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Unicorn Academy Review 2023 Tv Show Series Season Cast Crew Online
Netflix and Spin Master’s first trailer for their upcoming series Unicorn Academy promises an adventure that’s anything but mundane and a story full of magic, music and more.
Slated to debut this November on Netflix, Unicorn Academy‘s initial movie and eight-episode series follows a young teen named Sophia, whose been selected to attend a prestigious academy. Upon arrival, she learns it’s actually the ancient and magical Unicorn Academy, setting her on a course of adventure, mystery and friendship that entwines her destiny with a powerful unicorn.
The series is part of a deal between Spin Master and Netflix and is based on Julie Sykes’ popular Nosy Crow series of the same name. A new lane in more ways than one for the company behind Paw Patrol, Sago Mini and Bakugan, Spin Master’s president of entertainment Jen Dodge calls the show the biggest drop of content Spin Master has ever done at launch. It’s also the company’s biggest upfront commitment as far as content in Spin Master’s history, including specials, episodes, short form, music videos and more that will release over a two-year period. Within that, fledgling fans can expect both a toy line and a digital game, both launching in 2024.
“Netflix has just been an incredibly supportive partner right from the beginning. They just understood and saw the vision,” Dodge tells The Hollywood Reporter. “And [Spin Master has] invoked the full capabilities of our enterprise across our toy creative center, our digital games creative center and our in house consumer products team.”
“We’re just so excited to finally get this out to the public after many years under wraps,” she adds.
The trailer teases what’s in store for just the first movie and season of episodes, which totals more than 250 minutes of entertainment. THR spoke to Dodge about Spin Master’s latest venture into the “horse girl” and power of transformation genres, Unicorn Academy as a co-viewing experience and “semi-musical,” as well as the show’s calculated release strategy.
Can you talk about why Spin Master choose this series to build a universe around?
I went to the Children’s Book Fair in Bologna [Italy] in 2018. I was on a mission to understand the publishing business and what the possibilities were to develop from published materials, which we had done a little of before, but wasn’t a go-to method for development for us. We have a really robust, wonderful preschool slate. We have a show called Bakugan, which is an action-battle series out of Japan. But ultimately, I was looking for something in the older demo that felt like fantasy and adventure and that had like girl protagonists. So I was on a mission to find that and looked at hundreds of titles in that area. The publishing worlds is immense, and so we had a lot to choose from, but immediately, when I saw this property — [at the time] they just had the first four titles — and you could see the fantasy, the magic, the wish-fulfillment of the story. Then there was the diverse girl protagonists that were all different, each with their own unicorn. So I was immediately drawn to that. When we read the materials, we were like, ‘Oh, yes, this is this is what we’re looking for.’ The unicorn is like a classic theme. It is ubiquitous. All kids have a unicorn moment in their life. So it had all of that and boarding school and magic.
Unicorn Academy has the successful elements of “horse girl” shows, but also those like Sailor Moon, Winx Club and even Pokémon. It really lives in this space narratively of evolving into something greater but also the unique bonds you can form in life. Were you inspired by any of those series in choosing Unicorn Academy?
I loved Sailor Moon. My daughter loves Winx. My son loves Power Rangers, which I think also has a similar dynamic. And obviously, as animation aficionados from young ages, we’re all influenced by those previous properties for sure. Whether you like action, adventure or fantasy, with those ensemble characters that you can identify with, that’s really exciting. That relationship with the unicorn and the rider is also about someone who sees you and understands you, and, I think especially for kids and youth, they’re all looking for that. You want someone to see you and understand you. So we really wanted to have that bond between the friends and also with the unicorn.
As you noted, this is based on a book series. How did you think about taking those titles from individual story arcs to a blended ensemble arc?
When we looked at the books, each has that individual rider-unicorn combination. When we thought about the series — we had four books, then eight available to us when we were developing, and now there’s 20 in the market — we wanted to focus on about six main characters as the new students coming into the school. But to learn about the school, understand it and discover it for the first time, we wanted to follow one character’s journey. That was Sophia. In the first book, which was Sophia and Rainbow, that’s where we do first learn there’s a Unicorn Island and a Unicorn Academy. So we wanted to take Sophia’s journey and backstory, and follow that at least through this first 72-minute movie and the eight episode dropped that follows, as well as the first year of content. But then we start to learn a bit more about each backstory of the other students. By the time we get to year two, some of the other students will play the lead role in a special. We have a special that’s very much Layla’s story. But we start with Sophia as the Trojan horse to the worlds.
This show seems to have a wide age appeal. What audience are you aiming this at?
It is specifically geared six to nine. But what we know from our research and what we attempted and set out to do when we were creating this was keep it wholesome storytelling still of these kids who do want to do well, want to fight on the side of good, so the only time that they kind of step outside of the rules is really in service to fighting evil. So it can be watched by a younger audience, and the fun, sparkles and beautiful unicorns and the fun comedy — all of that is, as young as four we’ve seen in research enjoys it and watches it. And then because there is a deeper mythology that we’ve built around the series that really pulls up to that older demographic. So that sweet spot was six to nine, but appealing as young as four and going up a little to tween. At this moment in time, co-viewing is also everything, and we wanted to create something that parents and families could enjoy together, so we hope and feel it’s broad that way.
The trailer teases Unicorn Academy as not just an adventure story but a relationship story. With the age demographic you mentioned in mind, what kind of relationship storytelling can people expect?
With Sophia, what was really important to explore was the idea of making friends and having close friendships. When we first meet Sophia, she describes herself in a humorous, self-deprecating fashion — “just think of me as the lone wolf” — of a teenager who is on their own and doesn’t have a lot of friends. She’s kept a tight wall around her with the passing of her father and being hurt by that. When she arrives at the Academy and is instantaneously attacked in a great way by this very effervescent, bubbly Ava who just wants to be her my new best friend. Sophia is really trying to navigate that she’s not used to this feeling. I’ve never had it, so do I want it? And you see that journey until Ava kind of wears her down and Sophia realizes that, of course, we’re best friends. One of my favorite characters, Valentina, you learn she has a bit more power than the rest of the girls as she comes from a family of legacy. She holds herself in high regard, but when the chips are down, Valentina is there, and she’s got your back — but don’t get too close. And we’ll explore that more, as well — what makes Valentina tick, what’s holding her back from those kinds of friendships? Is Rory just a jokester or is there a little bit more than meets the eye? For this age demo, they’re living that every day, that experience of trying to figure out friendships, school, their relationships at home.
This also looks to be semi-musical. How were you thinking about your voice actors and the use of music in the series?
I think semi-musical is a great way to describe it. It’s not a full blown musical where every single thing we’re breaking into song. But what we know is, for this age demo, music is so important. It unlocks the emotions of a moment. It is aspirational to hear these voices singing. Sophia sings a song at the beginning that is expressing her desire to break out from her small world, to explore the world around her, to grow as a person and to follow what she believes is what her father wanted for her — to find something extraordinary in life. That can be expressed way more beautifully through a character singing a song and feeling that moment then dialogue will ever get you there. We were so fortunate, our voice cast is incredible. They do sing in the show. Ravenzella, our baddie, has a wonderful musical song and moment in the movie. This age demo is also engaging with music on other platforms, and you want that music for them, not just in the main content piece.
The books have a specific art styling for their covers. How did you think about bringing those images to life on screen?
The art direction of this series, for me, is one of the most important components of the entire presentation and we took a lot of time to perfect it. We’re so lucky. We have incredible art directors in house as well as at our studio, but our in-house art director, she really spent so much time refining the look. One of the things that was important for us was the contrast between the real world and Unicorn Island, so that when we reveal that, now we’re in a completely new color palette. It had be this magical place that had a sense of history. It appears to have been around for eternity, but doesn’t feel dark, heavy and foreboding or dusty and medieval. So how do you create this mythical place that feels ethereal, but it also feels accessible? We were really inspired by Art Nouveau, where shapes and lines are organic and inspired by nature. Then the color palette is on the brighter spectrum, but the architectural elements are more ivory, eggshell and cream and off-white with the ornate stained-glass. The desired effect was to immerse the audience in this lace-like feeling. Then these vibrant color palettes for the characters would really stand out from that background. So that was everything.
Then, when we look at each of the unicorns, it’s like, ‘This is the purple one. This is the blue one. This is the rainbow one.’ So for each of the riders outfits, everything has to work together — with the riders and the unicorn, that’s the moment. When we started to look at toys much later in the process, the moment is when you put the girl on the unicorn. All those colors are working together. The same for the iconography on each outfit and the iconography that lights up. We were lucky as well because each unicorn has their individual magical powers and that also helps to inform those color choices. For instance, we had to change some of the names of the characters and the unicorns for legal reasons while adapting the books to this series. We also switched what riders have what unicorns for various reasons as we went through the development. In the original Scarlett and Blaze, who are now Valentina and Cinder, although Blaze has firepower, the color palette was pink and white. Whereas when we’re thinking about Blaze and now Cinder as a unicorn, it’s flame, it’s orange. You want to feel like that unicorn and its rider Valentina are on fire. Those are the kind of fun things that we got to do. That was really fun to explore how their magical powers and their color palettes.
Unicorn Academy is the byproduct of a substantial deal between you and Netflix that includes movies, TV episodes and more. Can you talk about your release strategy within that — of leading with a movie and then going into episodes?
In the early days when we were developing this with Netflix, we had a lot of conversations around what is the best way to roll this narrative out on a streaming platform for this age demo. Ultimately, we felt that trying to explain what Unicorn Academy is, what Unicorn Island is, what the magic means, what they’re protecting plus some backstory from each of the main characters — that half an hour was never going to give us that ability. That if we tried to do to half an hour, we weren’t going to be able to get to the magic of the unicorn quick enough to satisfy the audience. If you say your show is Unicorn Academy, you want to see unicorns really quickly. You’re not wanting to wait episodes until you see unicorns. So the narrative itself actually really dictated that the first piece would be a full length movie event or movie special. And although it’s not a theatrical, we still build it with that cinematic and epic feel. Originally we were going to drop that 72-minute movie on its own, followed later by episodes, but evolving and working with Netflix over the last several years, we’ve continued to change and refine our strategy for launch.
Now, the first drop will have the 72-minute movie event immediately with the first eight episodes, which is the first season or what we call the first chapter of the story. We have another full season of episodes that will drop, and we also have 44 and 60-minutes specials that will drop along the way. It really is a combination of lengths that serve story and characters. In the specials, for instance, I was saying we have one with Layla, then we’ll be going into that next episode run in a way that sets you up for everything that’s going to happen. Each drop is a contained story with individual satisfying episodes within it. We also created a ton of original content as well for other platforms. In partnership with Netflix, we’ve done five 20-minute episodes that will be exclusively available on YouTube and other digital platforms, as well as music videos and character bios, montages and a whole other host of content across YouTube and other social platforms.