Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Over at Nick

I spent yesterday afternoon at Nickelodeon, in the "animation capital of the nation" (per the New York Times), wandering around and handing out the usual business cards and 401(k) booklets. (Always the 401k booklets).

Upstairs in the loft, Avatar is moving through what looks like its final season. And new episodes of Sponge Bob Square Pants keeps trundling along. But of course the big story -- the one that the Gray Lady of New York was interested in -- is Ni Hao, Kai-lan!:

HERE in the animation capital of the nation, computer artists dressed in Cali-casual are ensconced in a converted warehouse that could rightly be called the House That Slime Built: Nickelodeon Studios, a hothouse of toon talent. Walk through the lobby, past the basketball court-theater, past the gratis cappuccino bar, and soon enough a visitor comes upon an area where the walls are awash in apricot, sunny yellow and fuchsia. Lines of tasseled red lanterns hang overhead, the lighting is subdued, and, in a corner office, stands Karen Chao.

She’s the creator of “Ni Hao, Kai-lan!,” an animated series for preschoolers based on her memories of growing up in a bicultural household with two overachieving brothers, a doting immigrant grandfather and a father with one foot in the Old World and one in the New. Ms. Chao and her mother, Hai-lan (Helen), were outnumbered but unbowed, honoring some gender traditions that dated to Confucian times while questioning others. “Ni hao” means “Hi” in mandarin, and Kai-lan is the Chinese name Ms. Chao was given at birth, later Anglicized to Karen...

Ms. Chao said she wanted Kai-lan “to be a Chinese-American role model, to be independent, to have a voice, to take the initiative and to not always have to follow others.” Ms. Harrington, the executive producer, said she hoped the series would have a special resonance for the estimated 60,000 girls in the United States who have been adopted from Chinese orphanages.

One such child is Jade-Lianna Peters, who voices the title character. Abandoned at a shrine in infancy, she was taken to an orphanage and put up for adoption at 8 months old. John and Kathleen Peters, a childless couple from Milwaukee, flew to China holding a photograph of her the size of a postage stamp. “When they placed her in my arms, she stared at me for about five minutes, and I stared back,” Mrs. Peters said. “Then, all of a sudden, she let out this big sigh, as if she were saying, ‘If this is what I’m stuck with, it will at least be interesting.’ ”

Now 10, Jade-Lianna, who is being tutored in Mandarin, reads lines from a studio in suburban Milwaukee, linked by high-speed cable to the Nickelodeon center in Burbank, her sandpapery voice adding nuance and energy to a story about a backyard safari.

It's wonderfully reassuring to know that Burbank is the animation capital of the nation (don't tell Glendale). Here's wishing Ms. Chao much success with the show. Thanks to Steve Marmel for pointing out this article in the first place...


Steve said...

My pleasure.

But for the record, it's "Chau" not "Chou" - a small typo on the New York Times part.

An honest mistake that has already been rectified. It could have been worse...

...Jason Blair could have written it and Karen would have had to fight her way out of her homeland in a Communist jet...

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