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General information  

  • Type : Subsidiary of Corus Entertainment
  • Activity : Animation, franchise licensing
  • Founder : Michael Hirsh
  • Parent company : Corus Entertainment
  • Starting date : 1971
  • Cessation place : Toronto
  • Incomes : $600,000,000

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Nelvana (1971)

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  Summary  

Nelvana Limited is a Canadian entertainment company founded in 1971 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. Corus Entertainment, a spin-off from Shaw Communications, has owned the company since September 2000.

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 up until the late 1990s.

Well-known franchises include Care Bears, Mythic Warriors: Guardians of the Legend, Babar, Tintin, JumpStart Superheroes, Maggie and the Ferocious Beast, Rupert, Fievel's American Tails, Little Bear, Eek! The Cat, The Terrible Thunderlizards, Franklin, Elliot Moose and 6teen, along with the North American dubs of the anime series Beyblade, Cardcaptor Sakura, Medabots, and Bakugan. The company has also tried miniseries, like Rotting Hills.

Nelvana also distributes Nicktoons such as Oh Yeah! Cartoons, The Backyardigans, The Fairly OddParents, Chalkzone and Danny Phantom, and the Cartoon Network original series My Gym Partner's a Monkey, Disney Channel original series Handy Manny, Webkinz Jr., Webkinz, Club Penguin, Line Rider, and My Friend Rabbit outside the United States. , its library comprises more than 1,650 cumulative half-hours of original programming. The company has international offices in France, Ireland and Japan.

  Biography  

 1970s

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 discovered 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 traveling 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 , The Devil and Daniel Mouse , Please Don't Eat the Planet , Romie-0 and Julie-8 , Easter Fever and Take Me Up to the Ball Game . During that time, George Lucas, an aficionado of their work, commissioned the company to work on a 10-minute sequence for the CBC TV film, The 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.

 1980s
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's 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.

But 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 U.S., 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 animatronics in one scene with a talking turtle. 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.

From 1984, Nelvana produced the Thames Television's UK animated show based on Thames TV programme, We Love Father voiced by Patrick Cargill , and late from 1989, this Sky Television of launched and Nelvana produced the faster science game-show in UK from the contestant and studios in Canada, The Face Time which broadcast on Sky Channel from February 6, 1989 until June 29, 1989 before Sky One, and Sky One launched from flagship Sky Channel which premier back from August 1, 1989 until March 14, 2009.

 1990s

Following Babars 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 the Bear. Nelvana had self-made successes of its own during the 1990s, such as Eek! The Cat, Dog City and Ned's Newt. Less successful was its animated series for children, Little Rosie featuring the voice of Roseanne Barr 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 , Clive Barker and Graeme Base ; 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 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 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 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 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.

The company's first two computer-animated shows, Donkey Kong Country and Rolie Polie Olie (with Paris-based Sparx*) premiered on American TV in 1998. That same year, it held a monopoly on CBS' Saturday-morning schedule; the deal included Franklin, Flying Rhino Junior High, Anatole, Birdz and Mythic Warriors as part of the package. In January 1999, Franklin (on the CBS line-up) and Rupert swapped networks.

In August 1999, Nelvana made a US$40 million deal with the Public Broadcasting Service to produce its first ever Saturday morning shows, all of them based on popular children's books. 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 . The resulting English dub was broadcast on in the U.S. market, Teletoon in Canada, ITV in the UK and SBS in Korea.

 2000s
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 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 Committed toy line and TV show, has seen the light of day in U.S. 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 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 May 2006, Nelvana joined forces with ion Media Networks , 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.

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Whole or part of the information contained in this card come from the Wikipedia article "Nelvana", licensed under CC-BY-SA full list of contributors here.