Sprout, the first 24-hour preschool network, is debuting a contemporary version of Clangers, the BBC’s beloved British stop-motion animation television show from the 1960’s, on June 20th, with pop culture legend William Shatner as narrator. The Clangers are a unique family of imaginary pink long-nosed creatures that are very loving and supportive of each other and their friends, who live on a small blue planet in space, and who communicate through distinctive whistles. Adding his own unique sense of humor and style of delivery, Shatner is the perfect person to comment on the extraordinary activities of the space-dwelling Clangers family, in these 26 new episodes.
To celebrate the U.S. premiere of the popular British animated series, Sprout hosted a fabulous luncheon at Osteria Mozza on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, so that a handful of media outlets could preview the show and chat with Sprout’s SVP of Programming Andrew Beecham and William Shatner.
We’ve compiled a list of 14 things to know about Clangers:
- Clangers started 45 years ago, in 1968, and was created by Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin. It was totally beloved in the UK, and is considered the crown jewel of British animation. The show is made in Manchester, and the script is adapted there before it’s brought over to the U.S.
- The show was created at the time when we first landed on the moon, and that fired Postgate’s imagination. He wanted to get kids inspired by space.
- Postgate was the animator and narrator, and his wife knitted the puppets, which have a skeleton in them, so that they can be posed for the laborious stop-motion animation process. There are six animators that work on the show, every day, and they record six to nine seconds, per day. Since 1968, the technology has gotten a little bit more sophisticated, and the Clangers can now jump and fly with the use of rigging that’s wiped out in post-production, but the actual craftsmanship of the animation remains the same.
They couldn’t afford to have characters that actually speak, so Postgate found a whistle in his house and started to do all the voices as whistles. Kids couldn’t understand exact words, but they got a feel for the stories and could use their imagination. Every show is scripted, even though there’s a whistle played to the words. They are actually whistling in the tone of the language of where the show is playing, so that it’s accurate to the cadence of the region.
- The show is about a close-knit family of characters that live on a little planet away from us, and it emphasizes the family unit, kindness and empathy. The Clangers are pinkish aliens with big, flappy feet and long, curious noses, who wear different armor.
- The Clangers live in a little, hollow blue planet, within the craters. At the top of the craters is their front door, which is a trash can. When they come in and out of the craters, the trash can goes, “Clang,” which is how they got their name.
- There are other weird characters that live on the planet with them, including the Soup Dragon, who lives in the caverns and overseas vats of soup. The Clangers come down with little bowls to collect the soup that they like to eat.
Because it’s said that the American child has the attention span of a goldfish, it’s a challenge to keep the attention of a child from 2 to 6 years old. Clangers challenges children with its voiceless animation, so it helps to sustain their interest.
- When they decided to bring Clangers to American audiences, they knew that they needed to find a narrator for the show who could connect with multiple generations of parents and kids, and there was no better choice than William Shatner. Shatner’s highly recognizable voice and humor captures the distinct charm of the show while bringing his own unique sensibility to the role of the narrator.
- For the narration, William Shatner tells them the story on their level, without talking down to them, and adds some improvisation and singing to it. They don’t want to fill every frame with sound because they like kids to work out what’s going on themselves. They also add a music score.
- Even though Shatner doesn’t consider himself an expert with the pre-Kindergarten age bracket, he has had a lot of practice in storytelling with his own family. “I’ve had several children, who have grown up and had children of their own. Although I’m not an expert, I’m a renowned storyteller among the 3 to 5 age group in my family. You hold their attention by not talking down to them, but by speaking to them on their level.”
Although this is an American version of a legendary show from England, they’ve taken the approach of embracing and telling the young viewers a story that has a meaning invested in it. Each of the shows has a gentle message behind it, stated by the narrator. The end result is a 10 or 12-minute segment that offers a little life lesson, at the end. Shatner’s narration just helps guide them in the right direction to learning what that meaning is, on their own
- When asked what it’s like to branch out to a viewership made up of 2- to 6-year-olds, Shatner said, “In approaching this, as the narrator and storyteller, there’s a fine line in saying, ‘Children, here is the story that we’re going to tell you.’ There’s another way of approaching it, which is like when you’re around the campfire and you say, ‘Let’s talk about this story.’ The difference in the voice and the attitude of the adult toward the child, from my experience, makes a difference to the child’s ears perking up and listen to somebody who is talking to them. That’s what we all worked for. At times, you can cross the line and get a little too saccharine. Then, there would be a note saying, ‘Maybe a little less on that.’”
- Sprout is the first 24-hour pre-school destination available on TV, on demand and online for children ages 2 to 6, and their parents and caregivers. It is available in over 57 million homes, with programming structured to follow the day of the child, from morning to night.
Clangers premieres on Sprout on June 20th.