Cars don’t typically worry about starting school, being a good big brother, or having their first “oil spill,” but they certainly do in the world of Go! Go! Cory Carson.
This new preschool show is a collaboration between VTech, Kuku Studios, and Netflix that follows the adventures of an adorable young car named Cory as he navigates the struggles of childhood while living in Bumperton Hills. Go! Go! Cory Carson disrupts the traditional, clear-cut path of kid’s TV licensing and toy development because the show is based on an existing toy line: VTech’s Go! Go! Smart Wheels vehicles.
According to Jennifer Eiselein, vice president of marketing and product development at VTech, the company realized that its interactive vehicle line had a dedicated, loyal fan base. “[Kids would] build these whole worlds, and they had their own imaginative stories that they would create about the world, and we really saw the opportunity to turn that into an IP (intellectual property),” she says.
VTech CEO Allan Wong is a family friend of Kuku Studios Founder and CEO Alex Woo, which is how the two companies formed a partnership. Woo went to look at the Go! Go! Smart Wheels toy line and was excited about the open-ended creative possibilities. The line included a variety of vehicle types — including fire trucks, race cars, and police cars — but none of the vehicles had names or personalities. “There were no preexisting characters or a preexisting story that I had to adhere to,” Woo says. “It was sort of like a blank canvas.”
Using the diverse vehicle lineup as a base, Woo and Kuku Studios Co-Founder Stanley Moore started to brainstorm, looking at the landscape of kids’ shows and movies starring vehicles. They realized that properties such as Cars, Thomas the Tank Engine, and Tayo the Little Bus all featured adult vehicles dealing with adult problems. So, they decided to focus their series on a kid car dealing with kid problems.
When it came to developing Go! Go! Cory Carson, Woo and Moore wanted the show to genuinely appeal not only to preschool kids, but also to adults. As a parent, Moore says he wanted to make a show that he would enjoy watching. The team did this by focusing the episodes on relatable issues and incorporating smart humor into the show.
The duo had previously worked at Pixar, and they transferred some of that experience and philosophy to their work on Go! Go! Cory Carson.
“In feature films, you’re not trying to make shows for children, you’re trying to make shows for everyone. And as someone who belongs in the group of everyone, we get to decide if we’re enjoying it and having a good time,” Moore says. “We always try to keep ourselves honest. If a joke wasn’t funny to us, then it wasn’t funny enough to be in the show.”
Eiselein says many fans on social media specifically bring up one line from the first season that is a prime example of the show’s sense of humor. A young car who Cory meets tells him, “My dad says internships are a way big corporations take advantage of the desperate youth.”
“A 2-year-old is not going to get that line, obviously, but their parents are,” Eiselein says. “They’re going to enjoy it while the kid’s laughing at the face Cory is making. … While it flies over the kids and it doesn’t distract them from what they’re experiencing, parents can really appreciate and enjoy [it].”
According to Eiselein, the partnership with Netflix also added valuable insights about formating the show to match the audience. This was especially prevalent in determining episode lengths and Cory Carson’s unique content release schedule. Each episode clocks in at 7 or 8 minutes, and the first two seasons have only seven episodes each. However, to compensate for the shorter seasons, new batches of episodes drop every few months instead of once per year.
This choice is based on viewing patterns of kids in the show’s target age demographic: They have shorter attention spans and enjoy watching content multiple times. “So we give them those two months with a handful of episodes, and then we drop a whole new handful of episodes so they can dive into that,” Eiselein says. “We’ve just done our second drop (on March 1), and that seems to be working really well.”
In addition to being based on a toy line, Go! Go! Cory Carson also inspired a new range of toys featuring characters from the show. VTech debuted the line at Toy Fair New York, including interactive Go! Go! Cory Carson SmartPoint character cars and multiple playsets, available at Target.
Both Eiselein and the Kuku Studios team note that the eventual toy possibilities did not influence the show’s creative development. However, Woo and Moore were both thrilled with the toy line that VTech produced.
“We’ve been blown away by the love and the detail VTech put into every single toy,” Moore says. “I think the attention to detail, keeping the toys on-model and consistent with the show, and the creativity behind some of the playsets have been really exciting.”
Woo says it is difficult to describe the experience of seeing characters who he helped create become toys. “It’s kind of like my 7-year-old dreams come true. Being able to see the things that I draw turn into physical toys, it’s pretty awesome,” he says.
The Cory Carson brand can — and will — go beyond toys thanks to a licensing relationship with Netflix. To start, a selection of Cory Carson books from HarperCollins is available for preorder now on Amazon and will officially launch in June.
As new episodes of Go! Go! Cory Carson continue to drop throughout this year and into its already green-lit second year, there’s no slowing down this four-wheeled preschooler or the rest of the Bumperton Hills gang.
This article originally appeared in the April/May 2020 issue of the Toy Book.