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How local animation studio Mukpuddy journeyed from guerilla filmmakers to Barefoot Bandits

Liam Maguren celebrates the heroic journey of local animation studio Mukpuddy to primetime TV, ahead of the premiere of their new cartoon The Barefoot Bandits (Sunday, 6.30pm on TV2).

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If you ever wanted to see Buzz Lightyear as a chilled-out bro, you find him in the form of Tumeke Space, a galaxy-hopping television hero worshipped by the young leads in TV2’s brand new Kiwi cartoon series The Barefoot Bandits. Set in the tiny island town of Ngaro, the show follows three kids (voiced by Tammy Davis, Laura Daniel and Josh Thompson) who explore the secret depths their little land has to offer.

It’s all unmistakably Kiwi, packing every New Zealand mannerism and cultural touchstone into a spaceship full of joy and shooting for the moon at ‘warp speed’ – or, in the case of Tumeke’s spaceship, “fast as”. And it’s awesome with a capital ‘O’.

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While I find that to be a pretty apt description of the first episode (which screens this Sunday night at 6:30pm on TV2), it feels just as suited to Mukpuddy, the creators. Well, except for the ‘fast as’ part – scoring their own television deal definitely didn’t happen overnight.

At the studio’s core are three absurdly talented guys – Ryan Cooper, Tim Evans and Alex Leighton. They have remained resilient soldiers of animated storytelling, in a country where doing such a crazy thing for a full-time job is unbelievably hard to attain (much like an insecure recluse with a severe stammer is more likely to find work as an Auckland auctioneer). These guys have been at it for over a decade, creating content for other artists and themselves with an unwavering dedication to their own vision.

They’ve attacked every project with a sharp, machete-like wit and canons of imagination, creating a heap of content they confetti-ed all over the internet just for the fun of it. Some of it comes in the form of fan service to the likes of Star Wars and Street Fighter. Some of it has nothing to do with anything, as if Ryan “the man with 1000 mouths” Cooper just hopped in the voice booth and improvised an audio skit. No matter what the inspiration is, the result is always gourmet silliness.

I came to appreciate/love/stalk them for their outstanding entries into the 48Hours Furious Filmmaking competition. Their shorts have won multiple awards, including TWO Auckland City championships, and the team are expected to be in the National Finals whenever they enter. It’s as if they flourish in the frenzy of that intense weekend like an uncaged wildebeest filled with whimsy and dick jokes. You can see that purity in their last entry, Dead End Job:

Its R-rated mania in a gloriously goofy form, but their collective heart’s desire has been to concentrate that chaos into a cartoon television series the whole family can enjoy. They are no strangers to the tube, having their creations play on What Now and Studio 2 Live, but a full-fledge show by Mukpuddy has taken a long time to take flight – despite launching a number of funded pilots for NZonAir and Nickelodeon UK.

This is all about to change with Barefoot Bandits, the Mukpuddy cartoon show that is playing right alongside The Simpsons. It’s evident from the first episode that this is a long-time labour of love, so it only seems appropriate that it debuts on Valentine’s Day.

If I seem overly overt with my praise for Mukpuddy’s achievements, it’s because their success doesn’t warrant subtlety. They are living proof that Kiwi creatives with passion and drive can rise to their artistic desires on their own terms. And I’ll gladly preach their awesomeness into a megaphone, commit my eyes to the screen, and burn my shoes in solidarity of The Barefoot Bandits.


The Barefoot Bandits premieres Sunday at 6.30pm on TV2

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