He Has a Way with Words!

Wally, the star of the new preschool se­ries Wal­lykazam!, magic on Nick this month. by Ramin Za­hed helps spread some preschool lit­er­acy

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Wally, the star of the new preschool se­ries Wal­lykazam!, helps spread some lit­er­acy magic on Nick. by Ramin Za­hed

If you were go­ing to teach kids about words and lit­er­acy, what bet­ter way than to get some help from a clever for­est troll, his pet dragon and a cast of mag­i­cal crea­tures? That’s ex­actly what Wal­lykazam!, a new preschool an­i­mated se­ries, sets out to do on Nick­elodeon this month. Cre­ated by Adam Peltz­man ( Emmy-win­ning writer of pop­u­lar toons such as Back­yardi­gans, The Oc­to­nauts, Peter Rab­bit and Bub­ble Gup­pies), the show em­beds a lit­er­acy cur­ricu­lum into a full-length ad­ven­ture as Wally the troll, with the aid of his magic stick, shows kids how to form words us­ing a spe­cific let­ter, sound or rhyme.

Peltz­man says he be­gan his new ven­ture by ask­ing him­self the ques­tion, “What’s fun about words?” Then, he came up with this idea of a kid who could use words to play­fully trans­form the world around him. “It seemed like a great way to make words fun and pow­er­ful for kids, and it fit so well with an­i­ma­tion — lots of op­por­tu­ni­ties for gags and sur­pris­ing story twists,” says the show’s cre­ator. “Then I started fig­ur­ing out who this kid was and what the world around him was like. For a brief minute, I con­sid­ered set­ting it around a boy and his dog in the mod­ern world, but quickly scrapped that for a more fan­tas­ti­cal take be­cause I liked hav­ing the free­dom to in­vent new crea­tures with weird names, like Borgelorps and Fruz­zlewuz­zles. So the boy be­came a troll, the dog be­came a dragon and the trou­ble­maker kid in the neigh­bor­hood be­came a goblin with ex­cep­tion­ally large ears.”

Vis­ual cues for the se­ries came from clas­sic fan­tasy worlds like Mid­dle-earth as well as beloved prop­er­ties like The Mup­pet Show and Looney Tunes car­toons. Thanks to the work of the show’s art direc­tors, Jeff Tucker and Jen­nifer Tay­lor, Peltz­man was able to zero in on the whim­si­cal and mem­o­rable look of the show.

The Evo­lu­tion of Wally

The de­vel­op­ment process for the CG-an­i­mated se­ries be­gan about three years ago, with a five-minute short that was de­signed to tease the idea and in­tro­duce the main char­ac­ters. “Orig­i­nally, it was sup­posed to air as a short, but Nick­elodeon thought the idea had prom­ise as a se­ries, so they held the short and com­mis­sioned a longer pilot,” says Peltz­man. “As al­ways, there were some changes through­out the process. Wally had other names, and the show had other ti­tles. But de­spite the time and the changes, it was a re­ally fruit­ful pe­riod — we learned a lot, and were able to hit the ground run­ning when we got to se­ries.”

One of the stand-out qual­i­ties of Wal­lykazam! is the way the lit­er­acy cur­ricu­lum is clev­erly mixed with strong nar­ra­tive and comedic el­e­ments. As Peltz­man ex­plains, the story never stops for a game or for a stand-alone cur­ric­u­lar seg­ment. In­stead, the nar­ra­tive leads, and when Wally needs a word, there will be a cur­ric­u­lar beat that moves the story for­ward and keeps preschool­ers laugh­ing and en­gaged.

“Each episode fea­tures a rule for the magic words of the day — for in­stance, words that start with ‘M’ or ‘H’ or words with a cer­tain rhyming sound,” he says. “So one day, Wally and Norville (his pet dragon) are on a moun­tain of marsh­mal­lows drink­ing milk, the next they’re on hop­ping ham­burg­ers. We’ve cat­a­pulted into cas­tles and walked on waf­fles and parachuted from a pickle with a pro­pel­ler. Many times dur­ing the first sea­son I’ve looked at a scene and said, ‘Well, I don’t think that’s ever hap­pened on TV be­fore.’ So there’s sort of a play­ful, de­light­ful ab­sur­dity that I think (hope!) kids will en­joy.”

Of course, the first sea­son of a show is of­ten the most chal­leng­ing since there are so many dif­fer­ent prob­lems to solve and ques­tions to an­swer. “We’re al­ways try­ing to fig­ure

out a process that works best for our par­tic­u­lar show — for in­stance, how to in­te­grate the 3-D and 2-D el­e­ments, or how to work with smaller sets so that we can travel to more places without break­ing the bud­get,” says Peltz­man. “Be­cause so much of it is new and dif­fer­ent from other shows we’ve all worked on, there’s no road map, so we’re si­mul­ta­ne­ously cre­at­ing the show and the road map as we go.”

Putting It All To­gether

The re­sults of the pro­duc­tion team’s la­bor (based at Nick­elodeon Stu­dios in Bur­bank) has made it all worth­while. Peltz­man says he re­ally en­joys watch­ing the show, even though it’s for young chil­dren. “There’s al­ways some­thing that makes me laugh or smile,” he says, sound­ing like Wally’s proud fa­ther. “That’s the re­sult of hav­ing a lot of ex­tremely tal­ented peo­ple work­ing on the show who all put their own cre­ative stamp on the work. … It’s re­ally re­ward­ing to see all the sep­a­rate el­e­ments of the show — the writ­ing, the voices, the art, the mu­sic — all come to­gether in the fin­ished prod­uct.”

A huge fan of ev­er­green shows such as Looney Tunes, Rocky and Bull­win­kle, Woody Wood­pecker, The Jet­sons and The Flint­stones, Peltz­man says he al­ways re­ally loved Satur­day-morn­ing an­i­mated come­dies. He also says he’s very pleased with the great va­ri­ety he sees today in the kids’ TV an­i­ma­tion land­scape. “I have a lot of friends writ­ing and work­ing on var­i­ous an­i­mated shows, and some of them are so weirdly won­der­ful and ab­surd,” he says. “I do wish there were more op­por­tuni- ties in New York — there are a lot of tal­ented an­i­ma­tion artists here, but not quite as much go­ing on as there was a decade ago.”

Of course, we won’t leave Wally and Norville’s cre­ator alone un­til he shares some good ca­reer ad­vice for as­pir­ing chil­dren’s show cre­ators. He says, first of all, you have to start with an idea that gen­uinely sparks some­thing for you. “With preschool, it’s cer­tainly im­por­tant to know the au­di­ence — there are cer­tain ways that young kids process in­for­ma­tion and learn that are very dif­fer­ent from how older au­di­ences think and learn,” he says. “But once you have a han­dle on that, you re­ally have to trust your own sto­ry­telling in­stincts. Be­cause if you don’t find what you’re work­ing on funny or in­ter­est­ing or ex­cit­ing, chances are the 4-yearolds watch­ing won’t ei­ther. So they’ll turn off the TV, or switch over to Down­ton Abbey. Preschool­ers love Down­ton Abbey!”

Maybe, but some­thing tells us Wally is a lot more fun to hang out with than those uptight, up­per class Brits! Wal­lykazam! pre­miered Feb. 3 and airs week­days at 1 p.m. on Nick­elodeon.

Wally the Word­smith: Nick’s new an­i­mated se­ries Wal­lykazam! in­tro­duces preschool view­ers to the magic of words, as a boy named Wally Troll­man and his pet dragon, Norville, en­joy mag­i­cal ad­ven­tures with their for­est friends. Adam Peltz­man

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