“Could we infect laugher through a cartoon character the way laughter is contagious between people?” was the question posed to Anttu Harlin four years ago. His colleague Joonas Utti wanted to make an app where tickling a grumpy bear would make it laugh. Little did they know where this seemingly silly idea would lead.
“The idea of contagious laughter was so simple and profound at the same time, we wanted to explore it further,” says Harlin, today CEO and producer at Gigglebug Entertainment. “People are at their happiest when they laugh. If we can give that to kids through a cartoon and the characters we create, it is a great mission: spreading happiness.”
The first demo app was a success. Harlin and Utti’s friends were laughing in stitches and the duo started building a story around the idea. They wanted to make the central character relatable to children who are the smallest in a group and so the Gigglebug, the smallest creature in the forest was born.
First its adventures (which always end in irresistible laughter) were told via apps, then through an animated TV series and today almost everywhere. The Gigglebug TV series has been streamed over two million times in Finland alone (population 5.5 million) and its rights sold to 13 countries. The Gigglebug apps have topped the charts in 64 countries and the brand has been successfully expanded to music albums, live events and soon, picture books.
Re-imagining a Disney classic
Although the success of Gigglebug took Harlin and Utti by surprise, behind it is over a decade of experience in developing characters for children’s shows. Their focus on storytelling, character-building and creating worlds with universally touching themes soon caught Disney’s eye.
“They took me out for dinner two years ago to ask if we would be open to working on something together,” Harlin recalls. “I was like, ‘Wow, I didn’t expect that.” They liked Gigglebug’s distinct look, clear graphic style and strong characters that have heart and humour and wanted us to use this approach to develop characters for something they own.”
That something was 101 Dalmatians. The duo was given practically free hands to create their own take on the classic, which was then used to develop a new series around the original brand. Disney recently greenlit the series and it will be broadcast in a few years’ time.
Amplifying the Nordic voice
Harlin says while the Disney collaboration is ongoing, Gigglebug Entertainment’s team of 15 people has its hand full developing four new brands and expanding the world of Gigglebug.
The company’s latest launch is an animated TV series and an interactive game called Best and Bester. The show goes into production next year and, in true Gigglebug style, it has more layers than it first might seem.
“It’s set in a world where everybody gets to choose what they want to be and these two buddies keep comparing what is the best thing of all time,” Harlin describes. “It’s a really wacky comedy that celebrates freedom of choice and opinion.”
Harlin adds there is a lot of interest in Nordic values and their unique point-of-view in children’s entertainment, but feels it is still largely underused. He wants to use the Nordic voice as fuel for long-lasting global brands and businesses. In future, this could mean setting up a full-blown animation studio in Helsinki, but only if it serves Gigglebug Entertainment’s larger mission:
“I want us have positive impact. One the biggest things we can give to the world is making it a better place through positivity,” Harlin concludes.
It seems there is no limit to what the smallest creature in the forest can achieve.