For those who grew up in the 1970s, Schoolhouse Rock was an institution—with its catchy tunes and fun animation that covered topics like math, grammar, civics, science and more. Ask anyone from that generation, and they’ll likely tell you their favorites and recite the lyrics verbatim.
Today, on National Make a Friend Day, Cheerios is launching a new series of animated films similar in spirit to the venerable Schoolhouse Rock series that aired from 1973 to the mid-1990s but with a slightly different set of topics that are most relevant to today’s young children.
“Right on Tracks” are four empathetic shorts that cover family dynamics, bullying, self-confidence and friendship. Created by the brand and 72andSunny, each uses peppy, upbeat music from songwriter Walter Martin of the New York-based band The Walkmen, and colorful, uniquely shaped puppets to get messages of love, caring and inclusiveness across effectively.
“It’s All Family” shows the wide range of families in American society including those with single and divorced parents, same-sex couples, adopted and foster children, and more.
“Step Up” takes on the topic of bullying and includes four steps that kids should take when they witness bullying. Additionally, the song reminds people that bullies “need love too.”
“Just Be You” is all about kids feeling comfortable about what they think makes them different. There is a subtle, but lovely nod in the second verse of the song for transgender kids.
Finally, “Sit With Someone New” encourages kids to sit with someone new at school and reminds them that the person they sit with today is not only a nice thing to do, but that person could end up being their best friend.
Overall, the campaign is a welcome breath of fresh air and continues Cheerios’ tradition of inclusivity which started in 2013 with the introduction of a multiracial family in an ad that spring and then later for the 2014 Super Bowl.
“Our brand is all about putting positive energy in the world,” said Liz Mascolo, vp of marketing for Cheerios. “Working with 72andSunny, we wanted to determine how we could bring this to life in untraditional or unexpected ways.”
Indeed, the Schoolhouse Rock analogy played into the creative process as Justine Armour, 72andSunny’s executive creative director explained.
“I grew up in Australia and didn’t know about Schoolhouse Rock, but I had a creative team come to me with talking about it,” she said. “And they said ‘what if we could teach beautiful values to kids through really catchy songs?’ And we really wanted the work to have a craft and longevity that would be iconic, so we ended up with this lovely puppet series.”
What’s interesting is that the concept and idea were brought to Armour and her team about a year and a half ago. Martin created demos of the songs based on topics that the agency and brand thought were relevant for kids to understand. From there, the puppets were built, and the campaign began to come to life. Other forms of animation like CGI and cell animation were considered, but the creative team felt that the colorful puppets would have a more lasting impact.
“(Production company) Nexus Studios loved the idea of making the puppets feel really tactile and (character designers) Nous Vous and (puppet and set fabricator) Andy Gent who brought a lovely vision to this. They were passionate production partners … and you want to work with people who are fired up about the work. They had a human, Cheerios spirit running through it all.”
While there were many human forms in the animation, part of the inclusive, universal feel of the work relied on quirkier, non-traditional types of puppets. It also avoided the tricky issue of casting actors, which could have less of an impact.
“[In the campaign], we’re not casting a specific person to make a point,” said Mascolo. “When you have the animation, and particularly the puppets, you can talk about a subject and not feel like you’re intentionally casting someone where the story becomes the person rather than what you’re trying to say. Hopefully, with the theme of inclusivity, people will see themselves somewhere in there because the intent is not to have one character to identify with.”
To that end, Mascolo, who has been at General Mills for 16 years mainly in the cereal category, noted the societal importance of the brand’s 2013 and 2014 ads that were universally lauded, yet had a small group of detractors.
“We’ve always been celebrating family, inclusivity and kindness in this brand,” she said. “[Those ads] definitely got a lot of attention because I think it unintentionally struck a cultural cord at the time. The ad just happened to cast an interracial family. It was not trying to make a political statement.”
As for these new films, Mascolo is confident that the messages, which the brand worked on with the National Parenting Education Network, will resonate with elementary and middle school-aged kids.
“We want to be there to spark the conversations,” she said. “We’re not here to teach people how to parent, and we worked with this outside source to help us make sure that we have the right content and lyrics, and that we were showing appropriate situations.”
For parents who grew up learning about how a bill becomes a law through song, the new work will strike a familiar chord. And for Mascolo, who immediately made the connection between the campaign and Schoolhouse Rock when presented with the concept, the hope is that lightning can strike again for a new generation of kids.
“If this could have even a fraction of the impact [similarly to Schoolhouse Rock] on topics like kindness and inclusivity, that would be amazing.”
Title: Right on Tracks
Executive Creative Director: Justine Armour
Creative Director: Devon Hong
Senior Writer: Eric Dennis
Senior Designer: Gustavo Dao
Group Brand Director: Sveta Doucet
Brand Director: Caitlin Patrick
Brand Director: Alexia Schwartz
Brand Manager: Dylan Levy
Brand Manager: Blake Eisenberg
Brand Coordinator: Anne MacKay
Director of Production: Lora Schulson
EP, Interactive: Vishal Dheiman
EP, Film: Julia Lafferty
Producer: Samira Mostofi
Interactive Producer: Erica Kirsch
Sr Partnerships & Legal: Marissa Burnett
Production Company: Nexus Studios
ECD / Co-Founder: Chris O’Reilly
Director: Johnny Kelly
Senior Producer: Isobel Conroy
Production Manager: Rebecca Archer
Lead / Supervisor: Mark Davies
Character Design: Nous Vous
Environment Design: Callum Strachan
1st Assistant Director: George Cassavetti
Director Of Photography: Matthew Day
Camera Assistant: Toby Goodyear
DIT: Matthew Hutchings
Gaffer: Max Halstead
Puppet and Set Fabrication: Andy Gent
Art Department: Marina Ralph, Mich Chippington, Robin Jackson, Nadine Patterson, Colin Armitage, Peter le Pard, Tom Sinden, Maggie Hayden, Nathalie Ellner, Jade Gerrard, Ola Kucharska
Art Department Runner: Sofia Serrano
Lead Puppeteer: Matthew Cooper
Assistant Puppeteer: Molly Freeman
CRS Studio Managers: Elizabeth Day, Jen Newman
BTS Cameraman: James Alexander
Catering: Konrad & Cissi Hammarborg
2D Animation: Alasdair Brotherston
Compositing / Tracking: Chris Glew, Ewelina Freuer, Gareth Tredrea, German Diez, Gökçecan Gürsoy, Ken Hau, Peter Bailey, Robin Yoojin Rhee
Editor: David Slade
Music: Walter Martin
Music Supervisor: Jessica Dierauer
Sound Design And Mix: Mark Hills @ Factory
Special Thanks: Elizabeth Day