Are We There Yet?
Some years ago we developed a series about a girl in the back of a car who, like most children on long car journeys, was bored. She was surrounded by the sort of toys you might find in a car: a nodding dog, a cute alien character stuck to the window with plastic suckers and a long fabric snake. When the girl says the words Are We There Yet? she is suddenly propelled into a fantasy world inspired by the view outside the window, where she and her toys have an adventure. If it’s raining, she might be plunged into a submarine adventure. If she is passing large cooling towers she might be transported to a kitchen where a giant is cooking in some extremely large pots. It it’s night time she might visit the moon.
We thought this was a good idea, mainly because it was a situation that everyone could recognise. To make it interesting, and as a respectful nod to Disney’s Alice series from the 1920s, we designed it as a combination of a live action girl with 2D characters and backgrounds in the fantasy sequences.
Here is an extract from the Bible:
You know the situation. We’ve all been there. You’re stuck in the back of a car on a journey to a place you may or may not want to go, and you’re bored. You’ve tried the Gameboy, but it gives you a headache. You’ve played “I spy”, you’ve counted telegraph poles, and that’s just made it worse. These are two of the most boring games in the world and now you feel even more bored than ever! Added to which, you’re not the sort of girl who will tolerate being bored for very long. It’s not that you’re hyperactive or anything, but you’re an imaginative kid and you have a will of iron. There’s no reason why you should have to put up with a future that seems to hold nothing but the sight of the back of your parents’ heads and the world flashing by outside.
The nodding dog on the back ledge agrees. Especially when you’re going over speed bumps. But the alien stuck to the window just grins stupidly, and the felt caterpillar in the side looks so… well, floppy and useless.
You know you have to do something, but what? There’s something bubbling up inside you, and you’ve just got to let it out! Then you hit on the question . It’s not that it winds up your parents, though, perhaps that helps. It’s that this question changes everything. It brings your toys to life, and propels you into a world fashioned entirely by your imagination. So, with a glint in your eye, you ask:
Are We There Yet?
We wrote a couple of scripts, made a trailer, and took it to the Cartoon Forum, where the response was underwhelming. We liked the project because it gave us unlimited scope for fantasy, because the combination of live action and 2D was attractive and, at the time, unusual, and because it was a classic situation that children all over the world could sympathise with.
Later, we realised that it was not really a concept for a series at all. It was a concept for an introduction and ending to a story but there was nothing inherent in the idea that would generate conflict. Fantasy stories about a girl and her toys who tangle with an octopus, or escape from a giant’s cooking pot do not need to start with a girl in the back of the car. We found ourselves writing stories that had little or no connection with car journeys.
Children’s stories should start with a bang. There is nothing duller than watching someone else looking bored and, however much we might empathise with the situation, this was not going to make riveting television. Although the concept provided a catchy way of getting into the stories and we came up with characters for the toys that provided both humour and conflict, we had problems coming up with a device to get us back into the real world. If something happened to bring the girl back to reality before the fantasy story could conclude dramatically, e.g. arriving at the destination, or a comment from a parent, then the viewers would feel cheated. If the fantasy story was allowed to resolve satisfactorily, then there was no real point in returning to the dull reality of the interior of the car.
Even the technique, which we thought attractive and interesting, was a deterrent to overseas buyers. As soon as you have a live action character, foreign buyers get nervous about dubbing costs and ask whether lip-sync can be achieved credibly. Cultural differences come into play that do not apply when you are dealing with animation. Children from different countries dress differently, whether the major clothing brands like it or not.
So we didn’t get anywhere with this project. Since then we have taken more care to ensure that the concept itself generates enough conflict to drive storylines. I believe that the characters we came up for this project could generate the dramatic narrative we required, but this had little to do with a bored girl in the back of a car.