This month, there is a brilliant new action-adventure preschool comedy series, premiering on Cartoonito: Batwheels. Staring crime-fighting vehicles alongside Batman, Robin, Batgirl and other iconic DC Super Heroes this show has been delighting audiences both young and old. Read more about Batwheels via the takeover hub page.
But first, keep reading – the team at UKMums.TV had the opportunity to chat with Michael G. Stern, the Creator and Showrunner of Batwheels (Beware the Batman, Transformers Prime, Disney’s Imagination Movers, Doc McStuffins, Sofia the First, Chuggington); & the Executive Producer of Batwheels Simon J. Smith (Penguins of Madagascar, Bee Movie, Antz, Shrek, Big Hero 6).
The Batwheels are brand-new characters, which make the DC universe so much more accessible and relatable to a preschool audience. Can you talk to us about where the inspiration for this new show came from?
Michael: Warner Brothers had been trying to introduce Batman to a younger audience for some time, but they hadn’t quite been successful. I took a look at it and thought the problem could be that they hadn’t ever presented Batman as Batman – a more “kid-ified” version of Batman. I think they underestimated that audience.
The key was to offer them the same Batman that older audiences love. Once we had decided to do that we knew that we needed to create a balance between giving them the real Batman and also some really fun kid characters. So we needed to create this other set of characters – the Batwheels – who are like young kids and through which young kids can see the world of Batman through their eyes.
Can you tell us a bit about the early conversations you had with the DC / Warner Bros team when pitching the series? Did they have any reservations, what were they most excited about?
Michael: There were reservations at first about “How is this going to work”, “When kids see Batman on screen, are they only going to care about Batman and not these other new characters?”. It was on us to create compelling, fun, new characters – the Batwheels – that kids would love just as much as Batman. We did some early testing after writing the initial scripts and creating an animatic with Simon. And that testing was a real relief, as the kids loved Bam and the Batwheels just as much. Once we knew that we had this set of fun characters kids could relate to, we knew we were all set!
With this being the first-ever show to bring the world of Batman to a preschool audience, I can imagine you had to be quite careful to ensure it was appropriately pitched at a younger audience. Can you talk to us about how you made the DC universe accessible to the littlest of fans?
SImon: There are lots of techniques we employed to make the show feel familiar to a younger audience and to make it feel safe where parents were concerned. We have a visceral, computer animated show. We wanted to get that dynamic feel to the cars and the action but without scaring children, as computer graphics can be very realistic. So, for things like fire, water, explosions, and impacts, we used 2D animated effects to soften its realism and make it feel more like a Saturday morning cartoon. So the combination of those two things made it possible to create this universe that has never quite been seen before. It’s still a legitimate Batman and Gotham universe.
The other we did with the characters to make them really appealing was that the cars are animated on ones on the computer – so there’s 24 frames per second – and then their faces, the eyes and mouths – they’re animated on two, so there’s 12 frames per second, which is more like 2D cartoons. In that way we made the characters feel much more familiar, keeping them in a safe pocket – but still with that visceral action.
Michael: If parents everywhere take one thing from this it’s that Batman is no longer “too dark” for young kids, thanks to Batwheels. We had rules around violence – you never see Batman acting in an aggressive way. It’s more about humiliating the villains in silly ways like having them slip on stuff and having paint cans dropped on their heads. We created a safe space there – all whilst keeping the action in Gotham City, in the nighttime hours.
The entire series takes place at night, which is different to most pre-school shows. But we needed to create this super-colourful nighttime world that kids don’t usually get to experience. It’s an opportunity and a real feature to have this take place at night.
Simon: That part of the series was really exciting to me. Batman only comes out at night, which means the Batwheels will only come out at night. The challenge was “How do we make this world feel fun and safe for a family to watch this show. So, I thought, where do families go to have fun at night, where it’s familiar and safe? And I thought THEME PARKS! They’re super-bright and colourful. And that’s how we approached the design of Gotham – we shot it like a theme park. It feels fun, safe – and it’s at night.
The Batwheels aren’t kids but they share a limited amount of life experience. Can you tell us how you have tried to make these characters as relatable as possible to their younger audience?
Michael: We just gave them the sorts of issues that pre-schoolers are facing. In the story, the Batwheels have just awakened – they’re new to experiencing life. We get to see them learning what it means to be a team, to make friends, in the way that young kids do. Cars work as a wonderful metaphor for the things that kids will go through. We get to see them experience a lot of the things young kids will encounter, and we can mirror some of those same challenges in a fun, silly, slapstick way. And kids will be able to relate to these stories.
Simon: This is what really appealed to me. The show has really strong messages and teachings but not in a preachy way. They’re really beautifully woven into the characters’ point of view.
If you had to describe the Batwheels in just three words, what would they be?
Michael: Fun, heroic and full of heart
Simon: What I love about the show it feels that it’s a legitimate Batman, in a legitimate Gotham, with legitimate DC heroes and villains. And we’ve added morecharacters to the DC world.So, for me, those three words would be Fun, legitimacy and heart.
What are the most important considerations for you when it comes to producing animated series – how do you make sure the stories and characters are as engaging and compelling as they can be?
Simon: One of the things we talked about in terms of the design of Gotham and the Batcave was that it was car-centric. So, there are multiple levels inside the Batcave and inside Gotham. For instance you’ve got loads of ramps. One of the things we really wanted to avoid was flatness and having two cars next to one another, without any dynamic. One of the characteristics of the show is movement. Because they’re cars and they can move we always have them moving from place to place. Movement in terms of story, character and what kids are watching and that’s key to making it different to other shows that are on TV.
What do really want to achieve with Batwheels?
Michael: What I’d really like to achieve with Batwheels is to introduce Batman to a new, younger audience, in an exciting young way that makes them fall in love with him in the same way that I did. While at the same time allowing them to enjoy it with their siblings, with their parents, and with Batman fans in general by making a show that appeals to everybody.
Simon: For me, it’s to have the whole family watching the show together. That would be AMAZING if we can get everybody to watch an episode together – the 4-year-old, the 8-year-old, the teen and the parents – or whatever that might be. That would be great.
What does the future look like for Batwheels?
Michael: We’ve been told that we have the entire DC Universe at our disposal, so that’s one direction. Without going into any specifics that will get me into trouble, there are lots of surprises ahead – many of which come out of the DC and extended Batman universes, so fans of those universes will really enjoy it on that level.
Simon: What’s exciting is where is this highway going to go for Batwheels in terms of the DC Universe and the Batwheels Universe? There are so many surprises in store!
Is there anything you want to add?
Simon: Just that it’s been so much fun making the show. And we’ve tried to put as much of ourselves into the show as we could. So we hope that everyone has as much fun watching it as we have making it.
To continue the fun with Batwheels, head to the main takeover hub HERE.