Tara Ward talks to Bluey director Richard Jeffrey about how a Blue Heeler cartoon became a TV classic.
Bluey, a six-year-old Blue Heeler dog, her parents, and younger sister, have charmed viewers worldwide since 2018.
Bluey was TVNZ+’s most streamed show (29 million streams) and Australia’s most streamed on-demand show last year.
It airs in over 60 countries and has received an International Emmy, multiple Logies, and a BAFTA.
That’s a lot of kids (and adults) watching a lot of dogs play. “Anyone can watch it with a family anywhere in the world, and say ‘Oh my god, that’s my life’,” says director Richard Jeffery over the dog and bone, explaining Bluey’s global appeal.
It’s rare to chat to a show genius and character. Jeffrey voices a footy-loving, barbie-cooking New Zealand border collie companion of Bluey and her family.
Jeffrey quips, “Yes, I voiced Mackenzie’s Dad, quite badly.”
How did a New Zealander and his border collie alter ego get on such an Australian show?
Before working on Charlie and Lola and Tinga Tinga Tales in the UK, Jeffrey worked for Warner Bros. and Disney in New Zealand. He met animator Joe Brumm.
After Jeffrey returned to New Zealand and Brumm to Australia, Brumm pitched “Bluey,” an animated children’s TV show about an inquisitive little canine and her loving family.
Jeffrey comments, “Yes was easy.” He directed seasons two and three of Blue after animating season one. Jeffrey believes Mackenzie and his border collie family, who speak with New Zealand accents, are a nod to Footrot Flats.
“Joe [Brumm] loved Footrot Flats growing up. He loved the comics. He wanted a Kiwi influence, having a Kiwi director and animator.
Bluey also tells pleasant stories about family life’s little yet wonderful (and irritating and bothersome) events.
Parents watching Bluey for the nine millionth time will relate to Bluey’s frantic parents Bandit and Chilli, while kids will love watching Bluey and her friends turn routine activities like grocery shopping and picnics into inventive adventures.
Bluey is built on how kids learn via play
Jeffrey thinks the show’s scripting creates sophisticated plots and meaningful moments that appeal to viewers beyond its four-to-six-year-old target.
Several episodes address important life concerns like separation, infertility, grief, and change in ways children can comprehend yet with enough emotional depth and relatability to make adults cry.
The sitcom is set and produced in Brisbane, Australia, which Jeffrey thinks helps. “It adds flavor, which works.”
Bluey’s contemporary parenting style is also appealing. Bandit and Chilli’s patience for playing Magic Xylophone may make lazy parents feel awful, but Bluey doesn’t need a hapless Daddy Pig parent.
“We wanted Bandit to break the mold of the classic dad being a bit of a dunce,” Jeffrey explains. Bluey’s parents, like ours, don’t know everything, but they’re determined to find out.“We want the audience to know they’re not alone, you know?”
Jeffery directs Bluey and oversees all aspects of production, from editing to graphic direction to music. He says the next season will include traditional Bluey humor and more emotional moments.
Neil Finn also appears. Jeffrey enjoyed meeting Finn, who voiced Bandit’s doctor in “Exercise,” and wants Sam Neill, Lucy Lawless, and Jeremy Wells next.
Jeffrey says he knew Bluey was exceptional from the start. “We really set the bar high,” he adds.
He’s pleased of creating a global hit that a generation of kids and their families will watch together. Jeffrey admits, “We went beyond our expectations, but it’s been amazing.”
TVNZ+ streams Bluey.