Ranger Rick is getting ready to explore a decidedly untraditional path.
The nature-focused raccoon, who has for a half century taught children about animals and conservation in magazine pages, is in the midst of learning about what it might take for him to land his adventures on a streaming outlet or kid-focused media channel. The National Wildlife Federation, which has published the mammal’s exploits since 1967, has enlisted Red Rock Films, a production company known for its finesse with series centered on nature and science, as well as Bix Pix Entertainment, the creative force behind Amazon’s “Tumble Leaf” animated series, to produce a new series centered on its famous character.
“We are currently in a moment when a lot of kids are genuinely concerned and interested in the environment and conservation issues,” says Red Rock’s Brenda Wooding, who is overseeing production of the series. “We just feel like the timing is right to take this 50-year-old legacy iconic brand, reimagine it, and bring it out to the marketplace.” Red Rock, she says, is exploring opportunities with a range of media companies.
Ranger Rick is considering a new environment at a moment when kids’ properties have taken on new luster. While bold dramas and celebrity-focused projects tend to get the lion’s share of publicity about streaming hubs, executives readily acknowledge that programing aimed at kids is among the most important they feature. Children tend to watch their favorites again and again, and keeping them happy is seen as one of the primary factors in a consumer’s decision to keep a subscription to one streaming outlet or another — and potentially reduce customer churn.
Ranger Rick comes with something many programmers might like: a large fan base. The character first came to notice in the 1959 book “The Adventures of Rick Raccoon,” written by J.A. “Ash” Brownridge, a National Wildlife Federation executive. The character’s initial story told readers how he and his friends cleaned up their home creek and pond.
Six different magazines featuring the character reach approximately two million people, many of them kids who get the publication via gift subscriptions from parents and grandparents, says Dawn Rodney, the NWF’s chief innovation and growth officer. And the group intends to activate its network of 15,000 schools — reaching 7.5 million students and 450,000 educators — on behalf of a new show. “We reach kids from birth to 12 years old,” says Rodney, noting that the character’s “sweet spot” appears to be children between seven and nine.
Keeping those young fans interested in the character and the things he might teach requires a broader presence across media, she says. “Creating an ecosystem that is more than print is important. Kids today want to be engaged on the kinds of platforms they are engaging on. A TV series was a high, high priority.”
Putting Ranger Rick (and his pals Scarlett Fox and Boomer Badger) in new content isn’t being done with a snap of the fingers. Executives knew Rick in print tended to focus more on “on the nose” education, says Wooding. “Kids could roll their eyes if we translated that direction on to the screen.” Instead, Rick, Scarlett and Boomer in video have “real warmth and humor. What you will find is that the characters are laugh out loud and adorable and charming. There is an immediate emotional connection. There are real stakes” to the stories.
The first eight-episode season, as mapped out, has Rick and crew meeting up with a monarch butterfly and helping her rejoin a group from which she has been separated. Over the course of the journey, the characters travel to Florida and Mexico, and learn things about themselves while viewers get more familiar with them.
Executives think Ranger Rick has enough behind him to catch Hollywood’s eye. “Everyone is interested in doing content for this age group, and is specifically interested in meaningful content,” says Wooding. “I think we have a lot of opportunity for this show.”