Matt Fernandes has made a career out of connecting with the preschool crowd. Whether it’s the adventures of Dot, a spunky eight-year-old tech whiz, or Top Wing, about four young birds helping their community, his shows captivate and educate.
Now Fernandes has got a new project, Kingdom Force, and has the Avengers franchise to thank for it.
“I was in a toy store, and I saw this boy with his mom and he was begging her for Avengers toys and Transformers toys,” Fernandes says. “It dawned on me, ‘You know what? This boy wants these toys, but I bet you he’s never watched the movies because he’s too young. Those movies are not for him, but the toys were.'” The result? Kingdom Force.
Premiering Saturday at 9 a.m. on CBC, the 26-episode first season follows five animal heroes as they protect the citizens of five unique animal kingdoms. Wolf Luka, ape Dalilah, cat Mittens, polar bear Norvyn and badger TJ are from different communities but must work together to take down baddies, sometimes as a combined robot named Alpha-Mech.
We spoke to Matt Fernandes about Kingdom Force, how it came about and what he wants kids and parents to learn when they tune in.
Matt Fernandes: I was in a toy store, and I saw this boy with his mom and he was begging her for Avengers toys and Transformers toys. And it dawned on me, ‘You know what? This boy wants these toys, but I bet you he’s never watched the movies and he’s too young. Those movies are not for him, but the toys were.’ I realized that there was a gap where these kids were going from, say, Paw Patrol or Bob the Builder and making this leap all the way to Avengers, which is a steep climb. I felt like there was a space in between and they were missing a hero that had all the sort of same, high stakes and thrills and spills and rough and tumble that was for them.
I’m a huge 80’s fan, so I put in some 80’s nostalgia in some of the shows. The other thing I really wanted to speak about was diversity. In the show, there are five different kingdoms that have their own history, their own culture their own way of doing things, and they’ve all sort of lived separately. Kingdom Force is a hero from each kingdom who have come together to create a hero for all kingdoms. It really is about unity, strength through unity and strength through diversity. This is sort of the main theme of the whole show and something that I wanted to attack. I combined those two needs into Kingdom Force.
Teamwork and diversity are very top of mind right now. It’s really poignant.
MF: Absolutely. Different cultures coming together to work for one goal for the good of everybody. We lean into that and that was something we really wanted to speak about and I think comes through in our show.
It certainly comes through in the first episode, even though they don’t always get along.
MF: That’s right. Not all of them are always going about a problem in the same way, and there is conflict within the team. But ultimately, there is a resolution and they learn how to work together. It’s not like everybody’s all happy-go-lucky all the time and always on the same page. We actually show a bit of that conflict. But in the end there’s this big learn that being together or taking, both of their strengths combined, they’re stronger.
Was it always the idea to have five animal heroes?
MF: It was always five, but the original designs were actually all five cats. We had a lion and a cheetah and a panther and it originally was called Big Cats. Then slowly, over time, as we developed it, we realized it would be stronger to make it, really vastly different animals and really lean into the culture of those animals and it made the diversity just a little more rich.
You’ve made a career out of working in this genre. What are some of the specific challenges that you face that may be a primetime drama doesn’t? Is education a big part of it?
MF: I would say yes, absolutely. Some shows are lean a little bit heavier on curriculum, some don’t, but, that’s something that really important that you’re giving them big sort of life lessons. Moral lessons are really important.
But the other biggest challenge is they’re a brutally honest audience. You need to grab their attention immediately or else you’ve lost them forever. But if you do get their attention, you have a fan forever. They don’t have the patience to sit through five episodes before you get into the plot, you really need to grab them right away. And that’s, it’s such a visceral response for kids.
You mentioned the 80s earlier. What were the shows that made an impact on you when you were growing up?
MF: I mean I was right in the heart of G.I. Joe, the golden era; there was sort of all lots of animé when I was a kid as well. For me that was the religion, right? Saturday morning cartoons, from six in the morning til noon, that was my day. That was my time. That’s probably had a huge influence on why I’m doing the things I’m doing now.
Kingdom Force airs Saturdays at 9 a.m. on CBC.
Images courtesy of CBC.