Interviews

Monster Beach and swimming with the Southeast Asian animation tide: Catching Up with Cartoon Network and Inspidea

This is no time to be going to beaches. Amidst the coronavirus pandemic, the public domain of fun and sun — where great memories are made and picnics are enjoyed and swimming is learned (and the unpleasantness of ingesting salt water is discovered) —  is now a no-go as part of the social distancing measures to curb the spread of the disease. 

While we cannot go to the beach, the beach is coming to the kiddos – at least on TV. Cartoon Network’s new original series Monster Beach is diving into the channel from tomorrow onward.

The show follows the adventures of surf-siblings Jan and Dean with a bunch of misfit monsters on the tropical island of Iki-Iki, from cruising around in hot-rods to unravelling mysteries to outsmarting baddies.

Source: Turner

A remake of a 2014 Australian television film of the same name, the new cartoon series is a regional effort combining talents from all over Asia Pacific. Written and produced in Australia, the production is also a collaboration with Cartoon Network offices in Hong Kong and Singapore. Meanwhile, the Malaysian-based studio Inspidea (which also did Mighty Magiswords) leads the animation with a crew in Los Angeles.

But will Monster Beach swim or sink amidst the rising tide of animated series targeted at children? This year alone, we are seeing the premiere of Nickelodeon’s It’s Pony, Dreamworks Animation’s Cleopatra in Space, Netflix’s Go! Go! Cory Carson and HBO Max’s Looney Tunes Cartoons, among many others.

Furthermore, with box-office busting titles like Boboiboy and Ejen Ali coming out of Southeast Asia, how will Cartoon Network ride the current waves in the regional animation industry?

To find out, we had a chat with Leslie Lee, Head of Cartoon Network in Asia Pacific; Chai Yoon Fei, producer of Monster Beach and Senior Production Manager of Cartoon Network in Asia Pacific; and C.J. See, director and co-owner of Inspidea.

From left: C.J. See, director and co-owner of Inspidea; Leslie Lee, Head of Cartoon Network in Asia Pacific; and Chai Yoon Fei, producer of Monster Beach and Senior Production Manager of Cartoon Network in Asia Pacific

Why has the 2014 Monster Beach film been adapted as a series? 

Leslie Lee: We felt that there were even more stories to tell in this world of wacky monster characters having madcap adventures. The show creators were also game to see how far they could go in terms of humour and stretching the limits of their creativity.

What can parents and children draw from the new Monster Beach series?

Chai Yoon Fei: When we were developing the series, the focus was to create a show with compelling stories that would resonate with kids and their parents for a holistic co-viewing experience. In the series, the kids – Jan and Dean – are actually the ‘adults’ as they are constantly trying to keep their supposedly grown-up monster buddies from trouble.

It is going to be fun for the audience to see this role reversal. The supervising director and episode directors also sneaked in some scene references from the original film, which only parents would get. I won’t spoil it here, so tune in to see for yourself.

There are some changes in terms of style and characters from the original 2014 TV film. Can you elaborate further on the artistic decisions?

Lee: We dialled up the lead roles – Jan and Dean – in order to create greater engagement with kids, our core audience. The supervising director, Patrick Crawley, also updated their look to reflect more diversity and the island lifestyle of Monster Beach. Those with a keen eye for technical details will spot that the characters now have an outline.

Source: Turner

There is currently a large amount of animated series aimed at children spread across a growing number of channels and platforms. Where does Monster Beach fit into the line-up, both in the context of Cartoon Network and all the other animated series out there?

Lee: What makes Monster Beach stand out is its ensemble of interesting characters – both humans and monsters – working, fighting and having fun with one another.

It’s obviously set on a beach – a mainstay of many kids’ weekend outings in Southeast Asia – and has many laugh-out-loud moments in every episode. The show has heaps of slapstick moments to entertain youngsters, but will also appeal to older kids and adults with its wink-and-a-nudge humour, dialogue and situations.

Monster Beach follows a rich tradition of classic chase cartoons but also maintains a contemporary feel that kids today will appreciate. It sits very well alongside all our hit shows such as Adventure Time, We Bare Bears, Craig of the Creek as well as evergreens like Wacky Racers, Scooby Doo and Tom and Jerry.

Source: Turner

How does Cartoon Network keep up with the evolving animated TV programming and its audiences in the age of streaming services?

Chai: Our goal has always been to put our fans first, wherever they are and however they are watching. In terms of the content we create, that means making kids laugh. For almost three decades now, Cartoon Network has been doing exactly that.

How was Malaysian studio Inspidea chosen as the animation agency?

Lee: In so many ways, Inspidea was an obvious choice as our partner for Monster Beach. They have been a great collaborator, often going above and beyond their scope of work. The team at Inspidea, headed by CJ and Andrew Ooi, are also veterans in their field and were able to turn the assignments around while also ensuring that the quality was met and exceeded.

Source: Turner

What about you, C.J.? What is it like to work with Cartoon Network?

C.J. See: We love working with Cartoon Network. Firstly, it’s the people. There is always a sense of collaboration and everyone actually comes together and solves problems. We love that spirit a lot.

Secondly, it’s the content. Cartoon Network is usually surprising and clever in the way that it makes people laugh. Humour is a big thing at Inspidea too. So our values are very much aligned. I guess that’s why we have been working together for more than 10 years. That’s a very long partnership!

Speaking of the spirit of collaboration, does Cartoon Network have any plans to invest in localised Malaysian animation given the success of local productions such as Boboiboy and Ejen Ali?

Lee: Yes! It’s a definite possibility, if we come across the right projects, creators and stories. There are strong IPs and ideas coming out of Malaysia right now that have the potential to be seen by viewers across the region and beyond.

What is your take on the animation industry and ecosystem in Southeast Asia now?

Lee: We truly believe that Southeast Asia stands at the cusp of a golden age in animation. There are so many stories from here that have yet to be told, technologies and formats yet to be introduced, as well as creators yet to be discovered.

At Cartoon Network, we need to work with more creators and companies to further develop the ecosystem, as well as nurture storytellers, writers and designers to make sure that we are able to stand alongside our counterparts in Europe and the US.

I also think that creators need to continue to look at the right platforms and technology, invest in R&D, for example, research trends and viewer preferences. We also need to allow for cross-territory collaboration and the development of capabilities and skill sets – not just in the creative aspects – but also in business acumen in areas such as IP protection as well as pitching and marketing of their ideas and services.

Can you give us a teaser on what’s coming to Cartoon Network for Southeast Asia?

Lee: Besides Monster Beach, we have a new season of the International Emmy-nominated Cartoon Network Asia original, Lamput, coming very soon. In addition, we’ve partnered with TV Asahi on a brand new series called Super Shiro, which is inspired by the iconic Crayon Shinchan, waiting in the wings for its premiere. In May, we have the brand-new series ThunderCats Roar, and new episodes for both Apple and Onion as well as Unikitty!

Later in the year, we’ll be premiering the amazing Ben 10 movie and the very first ever We Bare Bears movie that will warm the hearts of kids and families all over Asia.

Monster Beach premieres on Saturday, April 25, 6:30pm (MYT) on Cartoon Network (Astro Ch 615 HD / 635). New episodes air every weekend at the same time.

Also published on Medium.

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