Pocoyo - Learning through laughter™

Pocoyo is a cute three year old boy, all dressed in blue, and the intrepid, giggly hero of a tv programme aimed at very young children, between two and five years old.

Pocoyo and friends

Pocoyo, translated from the Spanish, means "Little Me" though in a cutesy, childish way, suited to the age group the programme targets. Pocoyo is dressed in a bright blue outfit, complete with matching hat, and is a bundle of laughter. He explores and adventures his way through life, helped by his buddies. Each buddy is a distinctly different colour and has a specific personality. They each represent someone who would be familiar to the viewer, as the programme's concept is to reflect the young viewer's world.

There's Pato (Spanish for duck), the bright yellow duck with a silly ghetto neck roll, whose personality feature is his careful planning. He is the calming influence to Pocoyo's adventurous spirit.

Elly the bright pink elephant is a great playmate. Fun-loving but a little bit bossy and told-you-so, she's the universal big sister.

Loula is Pocoyo's pet dog. She's just a dog. She doesn't interact as the other animals do in a human manner. She hangs around Pocoyo with a dog's loyalty and unquestioning respect.

The last buddy is the deep green Sleepy Bird. Mostly grumpy when her alarm clock goes off, she does eventually wake up and join in the fun. That'll be the universal Dad, then ;)

How the series was created

The series is a CGI creation, aided by XSI technology, to produce the effect of soft clay modelled figures. The first time I watched it I thought it was in fact claymation. The bright, not-quite-primary colours of the characters stand out on the perfectly white background. I must say, after the recent kids' hit shows in this country which seem to have stripes of every colour, glitter and sparkle, along with excruciatingly busy scenery, Pocoyo comes as a blessed relief. From a design point of view it's refreshing and pleasing to the eye.

The show itself

Each episode is five minutes long (excluding titles) and revolves around one learning point. The narrator - in English this is the delightful Stephen Fry - gently helps Pocoyo along as he makes the day's discovery and acts as intermediary between the young viewer and the characters on screen. The series employs the fairly common and pedagogically sound technique of presenting new material, encouraging enquiry in order to discover the hows, whats and whys, and finally repetition to aid memory. Everyday objects and occurences are used as the basis of each learning point. Viewers discover, along with Pocoyo, how to use an umbrella, what an echo is, what happens when you sneeze. Pocoyo and his friends also have a space adventure, a surprise party and look after Elly when she falls ill.

The creators: Zinkia Entertainment

Pocoyo is the product of award-winning Spanish creative company Zinkia Entertainment, who are mainly based in Madrid with a satellite studio in Tokyo. They have produced other television work, such as a pseudo-anime cartoon for pre-teens, called Shuriken School. but they also work on video games, with a penchant for mobile gaming in particular, and have hooked up with the likes of Coca-Cola and Nokia so they are used to working with the big boys.

Pocoyo hit the UK in September 2005, having been bought up by, and developed in association with, Granada International. The progression of the series from original concept to its full market potential was carefully monitored and managed by Granada with the specific intention of creating a mass market pre-school phenomenon. The toy licence is held by Bandai, while Random House holds the publishing licence and a number of other companies have licences for toiletries, greeting cards and confectionery.

Pocoyo earned Zinkia Entertainment the Animacor 2005 (Spanish amimation industry showcase and competition) best animation series award.

Marketing genius?

Nowadays it seems that no success story is complete without a few skeletons in the closet. The original creators had to shelve some of their ideas and compromise on others in order to secure international distribution and merchandising possibilities. Now I read this on teh internets, and I'm not saying any of it is true. It could all be vicious rumour-mongering by an evil twin, or something.

Merchandising wins the day: One episode features a car. Bandai, who have the toys licence, wanted the vehicle to appear more often so that a Pocoyo-branded car spinoff would produce a surefire marketing success. The creators refused. They turned the car into a Chitty Chitty Bang Bang type underwater/overground vehicle so that it could be used in two episodes and included it in the title credits. I guess that should be called a compromise.

The dummy compromise: The story goes that in order for the show to 'work' in the UK and US pre-school markets, Pocoyo's dummy (pacifier) had to disappear. In Spain there is not such a stigma attached to the use of dummies and the creators objected to the removal on the basis of the amount of work involved in redesigning Pocoyo to have a mouth and rewriting the CGI scripts to include the additional facial movements that the mouth would need to convey. The compromise in this case was to use the dummy in a few of the episodes, specifically when Pocoyo is in distress or unwell.

The creators stand firm: The pristine white backdrop was the one thing the creative team from Zinkia fought for and won. The merchandising options would be greater with a recognisable backdrop (think jigsaws, colouring books etc.) They claimed it would severely compromise the look and feel of their creation and stuck to their guns.

When to watch it

Pocoyo is aired, in the UK, at 3.30pm, Monday to Friday on ITV1. The DVD of the first series will be on sale, in the UK, in April 2006.

Elsewhere in the world: Pocoyo is licensed by ABC in Australia, Tree House in Canada, The Disney Channel in Asia and is due to launch in France soon through Nickelodeon. The creators retain the licences for Spain, Italy, Portugal and Latin America, with no televisual releases as yet.