The most exciting thing on Australian television at the moment is happening around 5.50pm each night, and then all the bloody time on catch up. Bluey, a kids cartoon based on a family of blue heeler dogs living somewhere in suburban Queensland, is 7 minutes of charm. It’s also very re-watchable – an invaluable quality for a type of television that attracts fanatical audiences who love their ‘repeat’ button. The combination of content and form is working a treat – with the show recently announced as the “number 1 show in ABC iView history ever” (the equivalent of the BBC’s iPlayer).
Made by the Emmy Winning outlet Ludo Studio in conjunction with Screen Australia and the BBC studios, Bluey was created by Joe Brumm (who previously cut his teeth on the BBC’s Charlie and Lola). Bluey and her little sister Bingo live with their Mum and Dad, and each episode features the four dogs doing really quite ordinary, but lovely, things. There’s been more that a few episodes where the girls spend their whole day playing a game of pretend taxis, shops or even “Blue Mountains” – the later where Bluey, Bingo and Mum pretend to be tiny mountaineers scaling up and down the ridges of an unknown land (shown at the end to be them all just playing on top of their Dad as he sleeps). Then there’s the game of “Keepy Uppy” – where the girls have to keep a balloon from touching the ground for the day. Not only are they the kind of lo-fi things that real families can relate to – it’s also a place to get a few ideas about what to do next!
The television animation market is completely flooded with talking animals and small quaint families. It’s not just that these series are popular, travel easily and are relatively cheap and reliable to make, but given the cast, they can also go on for years and years without key cast aging out of character or jumping the shark after a love interest gone too far.
Bluey draws its audience of kids and their carers with sweet stories and images, but also fantastic sound. On the voice front, Australian parents of a certain age (30s and up), will recognise the voice of Bluey’s Dad as indie musician Dave McCormack. Although never a huge international success, McCormack’s music with his band Custard was a local antidote to Britpop when it was in all its glory, complete with some fantastic self-deprecating and toe tapping style.
McCormack’s is familiar enough to be warm, and unaffected enough to be the right type of larrikin. He really does sound like the bloke you’d overhear at a local park or BBQ- probably because most Australians did hear him on a mixed tape, CD or radio countdown in the nineties and naughties. Add to that tone and minor celebrity some lovely dialogue (like calling his two little girls “kiddo” and “squirt” while playing dress ups with them), and he’s easily one of the most lovable characters on our screens at the moment. Already critics have praised him as the TV Dad Cartoons Had to Have – a much more even figure than say the bumbling Daddy Pig who features alongside Peppa. As an aside, McCormack has continued to make his way musically in television, scoring for Rake and Animal Kingdom, among others.
The music used in Bluey is also really interesting too. In addition to the original score by Brisbane local Joff Bush, the show has incorporated classical music into key episodes in really interesting ways. For example, the episode “Bike” is set entirely at the park as Bluey and her Dad watch little sister Bingo, little friend Bently and cousin Muffin have tantrums as they face little obstacles getting in their way. As each little dog tries, gets frustrated, “has a meltdown” and eventually works through their failure to triumph, the music builds from a basic pulse to a sweet and hilarious fanfare. We see each tantrum-y, frustrated pup in turn try, give up and then work out how to overcome their foe – one managing to finally reach the water fountain as it flows, the catch the monkey bar, and other put on a bag all by themselves. It would be one thing to make this music generic, but the development of the original score into melody Beethoven’s “Ode To Joy” takes the whole thing to another level. In another episode, “The Magic Xylophone”, Mozart’s “Rondo alla Turca from Sonata No. 11” (or “Turkish March”) underscores the game where Bingo and Bluey use a ‘Magic Xylophone’ to make their Dad do silly poses around the house. In both cases the classical ‘tunes’ are over the top and hilarious – also completely the right mix of cliché and innovation to satisfy the grown ups and kids watching.
The debut season of the show continues to play here in Australia, and is reported to be ‘coming soon to CBeebies’, although a date for release hasn’t been announced. Given the success at home though it surely can’t be far away – or for other international markets too.
Dr Liz Giuffre is a lecturer and researcher in Media, Music and Cultural Studies at University of Technology, Sydney, Australia. Her work focuses on music and television in particular, including audience studies, fandom, cultural history and cultural industries in transition.