WarnerMedia has acquired the rights to new animated show “Master Moley,” starring Warwick Davis and Gemma Arterton, for its children’s platform Boomerang in more than 100 countries across Europe, Middle East and Africa. “Master Moley” is based on original stories written by British entrepreneur James Reatchlous, who spoke to Variety about how it came to life.
The deal, struck by Jetpack Distribution, will see the animation’s 30-minute special, “Master Moley By Royal Invitation,” head to the channel in November. The acquisition of the new 52-part series, comprising 11-minute episodes, “The Misadventures of Master Moley,” will continue the adventures of Master Moley and friends on Boomerang next year.
The animation follows adventurous mole Master Moley, who lives deep in a burrow under Queen Elizabeth II’s Windsor Castle in the bustling city of MoleTown, where he is the keeper of a magical book, which has the power to bring peace between humans and moles. The heart-warming tale follows Master Moley and his friends on adventurous missions.
As well as Davis (“Harry Potter,” “Star Wars”), and Arterton (“Their Finest,” “Quantum of Solace”), the voicecast includes Julie Walters (“Mamma Mia!,” “Harry Potter,” “Billy Elliot”), Richard E. Grant (“Can You Ever Forgive Me?”), Togo Igawa (“Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again”) and Charles Dance (“Game of Thrones,” “The Crown”).
Both the special and the series are being produced by Tony Nottage of Nottage Productions, and executive produced by Reatchlous and Davis. The special is directed by Leon Joosen (“The Little Mermaid,” “Scooby-Doo,” “Aliens in the Attic”), is written by Ricky Roxburgh (“Tangled: The Series,” “Spy Kids: Mission Critical”) and Arthur Landon (“Side by Side,” “Idle-Hands”), with animation services provided by Cosmo-Giantwheel, and a musical score from Lorne Balfe (“The Lego Batman Movie,” “The Crown”).
The special picked up awards at the Latitude Film Festival, L.A. Independent Short Film Awards, and Global Shorts Awards.
The series is set to go into production later this year. The writing team includes Roxburgh, Bart Coughlin (“Alvinnn!!! And the Chipmunks”), Todd Ludy (“Wacky Races”), Leanna Dindall (“Tangled: The Series”), David Schiff (“That ’70s Show,” “Tangled: The Series”) and Nottage.
Speaking exclusively to Variety, Reatchlous explained that he had originally created the Moley tales as bedtime stories for his two daughters, and then wrote them down in a journal each evening. “I tried to make them funny and relevant, and slightly educational, but more like amusing and fun. And they just became a big fixture of their childhood,” he recalls.
These stories – more than 300 of them – lay dormant for 20 years, but when he was diagnosed with cancer, and ended up in hospital – “it looked like I wasn’t going to make it,” he says – his children brought him his journals.
When he began to get better, he took this as a sign that he should do something with his stories. He mapped out a business plan and raised millions of pounds from friends and business associates. After partnering with Nottage, Reatchlous was persuaded to create the special, and they then assembled a top-notch team. “What we’ve been so good at doing is hiring the best, because I knew nothing about this industry,” Reatchlous says.
The special attracted the attention of Jetpack’s Dominic Gardiner at the Annecy animation film festival, who came on board to handle distribution. “We’re always looking for projects of the highest quality, something that’s unique, something that stands out, but more importantly, we like to find things that have got real creator passion behind them,” Gardiner says.
Gardiner then set out to find broadcast partners, pitching the show at Mipcom last year, which led them to WarnerMedia, and further meetings followed in February at Kidscreen in Miami. “What we were looking for was obviously the biggest partner with the widest distribution we could possibly find from the outset,” he says. “But we also wanted somebody who would engage with us creatively too, and support the direction that the stories were going. We wanted a real collaborative relationship.”
Further pacts, including free-to-air TV deals, and merchandising and publishing tie-ins, will follow. “The aim with this is to really build a huge brand for the future,” Gardiner says.
“If you’re going do something, you’ve got to do it properly, in my view, and you’ve got to do it professionally. And we always had large aspirations,” Reatchlous says. “So we needed to be with a player that had global clout, global aspirations, and with Warner, you also get this huge pedigree of ‘Tom and Jerry,’ ‘Scooby-Doo,’ Hanna-Barbera, all of that.”
The show is relevant to our times, according to Reatchlous. “It’s got diversity; it’s got community; it’s got different nationalities; and it’s got humor all the way through it,” he says. Recycling is also a recurrent theme in the stories.
The central character, Master Moley, played by Davis, is “quite an endearing sort of little chap,” Reatchlous says. “Warwick is just so enthusiastic about the whole thing. He goes over and beyond.”
Reatchlous describes the secret world of MoleTown as a “hustling bustling hive of activity.” He adds: “And it’s such a bunch of interesting characters going on these adventures all over the place because there are MoleTowns underneath everything. All the major landmarks in the world. There’s a MoleTown under the Great Wall of China. There’s a MoleTown under the Sydney Opera House. There’s even a MoleTown under Mr. Trump, under the White House, would you believe?”