Shabnam Rezaei, the co-founder and president of Big Bad Boo Studios, talks to TV Kids about the brand-new Hulu children’s series The Bravest Knight.
OTT platforms are leading the charge in terms of pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in children’s entertainment in the U.S. The latest example of that is Hulu’s The Bravest Knight. Inspired by Daniel Errico’s book The Bravest Knight Who Ever Lived, the show centers on a mixed-race family, following 10-year-old Nia, her two adoptive dads, Sir Cedric and Prince Andrew, and their amusing sidekick, Grunt the troll. The inclusive, LGBTQ-positive series has attracted a star-studded voice cast, including T.R. Knight as Cedric, Wilson Cruz as Prince Andrew, Storm Reid as Nia and Bobby Moynihan as Grunt. Wanda Sykes, Christine Baranski and RuPaul are also on board. Hulu posted five episodes in time for LGBTQ Pride Month in June, with more to come later this year.
Canada’s Big Bad Boo Studios came on to produce The Bravest Knight after Hulu streamed an eight-minute short film based on Errico’s book and was interested in exploring the concept for a full series.
“I watched the eight minutes on Hulu and at the end the prince and the knight get married and I was in tears,” says Rezaei. “I initially didn’t know what it was about. It’s such a charming little storybook about a pumpkin farmer who only wants to be a knight and he’s so hardworking. I identified with him, and the fact that the prince and the knight get married and he [Errico] didn’t make any issues of that.”
Errico approached Rezaei and the Big Bad Boo Studios team to help him realize the series and pitch it to Hulu. The show would follow Sir Cedric and Prince Andrew and their daughter, Nia, as she learns about becoming a knight. “I immediately fell in love with the idea of a girl wanting to work hard and make something of herself. I also have a nephew who has two dads, so it’s a very personal issue for me. I want him to have role models when he’s watching TV. I want him to feel like having two dads is completely normal. That’s what this show is going to do for him.”
Each episode sees Cedric imparting lessons to Nia via stories he tells about how he became a knight. In the first episode, a young Cedric encounters a troll named Grunt, who has lost his bridge and is now living under a tree. “It’s serialized—we’ve spent 13 episodes looking for Grunt’s bridge. The idea is to find it in the 13th episode. And in every episode, we meet a fairy tale villain who you know, but with a twist. For example, we’ll meet the Big Bad Wolf. In our tales, it’s a cross-dressing wolf. Of course, the real Big Bad Wolf was a cross-dresser, just no one talked about it! And that’s voiced by RuPaul.”
Embarking on the series, Rezaei knew that the team had to aim high, both in terms of production quality and casting, to meet the standards that the digital streamers have become known for. “Once we had Hulu attached, I knew we had to stand next to high-quality shows like The Handmaid’s Tale. So the art was so important. I wanted to elevate the storybook look that Daniel came to me with. We worked hard to find the right character designer [Tim Linklater] and background designer [Sarita Kolhatkar]. I knew from the beginning that the backgrounds had to be beautiful. The background look of a painting was what I was going for. We made the characters modern and bright so they would pop against these beautiful painting-like backgrounds. I think that’s what got Hulu excited.”
Landing an all-star cast was the next priority. “We wanted to be representative of the gay community,” Rezaei says. “We knew Sir Cedric and Prince Andrew had to be great talents and advocates for the community. T.R. Knight and Wilson Cruz felt incredibly right. For Nia, we were looking for an African-American girl who was busting out in Hollywood. Storm Reid had just finished A Wrinkle in Time; we thought she would be perfect. And for Grunt, we wanted someone jolly and funny who had that stand-up comedy timing. There was no one else but Bobby Moynihan. He did a lot of ad-libbing in the voice booth when we were recording. A lot of the timing and the gags are original Bobby material.”
Big Bad Boo Studios is handling the international distribution of the show. As it’s not the company’s first series to feature LGBTQ characters—16 Hudson follows a group of friends, one of whom has two dads—Rezaei has a good sense of which markets are open to the material (and which ones aren’t). “We are in discussions with about 50 channels,” Rezaei notes. “Western Europe, Scandinavia, parts of Latin America, the U.K., Australia, all are going to want The Bravest Knight.”
Rezaei has long been on a mission to diversify the children’s animation business. “I started the company as an Iranian with an Iranian 30-minute direct-to-DVD cartoon about the Persian New Year. My whole goal is to put color on television and stand up for people whose voices aren’t being heard. We want to go to places no one else goes and be advocates for people who are not being represented.”
There is still much work to be done Rezaei says, quipping that the “diversity panels” at conferences “are usually in the basement on a Thursday afternoon. Eventually, we’ll be the keynote in the main room with 2,000 people in the audience. We have to work our way there.”
For every stream of The Bravest Knight until July 20, Hulu will donate $1 (up to $50,000) to The Trevor Project, which provides suicide prevention and crisis intervention services for LGBTQ youth. Meanwhile, Rezaei says the team is already toying with storylines for subsequent seasons.