TV Kids speaks with executives from a trio of companies about cat-themed children’s television programming.
What’s not to like about cats? They’re fluffy, affectionate, much less maintenance than their canine counterparts, and when they’re happy, they make the most delightful vibrating sound that is purring. While some kids may have succumbed to the wildly inaccurate misconception that all cats are evil, others realize that kitties are actually quite adorable and enjoy watching them as characters on TV.
Perhaps one of the most famous feline television personalities is Garfield, the lazy, lasagna-loving star of The Garfield Show. France-based Mediatoon Distribution has more than 214 episodes of the series in its catalog, as well as a number of specials. One of the company’s in-house production studios is also working on a new show called Garfield Originals, which is slated for release by the end of this year. In addition, Mediatoon represents The Week of the Cat, an animated comedy for teens and young adults that is based on a Belgian graphic novel.
“Cats are very cute and at the same time independent,” says Jérôme Alby, the managing director of Mediatoon Distribution. “Maybe that’s something kids want to see—even though at their age they cannot fully do what they want, their pet friend the cat can.”
“Cats are cute, curious and sometimes bashful, making them very similar to the mindset of young viewers,” says Lisa Olfman, co-founder and CEO of Canada’s Portfolio Entertainment, which represents the book-based show The Cat in the Hat Knows A Lot About That! “Kids and parents love and trust the iconic character and the Dr. Seuss brand…. Kids can connect with the enthusiastic, inquisitive nature of The Cat and are eager to follow him on his adventures while learning about the world around them along the way.”
Italy-based Rainbow, meanwhile, houses the new animated preschool comedy 44 Cats, about a group of homeless felines who form a musical band in a garage. “The cats in the show, like kids, find creative solutions to everyday hitches by dealing with important themes like tolerance, diversity and acceptance,” says Cristiana Buzzelli, the company’s senior VP of licensing and acquisitions.
“Kids love cats because they are soft and fluffy, can be cuddled and are very entertaining,” she continues. “Also, cats are very prevalent in society. The [2017-2018] National Pet Owners Survey, conducted by the American Pet Products Association, broke down the pet preferences of Americans and showed that cats are the second most common pets in U.S. households…. Cats are not exotic to children—they live within the family—so their on-screen adventures can easily relate to kids’ everyday lives, and this is what makes cat–themed programming so liked by preschoolers and other age groups.”
Mediatoon’s Alby notes a strong demand for cat-themed TV content in Asia, birthplace of the mega-popular feline-esque Hello Kitty character, as well as the maneki-neko waving cat figurine (a good-luck charm that is often on display in many Japanese businesses). “It’s more in the Asian part of the world where you really see cats a lot in animation series; they’re very, very present there,” he says.
Portfolio’s Olfman echoes this observation. “In Asian territories, where cat culture is always booming, we’ve seen a strong demand for Cat in the Hat, even though the books and original source material for the brand may not have had as much of a pop-culture presence,” she says. “We have received a tremendous amount of interest from China in particular, [where] we signed our first-ever deal with iQiyi Kids’ video-on-demand platform to bring the series to Mainland China.”
Regarding 44 Cats, Rainbow’s Buzzelli says: “We have had positive feedback from everywhere: both on the storylines, which boast well-rounded characters kids can easily relate to, and on the really great quality of the animation,” which she describes as cinematic. She notes that the company plans to add more cat-themed programming to the catalog moving forward, as are Mediatoon and Portfolio, so long as they are good series with the potential to travel around the globe.
From being worshipped thousands of years ago by ancient Egyptians to taking the spotlight in some of the most-viewed content online—with a 2014 article by The New York Times calling cat pictures an “essential building block of the internet”—it’s clear that young viewers will remain passionate about their feline friends, thus continuing the demand for and success of cat characters in children’s television.