HBO Max and Cartoon Network will expand the volume of preschool content served up on the streaming platform and the linear cable channel starting next month, including a new “Little Ellen” animated series from Ellen DeGeneres and a new entry in the the enduring “Thomas & Friends” franchise.
A nine-hour slate of original and vintage series with educational themes will air Monday through Friday from 6 a.m.-2 p.m. PT on the linear Cartoon Network channel starting Sept. 13. The block will be promoted on air and on HBO Max’s on-demand platform under the “Cartoonito” umbrella.
The move marks a strategic departure for Cartoon Network in the linear arena. The cable channel launched in 1992 by Ted Turner has long courted the lucrative boy 6-11 demographic with fantasy and superhero shows a la “Teen Titans Go,” “Ben 10,” “Steven Universe,” “Samurai Jack” and the “Star Wars”-branded “The Clone Wars,” long before Disney acquired Lucasfilm.
The Cartoonito lineup was developed in connection with a proprietary curriculum dubbed Humancentric Learning created by Dr. Laura Brown, a longtime kids TV consultant and a child development expert. The original and library series will be labeled to signal to parents what lessons and ideas each show is designed to impart, with corresponding educational materials made available online and to schools.
“Cartoonito’s offerings on HBO Max and Cartoon Network will reflect a wide array of diverse content that connects kids and their caregivers through relatable stories, lovable characters and meaningful social emotional learning both in and between the shows,” said Amy Friedman, Warner Bros.’ head of kids and family programming.
“Little Ellen,” from Warner Bros. Animation and Ellen Digital Ventures, is an animated series that explores the world through the eyes of seven-year-old DeGeneres in her hometown of New Orleans. “Thomas & Friends: All Engines Go” is a new animated series revolving around the beloved train Thomas the Tank Engine, established characters Percy, Diesel, Nia and a new electric high-speed rail train, Kana. “Lucas the Spider” is based on the CG-produced YouTube series about a young spider navigating the world.
The second season of “The Not-Too-Late Show With Elmo,” a talk-variety show hosted by the “Sesame Street” character, will also be part of the Cartoonito slate starting Sept. 30. Per Brown, the shows are designed to deliver messages along four broad themes: creativity, caring, curiosity and courage.
“The preschool years are a crucial time for development as children begin to identify, manage and communicate their emotions, build a positive self-image, and begin to make friends,” Brown said. “This learning framework aims to support these important skillsets through fun, engaging and relevant storytelling that empowers kids to feel comfortable in their own skin, believe anything is possible, treat others with kindness and stand up to unfairness.”
WarnerMedia is billing the preschool push as the biggest commitment to reaching the youngest media consumers in the company’s nearly 100-year history. The decision to shift Cartoon Network’s daytime strategy likely reflects the reality that preschool-age kids are among the very last of the under-12 demo who watch live TV, while their older siblings dine a la carte by viewing shows on demand.
To support the Cartoonito launch, Warner Bros. is firing up its TV animation studio to develop new preschool-appropriate takes on its classic characters in its vault. The list includes “Batwheels,” a series about crime-fighting vehicles in Gotham City,” and two projects with working titles: “Bugs Bunny Builders” and “Tom and Jerry Junior.” Also in the pipeline is more material from prolific children’s book author Mo Willems and new series and specials from Sesame Workshop including “Mecha Builders” and “Bea’s Block.”
Here are descriptions of Cartoonito series:
“Bing”: Produced by Acamar Films, in association with Brown Bag Films, Bing is a new show celebrating the joyful, messy reality of preschool life and finds the big stories in the little moments. Bing is a lovable, authentic preschooler, who lives very much in the present moment. Each moment brings new experiences for Bing, which often lead to a bump, spillage or temporary disappointment. By Bing’s side, through it all, is Flop, whose patience and encouragement help Bing, along with his audience, to experience and learn from life’s unpredictable moments.
“Mush-Mush & The Mushables”: Produced by France’s La Cabane and Belgium’s Thuristar in coproduction with CAKE, Mush-Mush & The Mushables is a new show that follows the endearing Mushable community as they embark on a journey to put the fun back into fun-gi! As pocket-size guardians of the forest, growing up isn’t always easy, but together each day shines just as bright as the one before. The show is created by Elfriede de Rooster and directed by Joeri Christiaen.
“Thomas & Friends: All Engines Go”: From Mattel Television, Thomas & Friends: All Engines Go invites preschoolers all aboard and follows the world’s Number One Tank Engine and his friends on their silliest and most musical adventures yet. Produced in vibrant, 2D-animation in partnership with Corus Entertainment’s Nelvana Studio, the new show features a core cast of five young engines – Thomas, his best friend Percy, rival Diesel, the adventurous world traveler Nia and an all-new electric high-speed rail train, Kana.
“Lucas the Spider”: Lucas the Spider is a new CGI-animated show premiering Sept. 18 from Fresh TV in association with WexWorks Media with CAKE handling international distribution and is based on a viral YouTube hit that follows the adventures of an endearing young spider as he and his friends try to navigate the big world around them.
Among the library shows coming to HBO Max: “Care Bears: Unlock the Magic” (Season one), “Esme & Roy” (Seasons one and two), “Love Monster” (Seasons one and two), “Mo Willems Storytime Shorts!” (Season one), “Sesame Street” (classic seasons including current season 51).
Vintage toons headed for Cartoon Network slate include “Baby Looney Tunes,” “Caillou,” “Pocoyo,” “Care Bears: Unlock the Magic” and “Love Monster.”