1971, Toronto, Canada
C$600 million (2001)
Animation, Franchise Licensing, Children's Entertainment
Michael HirshPatrick LoubertClive A. Smith
Number of locations
Canada:Kitchener, OntarioLondon, OntarioWoodstock, New BrunswickUnited States:Chicago, IllinoisNew York City, New YorkLos Angeles, California
Qubo, Toon Boom Animation
Corus Entertainment, Lionsgate
Nelvana limited logo 2004
Nelvana Ltd. is a Canadian entertainment company founded in 1971 and known for its work in children's animation. It was named by founders Michael Hirsh, Patrick Loubert and Clive A. Smith after a Canadian comic book superheroine created by Adrian Dingle in the 1940s. The company's production logo is a polar bear looking at the North Star. Corus Entertainment, a spin-off from Shaw Communications, has owned the company since September 2000.
- Nelvana limited logo 2004
- Ytv nelvana 1998
- Around the world
- Notable personnel
- Influence in popular culture
Most of its films, shows and specials are based on licensed properties, mainly children's literature, but original programming is also part of its roster. It ventured into the world of live action from its establishment and continues to do so.
Nelvana also distributes internationally six Nickelodeon shows: Oh Yeah! Cartoons, Taina, The Fairly OddParents, ChalkZone, My Life as a Teenage Robot, and Danny Phantom. As of 2001, its library comprises more than 1,650 cumulative half-hours of original programming. The company has international offices in France, Ireland and Japan.
Nelvana’s content has aired in over 150 countries and has received over 70 major international program awards including Emmys and Geminis.
Ytv nelvana 1998
Nelvana started in 1971 when two graduates of York University, Michael Hirsh and Patrick Loubert, teamed up with a Vitaphone animator-designer Clive A. Smith in Toronto, Ontario. Hirsh and Loubert, who had a passion for underground filmmaking, had founded a small company called Laff Arts in the late 1960s. Smith, whose interest was in rock n' roll music, had previously been among the crew for the Beatles' animated series and their 1968 film, Yellow Submarine. Hirsh has commented on the background of Nelvana's founding:
Clive is an animator, and Patrick and I became interested in animation when we were in university together. At the time, there was no production industry per se in Canada, either in animation or in television production. There were stations making local shows, but you didn't have people making programs for sale around the world. So, blissfully unaware of all it would involve, we decided to start a company in Toronto.
Soon after they saw a collection of local comic books from the 1940s and acquired the ownership rights. In turn, they made a half-hour television documentary for the CBC focusing on Canadian comics. Their two-year travelling tour of the art from the National Gallery of Canada, "Comic Art Traditions in Canada, 1941-45", gave locals a chance to revisit the country's past heritage in that field. Meanwhile, Hirsh and Loubert collaborated on a related primer from Peter Martin and Associates, The Great Canadian Comic Books. Amid all this success, Hirsh, Loubert and Smith named their new enterprise Nelvana—after a Canadian comic book superheroine from World War II, Nelvana of the Northern Lights, who was one of the characters in the Canadian Whites canon.
A derelict apartment in downtown Toronto served as the company's first building, and a homemade wooden stand mounted over a toilet was among its first camera equipment. "To create zooms," Hirsh recalled of his early experience with this machine, "we would pile up phone books under the art work." During their first year and a half, the trio lived off a superfluous Chargex credit card that Loubert received at university, spending up to C$7,500 on it before they reclaimed double that cost as their first ever transaction. Under those conditions, Nelvana was involved in the production of documentaries and live-action films. In the area of part-time animation work, they made ten C$1,500 fillers for the CBC.
Among the studio's first productions was a low-budget CBC short subject series, Small Star Cinema, which combined live-action and animation to tell stories of ordinary life from a child's point of view. It was followed by 1974's Christmas Two Step, a similarly styled special in which a girl tries to be a lead dancer at a Christmas pageant.
Nelvana worked on their first television specials: A Cosmic Christmas (1977), The Devil and Daniel Mouse (1978), Please Don't Eat the Planet (better known by its subtitle, Intergalactic Thanksgiving) (1979), Romie-0 and Julie-8 (1979), Easter Fever (1980) and Take Me Up to the Ball Game (1980). During that time, George Lucas, an aficionado of their work, commissioned the company to work on a 10-minute sequence for the CBS and CTV TV film, Star Wars Holiday Special. This short scene, officially entitled "The Faithful Wookiee", would introduce audiences to the villainous bounty hunter Boba Fett, who would make his first theatrical appearance in 1980's The Empire Strikes Back. Nelvana also started to use the polar bear as its mascot.
At the start of the 1980s, Nelvana was offered the chance to work on Heavy Metal, an animated anthology of science fiction stories that studios in Canada and other countries were working on. Nelvana declined this opportunity, instead going on to concentrate on the production of its first feature film, Rock & Rule.
Based heavily on the earlier special The Devil and Daniel Mouse, and originally titled Drats!, the film was produced for five years using all of the studio's resources, totalling $8 million. Upon its release by MGM/UA in 1983, it received little promotion in the United States and quickly disappeared at the box office.
The financial demise of Rock & Rule would have ended Nelvana's operations altogether, had the company not saved themselves from debt by working full-time on children's television series. On its agenda at that time were its first three live-action franchises, The Edison Twins, 20 Minute Workout and Mr. Microchip. With DIC Entertainment, Nelvana worked on the first season of Inspector Gadget, and animated the pilot episode of The Get Along Gang.
Early in the decade, the company worked on four television specials based on American Greetings properties. They were The Magic of Herself the Elf, based on Mattel's toy line; Strawberry Shortcake: Housewarming Surprise; Strawberry Shortcake and the Baby Without a Name; and Strawberry Shortcake Meets the Berrykins, the last three of which featured the eponymous doll. There were two shows from Nelvana based on the AmToy properties, Madballs and My Pet Monster.
Despite the successes of their earlier works, perhaps its greatest success at the time came in the form of the Care Bears, thanks to its acquisition of the character rights from American Greetings, the franchise owners. In early 1985, the first movie based on the toy line turned the company's fortunes around, grossing $23 million in the US, and another $1.5 million in its native Canada. Its tremendous success gave way to two more big-screen movies, A New Generation and Adventure in Wonderland, as well as a television series.
In the area of science fiction, Nelvana produced Droids and Ewoks, two Saturday-morning series based on Star Wars. At one point, there was talk of an animated CBS show from the studio, based on the BBC's Doctor Who; the plan never came to fruition, but concept art was created by Ted Bastien.
For Orion Pictures' 1986 live-action western comedy, ¡Three Amigos!, the company made use of lip-sync animation for a musical sequence in which the main characters sing a song at a campfire, with their horses singing along. In 1987, Michael Hirsh produced Nelvana's first self-made film of this calibre, the Whoopi Goldberg comedy Burglar.
In 1988, Nelvana and Scholastic Corporation produced a video series of Clifford the Big Red Dog based on the 1962 book. It was also distributed by Family Home Entertainment on the video releases.
The company's fourth live-action series, T. and T., premiered in 1988 on Canada's Global network. The show's title duo was Mr. T of A-Team fame, playing a former boxer named T.S. Turner, and Canadian actress Kristina Nicoll as an East Coast lawyer by the name of Terri Taler. Nelvana faced bankruptcy for the second time when the show's original American distributor was going out of business; in six weeks, they were saved when they found a replacement. Also that year, Nelvana established BearSpots, a facility for producing television commercials that lasted until 1993.
As the decade came to a close, the revived Nelvana had its next big success with a movie and an HBO television show based on Jean de Brunhoff's Babar book series. This franchise, its first international co-production, won many ACE Awards in the United States and Geminis in Canada. In September 1989, ABC began to air one of the company's products: an animated series based on Tim Burton's Beetlejuice.
Following Babar's success, the studio acquired the rights to animated series based on Hergé's The Adventures of Tintin, Maurice Sendak's Little Bear, Joanna Cole's The Magic School Bus and the British comic strip Rupert Bear. Nelvana had self-made successes of its own during the 1990s, such as Eek! The Cat, Dog City (with Jim Henson Productions) and Ned's Newt. Less successful was its animated series for children, Roseanne Barr's Little Rosey for the American Broadcasting Company, which was cancelled in 1991, after its first season.
In autumn 1993, Nelvana signed a multi-year project to produce five feature films for Paramount Pictures, with Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall producing; the first two began production the following summer, at a cost of over US$20 million each. Three of the projects were based on books by E. B. White (The Trumpet of the Swan), Clive Barker (The Thief of Always) and Graeme Base (The Sign of the Seahorse); an original production called Mask Vision was also in the works.
However, none of those films ever made it past the finishing stage. During the 1990s, another set of features from Nelvana was distributed by different companies. A 1993 live-action psychological thriller called Malice came out under the Columbia Pictures banner; 1997 saw the studio's retelling of Pippi Longstocking from Legacy Releasing; and Babar: King of the Elephants was released in Canada by Alliance Atlantis in 1999. Among them, only Malice would go on to achieve box-office success in North America. Its US$46 million gross was the highest ever attained by a Nelvana production, doubling what the first Care Bears Movie received during its original release.
In September 1995, Nelvana produced Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys based on the popular American book series. Tracy Ryan portrayed Nancy Drew while Colin Gray and Paul Popowich portrayed Frank and Joe Hardy, respectively. In addition, Jehene Erwin and Joy Tanner portrayed Bess Marvin and George Fayne, respectively, on Nancy Drew, while Fiona Highet played new character Kate Craigen. The series were based off The Nancy Drew Files and The Hardy Boys Casefiles. However, the series was not distributed well, mostly due to it being in first-run syndication, and both series were cancelled in December.
In September 1996, Golden Books Family Entertainment was in talks to acquire the company for US$102 million, just after having purchased the family video library of Broadway Video Entertainment, a subsidiary of Broadway Video. Many of the company's staff members, including Smith and Loubert, expressed interest in the proposition. But Hirsh went up against it, arguing with then COO Eleanor Olmsted about its possible effects on his institution. Two months later Golden Books withdrew from the deal stating that they would concentrate more on children's entertainment.
In November 1996, Virgin Interactive released Toonstruck, a PC-based adventure game featuring animation and artwork produced by Nelvana and Rainbow Animation. The game was set in an animated world using traditional 2D animation, but also featured the digitized likeness of actor Christopher Lloyd as a live-action character trapped in the animated world interacting with the cartoon characters around him. A sequel to the game was planned, but was cancelled due to poor sales.
In 1997, a small computer animation company called Windlight Studios was absorbed into Nelvana's assets. Its co-founder, Scott Dyer, became Nelvana's senior vice-president in charge of production in late 2001. In late 1997, Nelvana and Britain's Channel 4 began work on Bob and Margaret, the company's first animated franchise for adults since Rock & Rule. It was based on the National Film Board of Canada's Bob's Birthday, an Academy Award winner for Best Short, which Channel 4 also produced.
In December 1997, Nelvana began to distribute a syndicated programming block, The Nelvana Kidz Klub, through MediaVentures International, a Chicago-based distributor. The block was offered international on a barter program distribution model with daily 1–2 hours sections or 3-4 hour weekend block.
In 1998, Nelvana entered into an agreement with U.S. network CBS to program a new Saturday morning animation block to debut in the 1998-1999 television season, ultimately known as the CBS Kidshow. The block would feature six new series based on children's book properties, and all were to comply with the U.S. government's educational programming guidelines. In April 1998, Nelvana entered into an agreement with Scottish Television to co-produce these new series, and hold distribution rights to them in the United Kingdom. In August 1998, Nelvana acquired Kids Can Press, publishers of the Franklin and Elliot Moose children's books upon which the Franklin and Elliot Moose were based. This turned them into an "integrated company" in which Kids Can's subsequent publications would begin with Nelvana's franchising of those works.
In March 1999, Nelvana reported a 75% increase in earnings in 1998, credited to increased original production and sales of its library programming, the deal with CBS, and the addition of a publishing business with the acquisition of Kids Can Press. In August 1999, Nelvana announced a US$40 million deal to produce six new series based on popular children's books for a planned PBS Kids block. The six series—Timothy Goes to School, Seven Little Monsters, Corduroy, Marvin the Tap-Dancing Horse, George Shrinks and Elliot Moose—were launched the following September as part of the Bookworm Bunch line-up. That same month, it acquired the North American rights to its first anime property, Clamp's Cardcaptor Sakura (which was renamed Cardcaptors for its English dub).
In April 2000, Nelvana announced its purchase of the Palo Alto-based children's book publisher Klutz in a US$74 million deal—at that time, its largest buyout ever— and integrated it into its Branded Consumer Products division. The company, founded in 1977, was best known for its children's series, Books Plus. Nelvana's separate subsidiary, Kids Can, started taking advantage of the acquisition by making its output available through Klutz merchandise.
On September 29, 2000, after almost two weeks of negotiation, Corus Entertainment, a spinoff of the entertainment assets of Canadian cable operator Shaw Communications, acquired Nelvana's operations for C$554 million.
A year after Corus' purchase, co-founders and co-CEOs Loubert and Smith left the studio. Loubert voluntarily left in November after Corus eliminated 50 positions from the staff, saying "The time has come that Corus will stop acquiring for a while and start operating. John Cassaday has made that clear, but this makes my job less rather than more".
In 2001, the studio began to work on computer-animated feature films aimed at young audiences. So far, only one of them, based on the Rescue Heroes toy line and TV show, has seen the light of day in US cinemas. The rest of them, based on Rolie Polie Olie and the Care Bears, have been released directly to DVD.
In 2001, Nelvana acquired the rights to the English-language version of yet another anime series, Medabots. The following January, Beyblade (in association with Hasbro and Mitsubishi) became its third such property.
In October 2002, Corus announced Hirsh's resignation; the following month, Paul Robertson, former president of Corus Television and head of YTV, became leader of the studio's senior management. With Hirsh's departure, Corus announced a C$200 million writedown for the company; by next August, it planned to reduce the staff down to 200. Hirsh has also taken an advisory role in the studio.
The following September, Corus launched their home entertainment division. Texas-based FUNimation, along with British company Maverick, has distributed titles from the studio with this label, including Redwall, Pecola, Tales from the Cryptkeeper, Timothy Goes to School and the Disney Channel TV special The Santa Claus Brothers. Nelvana's newer titles have been distributed by MGM, Lionsgate and ADV Films, which have no involvement with the label. Since 2007, Shout! Factory releases Nelvana's shows on DVD.
In 2004, the studio produced an animation anthology, which included 10 recurring shorts. Titled Funpak, it aired on YTV for 13 weeks starting in February 2005, with the winning short announced to be greenlit in May of that year. One of the shorts, Sidekick, was the one adapted into a successful cartoon series from 2010 to 2013.
In May 2006, Nelvana joined forces with ion Media Networks (owners of TV network ion), NBC Universal and Scholastic Books, along with Classic Media and its Big Idea Productions unit, to launch Qubo, a new children's entertainment endeavour spread across all medium platforms, including video-on-demand on digital cable. The new project will feature new and library programming from the partners, each one producing a new show every year. The NBC network, along with Spanish-speaking sister station Telemundo, first aired the block on September 9; ion began carrying it six days later.
In September 2006, Nelvana was integrated into Corus' children's television division. A spin-off unit, Nelvana Enterprises, was created in the process; it will focus on international distribution of the company's shows. Scott Dyer, the studio's executive vice-president of production and development, became the overseer of the division, which includes Treehouse TV, Discovery Kids Canada, and YTV. Doug Murphy, another former EVP at Nelvana, became president of the new distribution unit.
In 2007, Nelvana acquired the rights to its fourth anime series, Bakugan Battle Brawlers. The series was aired on Teletoon and became a quick success. In 2008, merchandising rights were sold by Nelvana to Cartoon Network in the US, and the series began airing on CN in February 2008.
Detentionaire was released in 2011, with a new season airing on Teletoon about once a year. The show has also been aired internationally, including on ABC3, and has been released on a digital platform provided by Cartoon Network.
Many of Nelvana's TV shows are based on properties from other companies, most of which started in other forms of media. A great deal of them are based on children's literature and comic books; examples include The Adventures of Tintin, Anatole, Babar, The Berenstain Bears (2003 version), Franklin the Turtle, Jane and the Dragon, Little Bear, The Magic School Bus, Pippi Longstocking, Redwall, Rupert, My Dad the Rock Star, and the shows of the PBS Kids Bookworm Bunch block. Tales From the Cryptkeeper Beetlejuice Jacob Two-Two Sidekick and Miss Spider's Sunny Patch Friends
Nelvana has also had considerable success with animated fare based on toys; American Greetings' Care Bears has been the most familiar example of this. Also, there have been series and specials based on Strawberry Shortcake (also from American Greetings), Madballs and My Pet Monster (from AmToy) and Rescue Heroes (from Fisher-Price). Nickelodeon had the company producing the sequel to The Fresh Beat Band, which is called Fresh Beat Band of Spies.
It has also translated big-screen franchises to televised properties, such as Star Wars (Droids and Ewoks), Beetlejuice, An American Tail (Fievel's American Tails), Free Willy and The Neverending Story. It has even ventured into the video game world with a show based on Nintendo's Donkey Kong in Donkey Kong Country.
In the field of anime, the company holds the North American rights to Clamp/Kodansha's Cardcaptor Sakura series. Also, it holds international licensing rights to Beyblade and Medabots.
As with many other animation studios, Nelvana has a wide range of established original series and characters within its roster. 6teen, Clone High, Birdz, and Eek! The Cat among others, are some of Nelvana's cartoon series that were not based on any other source material.
As of 2008, the studio has made close to 25 feature films for theatrical, home entertainment, and television distribution. Well-known releases include Rock & Rule, the first five Care Bears movies, two Babar films and 1997's Pippi Longstocking.
Live-action has been a part of its mainstay from its early years. The company has had Burglar and Malice as its own feature projects in that area, and has contributed as such to Star Wars Holiday Special and ¡Three Amigos!. On television, Nelvana has made live-action shows such as The Edison Twins, Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, and Life with Boys.
Around the world
Nelvana's franchises have been shown on over 360 television stations in more 180 countries, in approximately 50 languages.
The Fairly OddParents, created by animator Butch Hartman, was distributed by Nelvana outside the United States from 2001–2004. This show has been in the top of the ratings for Nickelodeon, YTV and the BBC, and has also been successful among viewers in several European markets, Latin America and Australia, Canada.
In the United States, Nelvana's series have been broadcast on terrestrial and cable networks, and internationally on over 360 television stations in more 180 countries, in approximately 50 languages.
Apart from its trio of founders, there have been several key personnel from Nelvana's past and present, a great deal of whom have left the company. Among the better-known people to work in the studio are Bill Perkins, John de Klein, Wayne Gilbert, John Halfpenny, Peter Hudecki, Vincenzo Natali, Arna Selznick, Laura Shepherd, Kim Cleary, Susan Snooks, and John van Bruggen. Voice & acting work from the company's past and present includes, Charlie Adler, Kathleen Barr, Roseanne Barr, Sunny Besen Thrasher, Melleny Brown, Arthur Burghardt, Jackie Burroughs, Corey Burton, Len Carlson, Dan Castellaneta, Michael Cera, Ron Rubin, Cam Clarke, Ted Cole, Steve Coogan, Alyson Court, Amos Crawley, Jim Cummings, Tim Curry, Anthony Daniels, Harry Dean Stanton, Dom DeLuise, Brian Drummond, Rick Jones, James Earl Jones, Don Francks, Corey Feldman, Colin Fox, Brad Garrett, Brian George, Whoopi Goldberg, Bobcat Goldthwait, John Goodman, Graham Halley, Mark Hamill, Elizabeth Hanna, Terri Hawkes, Dan Hennessey, Jim Henshaw, Tony Jay, John Kassir, Hadley Kay, David Kaye, Keith Knight, Bill Kopp, Nathan Lane, Martin Lavut, Julie Lemieux, Christopher Lloyd, Billie Mae Richards, Danny Mann, Scott McCord, Colin Murdock, Richard Newman, Neil Ross, Stephen Ouimette, Gary Owens, Ron Pardo, Wayne Robson, Susan Roman, Mickey Rooney, E.G. Daily, Lia Sargent, John Stocker, Stuart Stone, Tara Strong, Allen Stewart-Coates, Colin Mochrie, Cree Summer, Colin O'Meara, Brent Titcomb, Natalia Wojcik, Jen Tolley, Louise Vallance, Frank Welker, Chris Wiggins, Harland Williams, Anne Wood, Andrew Davenport, Kenn Viselman, Richard Burke, Dylan John Burke, Miles Burke, Joan Cusack, Nancy Cusack, John Cusack, Ann Cusack, Bill Cusack, Susie Cusack, Dick Cusack and Dave Thomas.
Eight former Nelvana employees, Roger Allers, Charles Bonifacio, Darlie Brewster, Anne Marie Bardwell, Tom Sito, Ralph Palmer, David Soren, Mark Koetsier, Andrew Hickson, Dick Zondag, and Ralph Zondag, went on to become staff members at Walt Disney Feature Animation and DreamWorks in the 1980s ,1990s and 2000s. Allers went on to work on Aladdin, The Lion King, and Hercules. Lenora Hume, from the company's early years, is the senior vice-president of DisneyToon Studios.
Influence in popular culture
Nelvana had a planet named after it in the Star Wars series, on Cartoon Network's expanded universe series Clone Wars. During Chapters 23 to 25, Anakin Skywalker travels to a planet called "Nelvaan". Clone Wars also pays homage to the franchise's animation predecessors in the form of the planet's dog-like inhabitants, who resemble characters from Rock & Rule, the studio's first film.
The "Nelvana Independent Short Film Grand Prize", given out at the Ottawa International Animation Festival since 2004, pays homage to the name of the company. So far, the recipients of this prize have been 2004's Ryan, the Chris Landreth biography about Canadian animator Ryan Larkin; 2005's Milch, from director Igor Kovalyov; and, in 2006, Joanna Quinn's Dreams and Desires: Family Ties.