Tails wagging as new season of Brisbane’s Bluey cartoon drops

IN A soft-edged, pastel animated take of Brisbane’s Queens Gardens, a popular blue heeler father declares: “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m doing this for my kids” as he busts out some embarrassing dad moves in front of crowds of people. Well, dogs. All because he ate his daughter’s last chip.

For the mastermind behind Bluey – Australia’s most popular children’s show – no words are truer.

Joe Brumm, a Brisbane father of two daughters, is the creator, writer and series director of the six-minute cartoon about an inexhaustible six-year-old blue heeler dog who loves to play.

To the delighted squeals of children across the country on Tuesday morning, the highly anticipated season two of Bluey will drop on ABC Kids with the first episode, Dance Mode.

Brumm will be watching closely from his office at Ludo Studio in Fortitude Valley, where the cartoon is made. Just as his Emmy award-winning team did when the first season premiered on ABC Kids in October 2018, there will be one “big party”. “We all watch it go live together,” Brumm says.

He admits he’s nervous. But the hard work is done. Bluey is already the most popular time-shifted program in Australia ahead of Lego Masters, Utopia and The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s also the top streamed show in ABC iview history with more than 200 million plays. The series picked up a Logie Award for Most Outstanding Children’s Program and an AACTA Award for Best Children’s Program in 2019 and is nominated for an International Emmy Kids Award.

Season two of Bluey airs on ABC Kids on Tuesday, March 17. In one of the new episodes Bluey and Bingo take a trip to Hammerbarn (think Bunnings).
Season two of Bluey airs on ABC Kids on Tuesday, March 17. In one of the new episodes Bluey and Bingo take a trip to Hammerbarn (think Bunnings).

Distribution deals with Disney and the BBC have had the colourful, warm-hearted show about a family of heelers reach millions of international viewers, putting the Aussie vernacular and Brisbane on the map.

“I wanted to make a show that only really set out to make kids laugh,” Brumm says.

The highly relatable script is inspired by Brumm’s journey through parenthood with snippets taken from his childhood as well from his brother’s and friends’ parenting escapades.

Bluey, Bingo and their friends are voiced by local children and children of the production crew, making the series truly a family affair, on and off the screen.

“It all changes so quickly as kids age and you forget so much that I feel like every single one of these 100-plus episodes has something that I went through, a game that we used to play or place that we used to go that it acts as a photo album for those moments, except that they’re all dogs,” Brumm says.

During a game of hairdressers, Bluey discovers that big-headed customer Dad has nits. To help treat them Bingo has to find her voice, while Bluey must find her ears. ‘Hairdressers’ airs on March 21.
During a game of hairdressers, Bluey discovers that big-headed customer Dad has nits. To help treat them Bingo has to find her voice, while Bluey must find her ears. ‘Hairdressers’ airs on March 21.

It’s something he says he’ll be able to look back on one day with his family. “That’s what we used to do, or that’s where we used to go and what we had to deal with that one time … it’s a very elaborate photo album.”

Brumm says the fact parents are equal fans of the show was “a secondary side-effect of just trying to make something that was good”.

“Naturally stuff that I feel is happening to me is probably happening to other adults,” he says of the relentless joys and juggles of parenthood.

“I’m always getting woken up, they’re (his young daughters) always freezing me, they’re always in the toilet while I’m there.”

“Gotta be done” is chanted by Bandit in series one and has become somewhat of a catchcry for the program.

“It’s that idle banter in the morning when you’re walking your kids and you see your neighbours,” Brumm says.

“Once I had kids there was so much to do. No one else is going to do it. It ended up becoming this thing where ‘it’s gotta be done’. It’s that sense of duty you get when your kid pops out.

“Having people feed back to me and say, ‘That always happens to us’ is really one of the most joyful things because it just feels like a big shared experience now. (Parenting) doesn’t feel so alone, like it’s just you.”

Blue Wiggle Anthony Field playing Rusty’s Dad (Army), pictured.
Blue Wiggle Anthony Field playing Rusty’s Dad (Army), pictured.

In season one, Brumm inverts the hopeless dad stereotype seen traditionally in cartoons. Bandit, a work at home archaeologist (he loves to dig up bones), is a devoted, tired father who does his best to use whatever energy is left after interrupted sleep, work and household chores to invent and play games with his girls. He still tries to continue his own life amid the chaos of child rearing but often struggles to juggle these two competing tasks.

“There’s an episode called Mum School (airing on March 30) which … I wrote because you just screw so many things up when you’re raising kids for the first time,” Brumm says.

Bluey plays mum to a brood of bouncy balloons, including an irrepressible floater named Greenie. But she soon discovers that mothering is much harder than she imagined.

“You make so many errors along the way because you’re new to it. It’s that feeling that you’ve just got to keep going. It’s normal, I guess. It’s accepting that you are learning as well and that’s important to me.”

New voices in season two include Zoe Foster Blake as Jack’s Mum (Army) and Checkout Dog (Hammerbarn). While Hamish Blake is Jack’s Dad (Army).
New voices in season two include Zoe Foster Blake as Jack’s Mum (Army) and Checkout Dog (Hammerbarn). While Hamish Blake is Jack’s Dad (Army).

This season we learn more about Bluey and Bingo’s mum Chilli, who, after having the kids, has gone back to her job at Airport Security and juggles raising her little pups.

Brisbane actor Melanie Zanetti voices Chilli, and despite being one half of the cartoon couple inspiring imaginative play on lounge room floors, she is yet to meet her on-screen “dog husband” Bandit, voiced by Brisbane band Custard’s lead singer Dave McCormack.

“We’ve emailed,” she laughs. “But we’re always in different states or countries so I’ve never met my dog husband. On all accounts he’s awesome.”

She said it was by fluke she landed the role. “I was recording a voice-over for Joe’s brother Dan, who does the sound on Bluey, and he said, ‘You’ve got this great voice and my brother is creating this cartoon’ and he showed me the animatronic first episode and I fell in love straight away,” Zanetti shares from Los Angeles.

Bandit and Chilli work and are dedicated parents who, tired as they might be, appreciate the value of playing with the kids, even if it means dancing through a crowd of people or re-enacting their first date.

“Chilli is warm, fun and intelligent with a wry sense of humour. She is someone I’d want to be friends with and (has) total mum goals,” says Zanetti, who has no children.

Brisbane actress Melanie Zanetti is the voice of Chilli in the hit series Bluey.
Brisbane actress Melanie Zanetti is the voice of Chilli in the hit series Bluey.

“I have lots of friends who don’t have kids in their 20s and 30s who watch Bluey and love it. It really has a universal appeal. I like that there is a beautiful message without it being didactic or in your face.

“I know people who say, ‘I feel as though you are spying on me and my family’. It’s incredibly relatable. The characters are fallible, the parents admit mistakes.

“People I know and people I don’t know tell me how much it has changed their parenting and helped them be present with their kids and wanting to play with their kids more.

“I don’t think there is a representation of that anywhere else in Australian or overseas cartoons or kids’ shows. It’s quite unique in that particular expression. I think those things have been rather pivotal in it becoming such a phenomenon so quickly.”

Series two also has some new voices including Blue Wiggle Anthony Field playing Rusty’s Dad (Army) and Postie (Dance Mode). Hamish Blake is Jack’s Dad (Army) and an employee (Hammerbarn), while his real-life wife Zoe Foster Blake is Jack’s Mum (Army) and Checkout Dog (Hammerbarn).

Bluey is the number one children’s show in Australia on broadcast TV.
Bluey is the number one children’s show in Australia on broadcast TV.

Viewers can expect the same hilarious antics – there’s toilet talk and fart jokes, a trip to Hammerbarn (think Bunnings), and a case of nits. But at the core of every episode is play.

“It’s more of the same, which hopefully isn’t a bad thing,” Brumm says.

“Season one gave us a family who loved playing and being silly. It was very Australian in its looks and season two, I’m hoping, it’s not doing anything different. We’re all a bit nervous about it coming out, but I’m really proud of these eps. I feel I’ve found my stride as a writer.”

Brumm grew up in Cairns with a childhood centred on play.

“I don’t remember it being demarcated out for non-play time, we just always seemed to be playing. Certain episodes like The Creek is my ode to the fact that I grew up in creeks.

“I’m a big believer in trying to section off enough time as I can for play and my kids do the same.”

It’s this gameplay that shines in the show. Through play Bluey and her sister Bingo learn important lessons and deal with the emotional ups and downs of growing up while having fun. Those messages are never lectured, sometimes not even spoken, which makes the writing magic.

Joe Brumm is the creator and writer of Bluey.
Joe Brumm is the creator and writer of Bluey.

“Generally I’ll start a new script every week. They can take between three to five weeks with all the drafts,” Brumm adds.

“It sounds silly, but I will ‘play’ with the idea. I’ll come up with the idea and we play around with it. From that process, usually a couple of hours, something more serious or tangible comes out and after a few days we have a script. That little period of playing, considering we are making a show about play and how important it is for kids, has been the most surprising and heartening experience. At age 40, to do my job effectively, I’m still spending a lot of time playing.”

Brumm worked as a lead animator for 10 years in London on children’s series, including BAFTA-winning Charlie and Lola.

“At the time children’s TV was having a real golden age and resurgence where all the productions, due to a piece of software that we used, were being brought back to London. I saw that it was possible. When I got back to Brisbane, I missed that studio environment and I’d made a hell of a lot of short films … and I thought, ‘I’m ready to try my own now’.”

Attuned parents will have noticed many nostalgic nods to movies, such as Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark, where one game Bluey and Bingo play with Dad has them fleeing down the hallway from an exercise ball rolling their way.

“Funnily enough I try not to do it, because generally it leaves the kids out because they don’t get the movie references, but when they’ve snuck through, I hope they don’t ostracise the kids,” Brumm laughs.

“(There’s) a lot of Simpsons stuff. I was 12 or 13 when it came out and it became the water to a fish, from the way they storyboard to the way they write, it’s informed every cartoon since and Bluey is no exception.”

Part of the pandemonium for the show comes from the quintessential Queensland landmarks that inspire the script. One Instagram page @bluey_locations tries to pinpoint the inspiration for a scene’s setting, including where the Heelers live.

“You’ll never hear the term Brisbane used, because to me, it’s important it is an Australia show. It’s funded for a large part by the Australian taxpayer,” Brumm says. “I am very proud to make it visually in Queensland but I was always careful that it felt Australian rather than a suburb of Brisbane.”

The Heelers’ Queenslander has views past the flowering jacarandas and poincianas of Brisbane’s skyline and Story Bridge.

“In terms of where we drew our inspiration from, it’s definitely a combination of Red Hill and Paddington. If you tried to find exactly where it was, you’d probably struggle.”

Another popular one from season one is where Nanna lives with the Q1 building on the horizon, suggesting it’s based on the Gold Coast. “I used to live in Currumbin, but it’s probably more Burleigh distance from Surfers … somewhere on a point, put it that way.

“One of our artists, Jane, her job is to go around with a camera when I or the art directors have a rough idea where something should be set. We’ll send her to a specific dump or specific hall or location.”

Zanetti grew up in Indooroopilly and says it’s one of her favourite parts about Bluey: “I feel like it’s something Brisbanites and Queenslanders can feel really proud about that we have all these landmarks of ours in this amazing show that’s gone international.

“There’s a real sense of pride and I do love spotting even just streets. I’ll be like ‘Oh, I know where that is’. It’s always lots of fun.”

Bluey’s popularity has had stage shows across major cities sell out faster than you can say “Wackadoo” and clothing disappeared almost instantly in major retailers last week. Bluey pyjamas earlier sold out in minutes with onesies later listed for double or more the “dollarbucks” of the RRP. You can now order commemorative Bluey birth certificates.

“I knew I really liked it when I saw the first few episodes,” Brumm says. “I probably should have thought about it a bit more, but we were so busy making it and hoping we could make it when it started getting big. This level of success … sort of blindsided all of us.

“I’d love it to really land in the rest of the world, but if I was being honest, I think we’d all be happy if in 20 years’ time the kids who grew up watching it hold it as one of the cartoons they loved as a kid.

“I’m in a room full of animators and often the conversation is those cartoons we loved as a kid. Most of them drop away and you’re only left with a handful. Most animation creators aim to create one of those cartoons.”