Firdaus Kharas To Reanimate Cartoon Classic

April 2013

The George of the Jungle cartoon series gets a third incarnation by Ottawa producer Firdaus Kharas. Photo courtesy of Dreamworks

Mickey Mouse just turned 85 and, according to Vijay Batra, is worth about $18.5 billion. The Simpsons are close behind, and Bugs Bunny, which first appeared in 1940, has never disappeared for a refit. Cartoon characters have always been hot properties.

A little success and they are remade into new TV series, adapted for movies, shoveled into video games and can appear on a bizarre array of merchandise.

It’s strange that Mickey is ranked only Number 19 on TV Guide’s list of the greatest cartoon characters of all time, far behind Bugs (1), Homer Simpson (2) and Rocky and Bullwinkle (3), whose creator also owns the number-30 spot with George of the Jungle.

We haven’t seen much of George recently, although he’s about to come swinging out of a Singapore studio, by way of Ottawa and Toronto, for his sixth public incarnation. When the new cartoon series airs in 2014 it will make full use of George’s klutzy Tarzan gig that started in 1967. The difference this time is that production isn’t in the hands of Hollywood titans but Ottawa’s multi-lateral media producer Firdaus Kharas.

Kharas moved into animation in 1995 (establishing Chocolate Moose Media) after a career in Canadian government. He has dozens of animated series credits ranging from For Better or For Worse (based on Lynn Johnston’s beloved comic strip) to Nan and Lili, programming for Al Jazeera’s Children’s Channel. He also has a dozen feature films and documentaries on his resume.

The new George of the Jungle will be plotted by a pair of as-yet-unnamed Canadian writers, brought to life with Toronto storyboards, animated at Singapore’s August Media Holdings (Kharas got his start in the business in Singapore and Malaysia) and musically scored in Ottawa. The final result will be 52 11-minute episodes. The path is typical of today’s byzantine entertainment web:

Owned by Dreamworks and paid for by Teletoon; produced by freelancer Kharas, written by Canadians, made by August Media Holdings, distributed by Dreamworks Classics and August Rights, broadcast by Teletoon (Canada), Nickelodeon (Germany, Northern Europe) and TVE (Spain). And that’s before it’s even made. If the series is a hit, distribution will spread quickly, to say nothing of ancillary products.

It’s tough to tell how a new audience raised on complicated violence and edgy plots will react to George’s simple style. He first arrived for 17 episodes during ABC’s Saturday morning cartoon lineup in 1967. A remake lasted 26 episodes in 2007. In 1997 Brendan Fraser starred in a full-length feature film, and in 2003 a second film – George of the Jungle 2 - went very quickly to video. In 2008 a George of the Jungle: The Search for the Secret video game was released.

Reanimating an iconic character may have a long history to draw on, but expectations will be very high. “This is a formidable team to create a world-class series,” says Kharas with just the right hint of promotional optimism.

Kharas with a Masai villager in Kenya while doing research for The Solar Campaign.For much of the past decade he’s been busy with the non-profit side of Chocolate Moose Media – called Culture Shift – creator of public service announcements, focussing on the developing world, like The Three Amigos, Buzz and Bite and No Excuses (the subject of Gatineau’s Chispa Productions’ upcoming documentary The Animated Activist). He’s also in the midst of The Solar Campaign and is creative director for iheed, a mobile-health technology outfit.

Switching between directed advocacy and pure entertainment is like moving from long-distance races to sprints, but Kharas knows it’s all about proper training. With dozens of international awards for his work, including a Peabody Award, he’s proven that he understands the program.

“Animation is universally accepted, if done well. Each time I’m in production I learn more about how it can entertain or educate the target audience. The skill set to get children to laugh or to persuade adults to change their behaviour is not that different,” he says.

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