What makes “Bluey” so special?
The beloved animated preschool show about a 6-year-old Blue Heeler dog named Bluey, his younger sister, Bingo, his mother, Chilli, and his father, Bandit, returns for its highly anticipated third season Wednesday on Disney+.
After launching in Australia in 2018, “Bluey”, which is co-commissioned by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and BBC Studios, premiered on Disney Junior in September 2019. There are now “Bluey” toys and books “. “Bluey’s Big Game,” a stage show, will begin its U.S. tour at Madison Square Garden on November 18. Earlier this year, a life-size Airbnb of the Heeler house was meticulously created in Brisbane. (One lucky family even got to stay the night.) And Lin-Manuel Miranda and Natalie Portman both lend their voices to episodes of the new season.
“It’s been magical five years, really,” says “Bluey” creator Joe Brumm.
Both popular and critically acclaimed, “Bluey” is arguably the best kids’ show currently on television. But what exactly sets it apart from the litany of children’s shows now available to viewers? What’s the secret sauce that makes “Bluey” exceptional?
When you pull back the curtain on the inner workings of the series, the answer becomes clear.
As production wrapped in April on the show’s third season, The Times received a virtual tour of Ludo Studio in Brisbane, Australia, where the show is being produced from script to screen. The open-concept studio, which features exposed brickwork and wood-beamed ceilings, is dotted with “Bluey” memorabilia. There’s the little red wagon featured in the Season 1 episode “Wagon Ride,” the Airbnb house watermelon rug (the rest was donated), and the original melodica used to compose the “Bluey” theme. The shelves are lined with multiple awards (including the International Emmy Award) and a mammoth production schedule (“a train that doesn’t stop,” says Daley Pearson, executive producer and co-founder of Ludo Studio) is pinned to the wall.
It’s representative of the warm working environment Brumm cultivated on “Bluey,” inspired by his three years previously working on British animated series “Charlie and Lola.” “It was a wonderful atmosphere,” he says. “Great people, great project, great place. I wanted to do a show that was good and successful and fun, but the main thing I wanted was that feeling of return. It was about taking a new generation of animators and making them fall in love with being animators and making them realize that they had chosen very wisely in their careers. Because it’s a magical career.
The majority of Ludo’s staff have been with the show since its inception; many were promoted as the series progressed. “You really have to give the animators, the art directors, the designers the ability to create and put their own work into the show,” says director Richard Jeffery. “When you create that culture, amazing things happen. People can thrive that way.
Each seven-minute episode of “Bluey” takes four months to produce. There are four rotating teams working on an episode, with each team shifted by a week. Every Friday, the entire “Bluey” team comes together to screen episodes that are at various levels of completion. Every 10 episodes, they throw a milestone party, with themes like “superheroes,” “kings and queens,” and “the 80s.”
Lead animator Seb Powell, who leads one of the four animation teams, says these screenings are “vitally important”. “As creative people, you have to see your end product. You have to see what you earn and what your teammates earn,” says Powell. “When you don’t have that, you feel like you’re on a treadmill.”
They all credit Brumm for the tone. “Joe is the most laid-back, unassuming person I’ve ever met,” says Melanie Zanetti, who plays Chilli. “But at the same time, he is very clear in his vision and he also demands excellence. I think when you’re a team of people and you know you’re doing something wonderful, that energy is contagious.
Neither sweet nor sarcastic, the show’s cohesive tone is perhaps its greatest asset. “Each episode usually starts with something that I notice in my kids’ lives or in the lives of my wife and I that keep coming back,” says Brumm, who writes each episode.
Typically, an episode centers around a game that Bluey and Bingo are playing. “Play is a child’s first draft of life,” says Pearson. “That’s where you learn responsibility and compromise and all that hard and great stuff.”
Bandit and Chilli never seem to get tired of playing with their children. Charlie Aspinwall, executive producer and co-founder of Ludo Studio, says the show is “the perfect representation of patient parenting.” “If you had a perfect world with as much time as you wanted, you might be able to parent that way,” he adds.
The scenarios of the show are intimately linked. Perhaps the most beloved is the Season 2 episode titled “Sleepytime,” which won an international Prix Jeunesse award in June. In the episode, Bingo wants to put “a big girl” to sleep, meaning a sleep where she stays in her bed all night. In seven minutes, “Sleepytime” captures the musical beds that unfold during the night, as well as a nostalgia for growing up.
Surprisingly, Brumm names Dan Harmon’s comedy “Community” as one of his inspirations. “I just copied the way he structured his story,” he says. “It’s interesting how you can condense that into seven minutes. Sometimes your plot points just have to be one-shot.
Brumm counts the Season 2 episode “Bin Night,” where each week Bluey and Bingo help Bandit take out the trash and recycling bins while talking about their lives, among his favorite episodes. “It was written like a musical score,” he says. “I think that sums up what ‘Bluey’ is about: the rhythms of life and how good it is for kids to have those rhythms, young and old.”
“Bluey” also lets parents make mistakes, Zanetti says. “They apologize for what they did, and I just think she’s an amazing model,” she says. “Showing that being vulnerable is actually how you bond. I also love that mom and dad have equal amounts of domestic and emotional work. Bandit, for example, is regularly shown doing the laundry or helping to make the bed.
The show never frequents its young audience. “It doesn’t speak to them. He doesn’t try to teach them things. They learn through experience and play,” says Aspinwall. But he says you need “a bit of a grain in the oyster” to balance out the show’s inherent sweetness. So, for example, you see Bandit plunging the toilet and wondering “What are these kids eating?” in Season 1’s “Grannys.”
“‘Bluey,’ it was just that I was rejecting a lot of other shows and forming a little fence around her,” Brumm says. “I don’t care what’s been done before, because when I watch children’s TV, most of the time I want to turn it off. “
The look of the show
With animation, everything is intentional – nothing happens, says Pearson. It takes a lot to give a cartoon dog show a sense of authenticity.
The show’s color palette, which producer Sam Moor describes as “a vibrant pastel”, captures the light in Australia. “I wanted ‘Bluey’ to be when you see it, you say ‘Hey, it’s ‘Bluey’,” Brumm explains. “The main thing is that we have the blue and orange from Bluey and Bingo. I think those two colors kind of caught on in Australia.”
The series also has a special effects department. It makes the splashing water in “The Creek,” the falling building blocks in “Daddy Robot,” and the splashing mud in an upcoming Season 3 episode feel real. “We do anything that adds a kind of realism to their world,” says host Nicole Clowes. “We’re the garnish of the show, the sauce on your sundae.”
The sound of the show
As sound designer, Dan Brumm, Joe’s brother, creates the soundscape for the show. “This show is very naturalistic and very organic,” he says. “I try to make everything feel as real as possible so that kids and their parents are kind of immersed in that world.”
No sound is produced. Brumm, who also voices the character Uncle Stripe, travels around Brisbane with his microphone to capture the distinct sounds of children playing on a playground, sliding down a slide or swinging in a swing. For “Wagon Ride”, Brumm borrowed his brother’s little red wagon and recorded as he wheeled his two daughters around. “They make a pretty unmistakable noise,” he says. “I try to put myself and my family in the sounds that I create.”
Composer Joff Bush scores each episode, rarely using the same music twice. “During a seven-minute episode, we’ll be talking for hours,” Bush said. “We talk about mythology. We talk a lot about what these stories are about, what perspective we’re going to come from with the characters. I probably spend more time on a seven-minute episode than when I worked on an album. There’s a lot of attention to detail.”
Bush, who plays Busker, is particularly interested in the musical dramaturgy of post-war Japanese cinema. “There is a way to stop your readers,” he laughs. But it uses the same “character seeding” technique popular in this genre. So, for example, if they want to emphasize Chilli’s storyline a bit more in a certain episode, they can seed a musical note played earlier in the episode. “One note could change the whole story,” he says.
All of this will be featured in the highly anticipated third season of the show.
“The theme for the season is, ‘Please don’t let this season be the season where everyone says it wasn’t as good as the season before,'” Brumm laughs. “The theme, as always, is play, and how play can help children grow into adults, helps them grow, helps them reunite a family, eases difficulties… In the end, that’s all that ‘Bluey’ is.”