Real Characters

Celebrities have been making appearances, in cartoon form, across key storytelling and communications platforms. The initiatives are mostly for children, but there is sometimes appeal for adults as well, depending on the project. They involve a variety of media configurations:

  • Animated TV shows and films. In June, Ellen DeGeneres’ Ellen Digital Ventures and Warner Bros. Animation said they were pairing to develop a 2D-animated TV series depicting DeGeneres as a seven-year-old. In May, Genius Brands International and POW! Entertainment announced they are co-producing Stan Lee’s Superhero Kindergarten, featuring an animated version of Arnold Schwarzenegger as a former superhero and teacher, named Arnold Armstrong, and his class of five-year-olds with superpowers. There is also a cameo by an animated Stan Lee in each episode. And Bear Grylls, whose licensing activities are handled by Beanstalk, is working through his Bear Grylls Ventures with U.K.-based Platinum Films to produce an animated series called Bear Grylls Young Adventurer, featuring a cartoon version of his teenage self as he hones his survival skills. The first series is due to be completed this year.
  • Emojis and digital stickers. The Korean YouTube star HeoPop has been translated into a light bulb character by entertainment and design studio Vooz, in keeping with his focus on science experiments and creativity. The character is available as a sticker on the Kakao instant messaging platform and has been put into physical form in items such as plush. In February, the musicians of KISS, licensed by Epic Rights, partnered with the Official Emoji Brand; the characters are available for licensing globally. And the K-pop group BTS partnered with messaging service LINE to create character versions under the name BT21 as part of the latter’s LINE Friends sticker assortment and license. A BT21 pop-up recently opened in London.
  • Publishing. Jonathan and Drew Scott, best known for their HGTV series Property Brothers, paired with HarperCollins for a children’s book last October called Builder Brothers: Big Plans. The title, which features childlike character versions of the identical twins, reached The New York Times bestseller list and is being followed up with a second story, Builder Brothers: Better Together, this September. Negotiations are in progress for a TV series based on the characters. Meanwhile, soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo takes on the role of superhero in Striker Force 7, a comic book from Graphic India that was launched on Comic Book Day in May and has plans for transmedia expansion.
  • Gaming. Warren Buffett and Apple launched a new app in May called Warren Buffett’s Paper Wizard. The paper-throwing game features the investor in a stylized, 3D animated form. This is not the first time Buffett has been animated; he appears in the Genius Brands-produced Secret Millionaires Club, which stars a cartoon version of him and can be accessed by fans in the form of webisodes, comics, and games.

These celebrities-as-characters often bring the famous faces involved with them into new character/entertainment-based categories and to younger demographic audiences where they had previously lacked significant potential.

This phenomenon is not a new one. Genius Brands has created programming over the last decade featuring not only Buffett and Schwarzenegger but also Giselle Bündchen and Martha Stewart, for example, while Stan Lee has appeared in a variety of animated and illustrated projects over the years. But the practice has certainly seen a burst of activity in recent months.

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