Beat Bugs mastermind Josh Wakely talks to TV Kids about his latest creation, the family-friendly musical animated series Motown Magic, which recently made its global debut exclusively on Netflix.
Home to such music legends as Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, Marvin Gaye and The Jackson 5, Motown ushered in a new wave of songs that combined soul with pop. As the first African American-owned record company to achieve widespread success in the U.S., the iconic label helped break down some of the country’s racial barriers during the tumultuous 1960s.
Well aware of the impact that Motown has had on the music industry, Josh Wakely, creator of The Beatles-infused animated show Beat Bugs, decided to try his hand—and succeeded—at acquiring the catalog for the purpose of incorporating its iconic tunes into an animated series. “What I then needed was a really compelling idea behind it,” he says, “so we could provide a platform for all of those songs.”
“I was determined not to do it unless I had the blessing of one of those Motown elders, and Smokey Robinson was literally at the top of that list because he had [numerous] Motown number ones, either as a performer or a songwriter,” he continues. Indeed, Wakely again achieved what he set out to accomplish—he received support from Robinson, who became Motown Magic’s executive music producer.
Motown Magic follows a young African American boy, Ben Love, who has the ability to bring colorful street art to life. Similar to the concept in Beat Bugs, each episode is inspired by a Motown song and features an original cover version. “The big theme is that creativity is magic,” says Wakely. “With creativity you can overcome any problem, and creativity is birthed by love, hence them being called the Love family.”
Wakely feels confident that Motown Magic has international appeal for a number of reasons, from its high-quality animation to the relatable characters. “Stories about families are universal,” he says. And then, of course, there are the catchy tunes. “Motown is the biggest music catalog in the world,” notes Wakely. “People want to hear that music.” The show features hits including “ABC,” “My Girl” and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” with songs covered by such artists as Ne-Yo.
Motown Magic is made by Beyond Screen Production and Grace: a storytelling company, where Wakely serves as principle partner. “Grace is becoming a significant production and animation company, and we’re going to be doing a lot more really significant animation projects sooner rather than later,” he says. Grace is also behind the Emmy Award-winning Beat Bugs, which recently premiered its third season on Netflix. “You take confidence as a creator that if you can do it once, you can do it again; it just takes a lot of work,” adds Wakely.