“We tried to find a good story where Dad is pretending to be Santa and it is still all OK from that perspective,” Brumm explains. “We made sure we didn’t put our foot in it.”
Bluey’s “Verandah Santa” episode sails closer to such dangerous waters than some of its animated British counterparts marking the start of the festive season this week on ABC Kids – Nella the Princess Knight plays it safe with “The Knight Before” (Saturday, 5.15pm); Aliens Love Underpants has “Panta Clause” (iview); and the Parisian superheroes of French cartoon Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug and Cat Noir (Saturday, 5.25pm, ABC ME) battle “Santa Claws”.
The secret to Bluey’s success lies partly in its use of the standard ingredients of early childhood entertainment (sibling conflict and resolution, imaginative and instructive play), but mostly in its joyful exploration of parent-child time, free of digital devices. Having honed the tricks of his trade during a 10-year stint in London, where he worked on Charlie and Lola, Brumm returned to Queensland to make Bluey. The show became an instant success. It’s the most-watched iview program of all time, and is now seen via Disney in countries including the US, the UK, China, South Africa and Kenya.
“It’s boisterous kids’ humour,” says Brumm. “There’s lots of physical activity and craziness. The show highlights how good play is for developing social and emotional aspects of a kid’s life and I reckon that might be missing a little in the modern world.”
Adults in need of a refresher on how to re-enter the land of make believe can take inspiration from the fun that Bluey and her four-year-old sister, Bingo, get up to with their obliging mum and dad. As the father of three children aged seven to nine, Brumm is the first to admit that for adults, child’s play can be “boring and repetitive”.
“It’s not that it’s exhausting trying to stoop down to the kids’ intellect – it’s exhausting trying to reach up to their emotional level. We’ve lost that ability to stay that present, and also we’ve got time pressures. The best thing for the kid is to be playing with other kids – free and unstructured. So I did feel guilty that most of our episodes are the parents playing with the kids, but the investors decided it’s just funnier to watch when they’re kicking Dad in the guts.”
The message of “Verandah Santa” is a seasonal one of kindness, but with a twist.
“The format of kids’ television is often treated too factory-line like. To me, each episode is a chance to make a short film. I try to put thought and originality into each episode and not just circle over the same things – the power of friendship and co-operation. I like to look at what gets in the way of that.”