How Bluey became Mom & Dad’s pet show

How Bluey became Mom & Dad’s pet show

Kids 31 May 2021

Bluey co-executive producer Charlie Aspinwall talks about storytelling, playing games, childhood development and making Mom and Dad laugh, too

CBeebies’ (DStv channel 306) award-winning new Australian children’s animated series, Bluey, centres on a family of dogs including Bluey, a 6-year-old Blue Heeler, her 4-year-old sister Bingo, Mom Chilli and dad Bandit. The show is all about the imaginative games that children play at that age, and features loving and involved parents.

Part of what makes it so delightful is that while Bluey and Bingo play just like real-life little girls, they’re also dogs. Bingo needs to learn to use her bark when Daddy plays a bit too roughly for her, and when Bandit is unsure of herself, she tucks her tail in. The result is a series full of jokes, fun and those little details that make it a pleasure to watch with the kids. “It shows a version of the world that's very optimistic, with as much fun and warmth as possible, and where people can be relaxed and open. That's something that we've just wanted to do, and I think people enjoy that,” says co-executive producer of Bluey Charlie Aspinwall, who’s also co-founder of Bluey’s animation studio, Ludo.

As executive producer, Charlie’s job is to work with series creator and showrunner Joe Brumm on scripts and animatics (preliminary versions of the episodes done on storyboards), and to go back and forth with the series’ broadcasters, taking their notes and making any necessary changes. It takes around 60 people working together to make an episode of Bluey and, Simon adds, “It takes about 4 or 5 months to make just 1 episode.” Bluey is a labour of love, and everything that we see on screen is carefully considered.

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Bluey & Bingo playing to learn

Bluey’s core stories are structured around playing games, as it’s an essential part of childhood development. “Joe has done a lot of reading about what it is to parent pre-school children. From an early stage, it was clear that we were making a show about that particular age of 4 to 7, which is the stage where kids go through a socio-dramatic phase. This is a phase where they are essentially role modelling the world and acting it out themselves and with their friends, or siblings. It’s a really fun stage of development after the motor stage, and before the cognitive stage,” explains Charlie.

“It's a rich environment for story because it's really funny. They (Bluey and Bingo) can throw on all kinds of characters. We always talk about how the gold standard of play at that time is where kids are just on their own playing in an unstructured way. They're just playing out stories that are so creative and have such rich narratives in often a very bizarre and idiosyncratic way. Those stories and situations and characters really lend themselves perfectly to storytelling for a pre-school audience. So it's extremely exciting material for us to work with. But the show is also based on quite a lot of research about that fundamental stage when a child is developing.”

5 amazing games

“We like to make sure that Bluey stays in her world and that she doesn't stray out into the real world, a bit like The Simpsons does. And something we always try to do is to put a game at the core of every episode,” says Charlie. “That allows us to be playful in episodes, and we can deal with subjects that we might not be able to do if we were doing them seriously. They might not be something that would entertain a pre-schooler. But if we frame everything with a game, then it allows us to have a lot of fun and make a comedy essentially, about an issue that a pre-schooler has to deal with every day, like going to the shops or getting on a bus.

Charlie remembers 5 games that Bluey and Bingo have played…

  1. Queens, I really enjoyed. Bluey and Bingo play being queen and taking turns to be the queen. That's really funny. 1 of my ambitions is for the queen (of England) to see that episode and see if she relates to it at all!
  2. When they play Granny, that's a real audience favourite. I think my first favourite episode was probably Grannies.
  3. Dance Mode is a great game and a great episode. I really love that. I think that the music in that episode is especially good.
  4. I love Shadowlands (Bluey’s game in which you have to cross an area stepping only in shadows). That was 1 of the first episodes we did where there was just a really strong game that was really original at the heart of the episode and the way it connects gameplay to the real world, I really love.
  5. And Hammerbarn (named after a shopping centre) is an episode I particularly love. The kids play a game where they set up their own world. They have half of the shopping trolley each and they try and decorate the shopping trolley and then get caught out at the end when everything has to go through the till and they have to dismantle their little worlds.

TV for the whole family

The Bluey team has been careful to create a show that will be rewarding and fun for parents to watch with their children. “That's a tricky thing to pull off, because you have to be able to write from 2 points of view simultaneously, which I think is something Joe does very brilliantly,” says Charlie. “We're making a comedy, essentially. So we're always putting in jokes for the kids, which is more physical comedy. And then for the parents, there's jokes for them in there to something relatable, where they can see themselves as a parent perhaps. If we can bring those 2 things together, then usually we have an episode that really works well.”

“I remember the first time that we had an episode, showing it to a roomful of the crew, who are all 20-somethings. They were all laughing and enjoying it. And I remember thinking, ‘Uh oh, perhaps we've made a show for 20-somethings! What’s the appeal to kids?’ But it seems that kids really relate to it in different ways,” says Charlie. “Little kids really love the design. The characters are very appealing. The pre-schoolers love that Bluey speaks her mind, and she and Bingo speak quite freely about how they see the world and what they think about the situations they're in. That's done in a very honest way, so pre-schoolers really relate to those characters.”

“And adults see themselves in the way that the parents show how it is to be at the “coalface” of parenting pre-school children,” Charlie adds. “They see themselves in those situations that they recognise from their own lives. There’s a certain honesty about family life in the show, and how parenting isn't all about getting it right every time. It's often about listening, and then changing your behaviour.”

“I think parenting can make you very humble, because you can't always be right when you've got a small child who is not interested in the rationale for something. You just have to get down on their level and respond often and engage really, I think that that is what the parents in the show do. They're (Chilli and Bandit) very lucky, they have a lot of time. Because it's a show, we can give them that time, and that allows them to engage in quite a deep level with the children and play with them for a long time. It’s essentially because they can do that, that it can be a very warm and funny show,” Charlie says.

Mom + Dad = awesome!

And as well as modelling healthy social strategies for children, Bluey, without making any kind of fuss about it, shows a real partnership between Mum and Dad, who share household duties and are both 100% involved in loving and raising their daughters.

Chilli and Bandit’s relationship is a core part of the series and the psychology of a healthy adult relationship has been explored with as much care as Bluey has put into looking at childhood development.

“We like to show them as competent parents, that was always something we set out from the beginning,” says Charlie. “They're not bumbling. Dad, for instance, is not a bumbling dad, who needs to be shown how to parent all the time. That was something we wanted to do. I think that that is one of the reasons that he’s become quite a popular character.”

“The other part of that is, is how Bandit and Chilli work together. We always wanted to show them as loving parents as well as competent parents. And there's quite a few instances in the show where you see that. It's certainly my experience that if you're warm and loving with your partner, then the children really enjoy that and they respond to it.” (Look out for when Bluey and Bandit have Chilli and Bandit pretend to be robots, and the mummy and daddy robots start flirting with one another!)

“Many parents say that maybe they're too good parents, that the bar has been set a bit high,” Charlie laughs. “And, you know, we always try to temper that with a bit of grit in the oyster so that it's not too good.”

Watch Bluey S1 weekdays on CBeebies (DStv channel 306) at 17:25

BBC Lifestyle (DStv channel 174 is available on DStv Premium and Compact Plus. To get DStv or to upgrade your package, click here

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