to see things from the kids’ viewpoint.”  To the Financial Post he added, “Dudley’s a natural evolution for young children who have outgrown the ‘I love you, you love me’ scene.”

“We use the term ‘parent-friendly’,” Levy said.  “When you sit down and watch a program with your kid, they can get a lot more out of it.  Therefore you have to make the program so that a parent can watch it, which is why we get a lot of guest stars and get very good actors involved with the series.

“To be honest, kids really don’t know a lot of these different people, but that’s okay.  They accept them for what they are, the characters that they play.  And that’s rather charming.  For adults, it’s fun to watch Graham Greene play a tree.”

Dudley did take playful pokes at his reptilian counterpart.  In two episodes, Season One’s “Dudley and the Dodo” and Season Three’s “Dudley’s Amazing Journey,” the dragon finds a purple bone and remarks whether he might be related–while we hear a few notes from Barney’s theme.  Also, Dudley regularly ate Dragon Crunchies cereal.  On the box is a dragon—colored purple.

Sources:  Greg Rothwell, Winnipeg Free Press, October 6, 1993, “Look Out, Barney, Here Comes Dudley the Dragon,” p. D8; Walt Belcher, The Tampa Tribune, June 6, 1994, “Barney’s New Rival? – WEDU discovers Dudley the Dragon, A Challenger to the Purple Dinosaur,” p. E18; Suzanne Gill, Brandon Sun, September 30, 1994, Cover Story, TV Book pp. 1-2; Gayle MacDonald, Financial Post, Toronto, Ontario, December 22, 1994, “Watch Out Barney, There’s a New Reptile in Town,” Sec. 1, p. 5; Bob Sokolsky, The Press-Enterprise, Riverside, CA, June 26, 1995, “Dragon’s Show is Taken Off Endangered List,” p. B5; Dana Flavelle, “Dragon Set to Breathe Fire Into Licensing,” Toronto Star, May 11, 1995, Sec. B. p. 1.

Sir Richard Taylor’s Latest Honor

It’s with extreme pleasure to report Richard Taylor’s Honorary Doctorate for Fine Arts presented to him by Massey University of New Zealand.

See it for yourself:

Then see local NZ news coverage here.

Richard is a wonderful man.

I wish him hearty congratulations and best wishes for continued success.

 

What Children Think Makes a Great Cartoon

In 2001 the British Film Institute surveyed kids on their favorite cartoons and cartoon characters.  Here are the results.

Five essential ingredients for successful animated characters:

  1. They should make children laugh or feel happy – with their different looks, funny voices, use of imitable catchphrases;
  2. They should expand children’s imaginations by blurring fantasy and reality – by doing things real people cannot do or acting irreverently;
  3. They should remain in character and behave logically, however fantastic their situation or location;
  4. They should have a problem to solve, go through a journey or adventure – but their stories need not always end in the same predictable, entirely successful outcome;
  5. They should have natural movements and their mouths should form words properly – children have high expectations!

The type or style of animation – whether characters are drawings, puppets or models – is not so important; neither is the country of origin.

Further details here.