This document is part of the Ocean Girl Archive — Last update: 2008-04-26 — sourcemeta

Author:Michael Fitzgerald

Conquering the kids

Loud, bright, and irresistible to under-fives, the wiggles are about to burst onto the big screen

When Titanic hits Australian movie screens this week it will be up against a very different kind of juggernaut. Director James Cameron labored for 160 days in a 64-million-liter tank to make his $200 million ocean epic, while The Wiggles Movie was shot in 23 days at one-hundredth of that budget, relying on family volunteers and special effects no more complicated than bear suits. Says director Dean Covell: “It wasn’t a pressure shoot, it was a lot of fun.”

Where Cameron’s reputation is pinned to a sinking ship, the Sydney-based children’s band are on more solid ground. With goof-ball grins, a chunky dinosaur named Dorothy, and song titles as simple as Hot Potato and I’m a Cow, the Wigglesʼ Murray Cook, Jeff Fatt, Anthony Field and Greg Page have struck gold with preschoolers. Since 1993 they’ve sold 1.3 million videos and 700,000 CDs, and last year they gave more than 500 concerts in Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong. “The guys just have a nice bit of magic that works for children,” says Covell, who shot the Wigglesʼ Wake Up Jeff! video before harnessing their talents for the big screen.

Certainly The Wiggles Movie does everything kidsʼ entertainment should, moving quickly and artlessly through a threadbare plot involving a stolen magic wand that cues some garish production design and 23 songs. Quack Quack shows the Wiggles at their cartoon-style best: riding through the country in their big red car, they sing, smile and sway with a refreshing lack of irony. “They’re outrageously positive,” notes the movie’s writer, Greg Truman. “You feel occasionally you want to hit them with a stick.”

It’s this very quality, of course, that kids, parents and educators love. The Wiggles promote social behavior, urging children to engage with a world that is becoming increasingly virtual. “We’re just helping them foster their inquisitiveness, their imagination,” says the blue-skivvied Wiggle, Anthony Field, who founded the group while studying early childhood development at Sydney’s Macquarie University with Cook and Page. Says Field: “We always go back to our child-centered philosophy: What’s in it for the child? What are they going to get out of this?”

Fred Gaffney, of Gaffney International Licensing, is now plotting the Wigglesʼ global assault. A TV series is in the can, but Gaffney believes it is the group’s outsize pop persona that will sell them internationally. “As live communicators they offer a whole set of values,” says Gaffney, who also merchandises Bananas in Pyjamas, “and it’s another dimension altogether as we launch this film” His plans for world domination begin in Britain and the US. next year, with music clips paving the way for the movie’s international release to “potentially hundreds of millions of children around the world,” he says.

The Wiggles are also riding the wave of Australia’s success in children’s TV, an export industry worth $A5 million a year for the Australian Children’s Television Foundation. ABC-TV’s Bananas in Pyjamas is seen in 52 countries, and its characters are No. 1 for preschoolers on U.S. syndicated TV, according to distributor Sachs Family Entertainment. Last season, toy B1s and B2s – part of a Bananas merchandise range that earns $A50 million a year in Australia alone – popped up on episodes of ER and Party of Five.

Also traveling well is Ocean Girl, Network Ten’s action drama about environmental warrior Neri’s quest to save the planet, which is watched by pre-teens in 103 countries. Such success brings its own challenges. “The Disney Channel wanted her to be athletic, strong,” says producer Jonathan Shiff. “Equally, in some Islamic cultures, modesty is a very important aspect of women’s presentation, so we had to steer a line between being too immodest there and being appropriate for other countries” But the key to success is not trying too hard to please everyone, says ABC’s head of children’s TV and executive producer of Bananas, Claire Henderson: “Make a program that is going to please your target audience, and if you do it well enough, it will cross boundaries.”

Which is where the Wiggles want to go. “A wand alone can’t produce magic,” Dorothy tells klutzy magician Wally the Great in The Wiggles Movie. “You have to want to entertain people” This fate four have that desire as surely as they can sing Nya Nya Nya. Now they’re just waiting to see who turns up for their party.