When Michael Rose and Martin Pope formed Magic Light Pictures back in 2003, both had a strong interest in family entertainment and set up producing for a broad family audience. They started producing feature films in live action and animation while they developed the project of a longer-term animation IP. Then along came The Gruffalo, which changed everything.
“A key turning point was when, after the success of The Gruffalo, the BBC drama department came to them and said they would like more specials based on Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s work,” explains Muriel Thomas, international distribution director. “We have just announced our 11th, an animated adaptation of Tabby McTat for Christmas 2023.”
Magic Light has become known for half-hour films that have “an incredibly high-quality threshold, enduring classics, viewed again and again, which deliver enormous pleasure to our family audiences,” Thomas continues. “Alongside that, Magic Light has built a company with wonderful values. Those values cascade through its work and through all the people who work with us.”
Magic Light has been growing gradually over the years, building a successful company “underpinned by integrity and quality,” Thomas says, “and first and foremost, always wanting to profoundly delight audiences. It makes us all very proud.”
The company is currently in expansion mode across all areas, including sales, she notes: “In terms of our distribution strategy, we have close relationships with a multitude of broadcasters around the world for our specials, but we want to expand our portfolio of partners, consistently widen the audience and make Magic Light’s content as accessible as possible.
“Our busy distribution team continues to grow Magic Light’s footprint internationally. Pip and Posy does well for us in multiple territories. We’re constantly renewing the rights for The Gruffalo all over the world, while Room on the Broom is popular in the U.S., especially at Halloween.”
And Magic Light works with a variety of partners, from public broadcasters and pay-TV networks to streamers and smaller independent companies. “Magic Light has built up such a reputation for quality now that buyers take presales of our new content, confident that it will be of a very high standard,” Thomas says.
The company is forging ahead with the consumer-products program for the preschool brand Pip and Posy. The first products have started to appear at retail, including tie-in publishing from Nosy Crow, as well as puzzles from Ravensburger, dress-up with Amscan, audio figurines with Tonies and home accessories. Season two recently launched on Milkshake! and will hit Sky Kids later this year. There’s also Pip and Posy Let’s Learn, a new off-shoot of the hit show debuting in October. In the series, viewers are invited along with Pip, Posy and their friends as they use their sense of fun, imagination and rhyme to explore a range of subjects.
In terms of experiential activations, there is a new Superworm Trail bringing families together through interactive activities in Kew’s Wakehurst Gardens as well as a new Gruffalo Trail launching at the National Botanic Garden of Wales. Magic Light recently launched a multimillion-pound family attraction with Merlin Entertainment on Blackpool’s seafront to create the world’s first The Gruffalo & Friends Clubhouse.
Magic Light also has a “highly ambitious and robust” development slate covering series, specials and family dramas, “which will allow us to bring wonderful new projects to the screen and ensure we have a constant production pipeline,” Thomas says. “We are in the final stages of development of our next preschool property, which we will announce this year, and have a number of other projects that are on the verge of being ready to announce—so watch this space!”
Of particular importance for the year ahead is Tabby McTat, narrated by Jodie Whittaker and starring Rob Brydon. “What we have found with our previous half-hour specials is that, while the films premiere in the U.K. at Christmas, they are timeless with universal appeal and can be viewed all year round, which helps drive their success on multiple platforms,” Thomas says.
“First and foremost, our priority is our content,” she adds. “Our aim has always been to enrich the imaginations of children and families worldwide by producing content experiences, products and activities of the highest quality that will be cherished for years to come.
“That said, we’ve been proactively working to expand our audience’s engagement with our existing brands by expanding our experiential portfolio with both seasonal and permanent attractions; it now covers a variety of settings—from zoos and castles to theme parks and forest trails. Our range of activations are suitable for all families, and we know how important these interactive experiences are for our fans in giving them additional touchpoints to engage with their favorite characters in the real world while creating family memories at the same time.”
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