Talent Talk: ‘Thomas and Friends,’ ‘Mumfie’ Creator Britt Allcroft Has Always Loved Stories

Britt Allcroft has always loved stories and telling them.

“As a little girl, I wanted to be told wonderful stories that would light up my imagination, comfort me when I was frightened (which was often), make me laugh when I needed cheering up, and inspire me,” she recalls.

At the age of 7, she wrote her first original story.

“I illustrated it in yellow and red crayons and have it to this day,” says the British born creator, writer, director and producer.

Allcroft is the creator of the children’s television series “Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends” (later retitled “Thomas & Friends”), “Shining Time Station” (with Rick Siggelkow) and “Britt Allcroft’s Magic Adventures of Mumfie” — which have become fixtures of children’s television and home entertainment. She wrote, co-produced and directed the film Thomas and the Magic Railroad (2000), which was recently released on Blu-ray Disc for the first time from Shout! Factory Kids. The disc included scenes deleted (to her dismay) from the original release.

Allcroft grew up in a small seaside town in England. She had an absent father, the family had no money, no car or TV, but they loved the radio, the ocean and exploring the local countryside. Foreshadowing her future career as a storyteller, she would put on plays in the family backyard with a small entry charge for the neighborhood. Trains played a soothing role in the life of the young Allcroft.

“We lived in a house from which I would walk to school each day and that meant crossing over the railway bridge,” she says. “I would always stop and wait for a steam train to puff along and pass underneath me. My Auntie Tro lived with us and she shared her love of poetry with me. I soon learned to read poems out loud with her and was immensely soothed by the rhythm and cadence of poetry. The sound of the engine wheels going round on the tracks and the sound of the lines of poetry shared that wonderful way of calming me and easing the fear that was often present in my life.”

Later, as a television producer, Allcroft acquired the rights to the Reverend Wilbert Awdry’s “The Railway Series” of children’s books from the 1940s. That was the beginning of “Thomas.”

“I was very sure that I wanted classic ‘Thomas and Friends’ to look like a world for children that could indeed exist, and I was greatly inspired by book two of ‘The Railway Series’ of books, which had an illustration of Thomas on its cover,” Allcroft says. “I also wanted it to be told in such a way that a little child who might well be on his or her own could feel comforted and loved by the storyteller. I am still so touched by the messages I receive from folks of all sorts of ages and all sorts of places that share with me the fact that this is exactly how they felt and still do when they watch their own collections of tapes and discs.”

In 1989, Allcroft and American producer Rick Siggelkow created “Shining Time Station,” a live-action children’s program fronted by the magical character of the miniature Mr. Conductor, who introduced two “Thomas” stories in each half-hour program. Then, in 1994, Allcroft created the cartoon-animated “Magic Adventures of Mumfie” inspired by the artworks of Katharine Tozer. The series, featuring original musical numbers, follows Mumfie, a lonely elephant who lives in a cottage in the woods and sets out on a magical journey to meet new friends.

“Magic is arguably an over-used word, but not in Mumfie’s World,” Allcroft says. “Here magic is just a matter of fact — part of life and living — woven into everyday situations, emotions and experiences familiar to children and to grown-ups.”

Again Allcroft’s childhood inspired ‘Mumfie.’ Her mother would often take her to London to see musicals, and the series features songs prominently.

“‘Mumfie’ is full of wonder, magic and music,” she says. “There are around 22 songs in the classic ‘Mumfie’ library, and this is part of the ‘Mumfie’ trademark and is mentioned so often by fans who grew up with the series and love it to this day. It’s wonderful that classic ‘Mumfie’ will be available again and likewise all the songs.”

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The movie Mumfie’s Quest is available now digitally and on DVD at Amazon and on iTunes from Giant Interactive.

While ‘Thomas’ and ‘Mumfie’ are different in production style and characters, the series have a common theme, she notes.

“Both speak directly to human feelings and experience through the power of enchantment,” Allcroft says. “They share in common what I have come to call stories of the spirit — which now includes, of course, my ongoing projects.”

Zodiak Kids is producing a new animated preschool comedy series “Mumfie” with Allcroft based on “Magic Adventures of Mumfie.” The new series features the optimistic young elephant Mumfie along with his best friends Pinkey the flying pig and Jelly Bean the color-changing jellyfish. As the trio embarks on their daily adventures, they meet an eclectic bunch of animal friends: a cheeky crocodile who thinks he’s a king and his mischievous cat confidant; a hermit crab mayor and a giraffe who runs a hotel on an iceberg; a jolly yellow whale and a skateboarding zebra; and some pirate wolves and a Greek chorus of funny frogs.

“It has its own style, and I love it,” she says. “New ‘Mumfie,’ with a new look and new characters, is already well into production, and I love my role as a producer who is always happy to share my thoughts and ideas.”

The final release plans for the new Mumfie series are still be finalized by Zodiak Kids with details expected later this fall.

Savva Upped to VP, Content Distribution at Giant Interactive and GM of Giant Pictures

Giant Interactive on Sept. 22 announced the promotion of Nick Savva to VP of content distribution and GM at Giant Pictures.

Savva most recently served as director of content distribution, overseeing Giant Pictures’ global digital distribution efforts. In his new role, Savva will further expand content opportunities for the boutique digital distribution label.

Nick Savva

Over the last three years, Savva has guided the Giant Pictures label to become one of the leading independent content distributors on a wide range of digital platforms. He has negotiated more than 45 direct accounts with such major streaming platforms as Apple TV, Peacock, Prime Video and Roku, among others. Savva, according to a press release, has also been essential in steering Giant into the world of direct-to-consumer OTT, most recently with the deployment of the Baby Einstein app on Roku.

Savva has acquired and distributed hundreds of movies, documentaries and TV titles in multiple territories since founding Giant Pictures in 2017.

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Giant Pictures’ releases include the horror film Ghost Light, a Jury Award winner at the 2018 Austin Film Festival; Matanga/Maya/M.I.A., an Official Selection at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival; and Love, Antosha, a portrait of the late actor Anton Yelchin that was an Official Selection at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.

Cyber Group Studios Lands Kidvid Distribution Deal with Kidoodle.TV, Giant Pictures

Cyber Group Studios on Sept. 11 announced it has secured distribution deals with Kidoodle.TV and Giant Pictures for multiple series for kids.

Kidoodle.TV, a global AVOD service targeting children under 12 and their families, will increase its content offering in the United States by securing a number of series from Cyber Group Studios. Several of Cyber Group Studios’ popular series that are based on books, such as “The Pirates Next Door” and “Mirette Investigates,” will be new additions to Kidoodle.TV’s content library.

Giant Pictures, a digital distribution firm focused on independent content, will distribute 10 series across various AVOD platforms in the United States. Series include “Leo the Wildlife Ranger” for preschoolers and “Mini Ninjas,” based on the video game of the same name, for older kids.

“Giant is in an ideal position to support the digital streaming industry’s increasing demand for children’s content with our streamlined global distribution capabilities,” said Nick Savva, head of Giant Pictures. “We are thrilled to be in business with Cyber Group Studios as Giant continues to rapidly expand and diversify our digital services with exciting new distribution relationships.”

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Cyber Group Studios is a leading producer and distributor of animated series and a developer of global entertainment brands for children and families worldwide. Founded in 2005 and employing around 150 people, the company has set its headquarters in Paris, two production studios in Paris and Roubaix (France), an office in Los Angeles and strategic partnerships in Russia and China. The company says its mission is to produce safe and entertaining content for children around the world.

Kidoodle.TV is a family-focused AVOD streaming channel committed to ensuring children have a safe alternative to stream their favorite TV shows and movies. Available in over 140 countries, on thousands of connected devices, Kidoodle.TV is available on iOS, Android, Apple TV, Fire TV, LG, Samsung, Chromecast, Roku, Amazon, Connected TVs, HTML5 Web, and many other streaming media devices.

Giant Pictures is a subsidiary of Giant Interactive, an award-winning digital media and technology services company based in New York City and Los Angeles. For 15 years Giant has provided leading Hollywood studios and entertainment companies with delivery solutions for OTT, digital platforms, discs and streaming. With 40+ direct accounts as a digital aggregator, Giant distributes movies, documentaries and TV content to VOD and OTT platforms in North America and worldwide.

Giant Interactive Launches Baby Einstein App on Roku Channel Store

Giant Interactive on July 28 announced it is launching a Baby Einstein app on the Roku Channel Store.

The entire library of 34 Baby Einstein Classics is available for streaming, at no cost.

Baby Einstein expands a baby’s view of the world as he/she embarks on adventures with friendly characters, discovers numbers and letters, and develops an appreciation for classic lullabies and nursery rhymes.

“Now, more than ever, there is a need and desire for parents to help cultivate curiosity for their children with resources like the Baby Einstein Roku channel,” said Jeff Stabenau, co-founder and president of Giant Interactive. “With daily routines disrupted and schooling impacted by shelter-in-place, Kids2, Roku, Piro and Giant Interactive are aiding parents by bringing interactive content directly to the home.”

Users can install the free Baby Einstein channel in the Roku Channel Store, or by simply clicking this link.

Giant Interactive builds and deploys customized applications like the Baby Einstein Roku channel as well as providing video processing, digital platform delivery and content aggregation services to Apple TV, Prime Video, Netflix, PlutoTV and more, along with DVD, Blu-ray Disc and 4K Ultra HD disc authoring. In addition, Giant Interactive recently launched the popular Giant Pictures channel on Roku.

DEG’s New ‘4 Cups of Coffee’ Mentoring Program

DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group on June 5 kicked off a new mentoring program, “4 Cups of Coffee,” at the “Cocktails & Coffee” event at Sony  Studios in the Norman Lear Commissary. Under the program, the DEG’s Canon Club will match women in search of mentors with one of its advisors or other women executives for 30-minute career conversations, either in person or over the phone, up to four times per year. The Canon Club was established by DEG to provide women at all levels and in all sectors of digital media the opportunity to share knowledge and build their business networks. Last month, the DEG announced the appointment of 10 advisory board members to provide input on Canon Club event programming, rotate as host at speaker-driven salons and social/networking events, serve as founding mentors in the “4 Cups of Coffee” program, and judge the annual Hedy Lamarr Awards for Women in Entertainment and Technology, among other responsibilities. The advisory board is led by chair Robin Tarufelli of Deloitte, and vice chair Meri Hassouni of Giant Interactive. Other members are Loren Nielsen, DTS; Sofia Chang, HBO; Dametra Johnson-Marletti, Microsoft; Karin Gilford, Movies Anywhere; Andrea Downing, PBS Distribution; Cheryl Goodman, Sony Electronics; Nadia Haney, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment; and Darcy Antonellis, Vubiquity. Other Canon Club mentors include Beth Kearns, 20th Century Fox; Heathyr Jozel-Garcia, ABC Studios; Samara Winterfeld, DTS; Ken Williams, ETC@USC; Kejo Swingler, HBO; and Rachel Crang, Paramount Pictures.