Teaching kids the value of helping others and introducing them to organizations that work to make everyone’s lives better is the focus of the live-action/animation hybrid “Mack & Moxy,” a new series geared for 3- to 7-year-olds and set to premiere on PBS stations nationwide on Friday. And the team behind the show, Brahm Wenger and Alan Green, don’t stop there. They allow the organizations featured in each episode free use of the intellectual property in their ongoing campaigns.
“We give free use of all of our intellectual property to all of our non-profit partners forever,” says Wenger, a composer known for his work in the “Air Bud” franchise of family films. For example, one episode this season features the National Park Service, which is celebrating its centennial this year. “National Parks asked us to brand a new theme song and a new mascot for them, and we did it in our show,” he says. Ranger Rosie will make her debut in the “Ready, Set, Hike!” episode.
They also crafted a catchy samba reminding kids to “Get Low and Go,” an important message that the American Red Cross wants to get across to children in an episode on emergency preparedeness. “Working with the ‘Mack & Moxy’ team to get out our message on home fire safety and how to get out of the house safely, we know will save lives,” says Barbara Larkin, senior director of strategic corporate and foundation relationships for the American Red Cross. “If kids are caught in a situation where if they need to evacuate, they can sing that song and it will tell them what to do to get out of the house. It’s something you can remember. It’s brilliant. For us, the ability to be able to utilize that song in other places, and utilize the show and the messaging in the show is huge.”
Jennifer Kendra, Save the Children’s director of cause marketing and partnership development, agrees. “This will be a key asset and property that we will be able to utilize and share, and with it being on air, it really is an opportunity for us to have a much greater awareness of our work.” The focus of the Save the Children episode, titled “A Friend Who Reads Is a Friend Indeed,” is early childhood development: “Particularly focusing on a caregiver and children reading together,” Kendra says. “I think it’s relatively unheard of,” she says of the “Mack & Moxy” team’s generosity. “They really are true-hearted in their approach to this. It allows us, as the charities being highlighted, to make the best use of the wonderful characters and storylines. We even have our own exclusive characters in each show. It gives us a lot of flexibility on how it can help our organization. It’s been tremendous.”
The shows open in live-action with costumed characters Mack, a goofy moose, and Moxy, an effervescent raccoon, awaiting their next assignment in HelpeeLand, where they go to rescue Great Helpees that bring happiness to the world and where they encounter Friends-in-Need, including a tiger cub struggling with the loss of his habitat, a flying horse who doesn’t have the energy to fly because his family can’t afford food and a boy devising an emergency exit plan for his family home. They are aided each episode by a different young Trooper who represents the charity or organization being featured in the segment. Mack, Moxy and the Trooper are sent on their adventure by various celebrity Admirables, including Kal Penn, Josh Duhamel, Eva LaRue and Rachael Ray. The animation, by Bardel Animation, begins in HelpeeLand, where the heroes have to find the Helpee, help the Friend-in-Need and foil a misguided Shellfish Sheldon (voiced by Hank Azaria), who wants to find the Helpee first and keep all the happiness for himself. Each episode also features catchy tunes that help illustrate the show’s themes.
In addition to the American Red Cross, the National Parks Service and Save the Children, the charities featured in the first series of 12 episodes are the American Heart Association; the Citizen Schools; Easter Seals; Feeding America; the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; the Orange County Sheriff’s Office; Playworks; the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition; and the World Wildlife Fund. The show’s themes range from the practical to the empathetic, and it doesn’t shy away from what might be considered touchy subjects, like autism and hunger. Says Green: “When we go to the charities, we open it up to them and say, ‘You have all sorts of core messages. What message do you want to do a show about?’”
The idea for the show came about when producer Green bought the rights to a book on humanitarians and shared some of the emotional stories in it with Wenger. “From the beginning we wanted to do a TV show. I bought the book with the idea of doing a TV series. Brahm came up with the idea of doing it for kids,” explains Green.
But before going forward with a TV project, they decided to see if the concept would work in book form, so they created the award-winning “Dewey Doo-It” series of books, which were quite successful. “We tested it out with beautiful drawings (by Jean Gillmore) and picture books and then we said, ‘OK, the concept works. We can do this. Kids can buy into this. Kids can get this concept. They’re entertained by it and they learn something. They tell their parents about it.’ So we went off into the world of production and started bringing the project together for a TV show,” says Green.
The show hasn’t even aired yet, and already “Mack & Moxy” have been to the White House. The characters were invited to take part in the annual Easter Egg Roll festivities after working with the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition for an upcoming episode.
And they are already looking ahead to another round of episodes, with requests from several organizations who would like to be involved, including the United Nations, which wants to work with “Mack & Moxy” on a show about malaria, according to Wenger. Upcoming celebrity Admirables include “Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s” Melissa Fumero and actor Matt Lucas (“Alice in Wonderland”). DVDs of the first batch of “Mack & Moxy” shows will be released on May 24 by NCircle Entertainment.
This all started with just one simple goal, says Green: “All we want to do, our small little goal, is to raise the next generation of humanitarians.”