It’s every kid’s dream to dive head-first into their toy dollhouse to explore a world of possibilities in every miniature room. Kitty enthusiast Gabby and her plush pal Pandy Paws are living that dream in Gabby’s Dollhouse, a DreamWorks Animation preschool series with two seasons on Netflix.
Each episode starts off with live-action Gabby (played by Laila Lockhart Kraner) unboxing a dollhouse delivery while she films a mini-vlog on her smartphone. She then puts on her magical cat ears headband to shrink herself down into an animated character so that she can venture through the cat-themed dollhouse. The stuffed animal Pandy Paws also comes alive in the dollhouse as her animated sidekick, and the duo mingles with all the cat characters that live there, including Kitty Fairy, Cakey Cat, MerCat, DJ Catnip, Party Tabitha, and others — collectively referred to as the Gabby Cats.
Jennifer Twomey and Traci Paige Johnson are the creators and executive producers of the series, both of whom also worked on Blue’s Clues, another successful preschool series that first aired on Nickelodeon in the ‘90s.
“Having worked in preschool television for more than 20 years, we have great respect for our audience, and our goal is always to engage and delight them,” Johnson says. “We know from Blue’s Clues how much kids respond to a real person looking into the camera and inviting them in to play. We also know the power animation has to transport preschoolers to a uniquely fantastical world, so we decided to combine them both and have the live-action bookend the show. This allows us to draw the viewer in at the top of the show and then take them along for the ultimate playdate inside the magical world of the dollhouse.”
Whatever Gabby unboxes at the top of each episode becomes the catalyst for the story and sets the theme for that day’s playdate. As she travels from room to room, the characters and activities intertwine with that episode’s theme. The unboxing trend became the jumping-off point for the adventures, but instead of just unboxing a product, Twomey and Johnson wanted to find a way for Gabby to unbox “a story.”
Together, Gabby and the Gabby Cats make DIY crafts, recipes, and science experiments that kids can replicate at home. They also work together to solve problems that drive the plot, such as bringing a kitty spaceship back down to Earth, rescuing hamster kitties that have run off, curing a case of the hiccups, and helping MerCat get her sparkle back after she loses her colors. Some of Gabby’s kitty friends become frazzled when the adventures become challenging, but Gabby is never afraid to “fail fantastically” and learn from a tough situation.
“Gabby encourages a growth mindset mentality. That means to always celebrate mistakes, never be afraid to ‘give it a go,’ and to believe in the power of yet,” Twomey says. “The Gabby Cats are always modeling creative problem solving, grit, and resilience, which we believe is the most important foundation for kids today.”
The “power of yet” is a way to bring kids hope and encourage a can-do attitude. If they don’t know how to solve a problem or say something like “I can’t do that,” all they have to do is think of the word “yet” to realize the potential for growth and success.
“Through Gabby, we model how to roll with it, no matter what comes your way, and we hope to inspire preschoolers to turn their missteps and ‘whoopsies’ into something creative and beautiful,” Johnson says.
Twomey and Johnson created a strong brand identity for Gabby’s Dollhouse by putting a feline spin on everything, from the characters that are all part-cat to the cat ear imagery that shows up on the actual dollhouse and the everyday items inside. Each room in the dollhouse represents a different preschool play experience, such as music, cooking, arts and crafts, science, and storytime. The cat theme paired with the evergreen dollhouse play pattern set the stage for an easy transition from entertainment to toys.
Universal Brand Development partnered with Spin Master to debut the first Gabby’s Dollhouse toy line in July, including role-play items, dolls, plush toys, character figures, surprise blind bags, collectibles, playsets, and — of course — a dollhouse.
“[Twomey and Johnson] have a talent that exceeds creating great animation,” says David Voss, Universal Brand Development’s senior vice president of global consumer products design for toys and hardlines. “They build aspirational characters and worlds that go beyond passive experiences with storytelling that inspires viewers to jump into the worlds they create. This approach to storytelling leads to a rich and endless opportunity for products.”
Some of the toys look like they were plucked straight out of the show, such as Gabby’s Magical Musical Ears, an interactive, cat-ear headband that plays sounds and phrases when kids wear it, and Gabby’s Purrfect Dollhouse, a three-story playset featuring different rooms, furniture, accessories, a dollhouse delivery tower, a working Cat-O-Vator, and more. Kids can add to the fun with Deluxe Room Sets (sold separately) that slide into the dollhouse walls, such as Cakey’s Kitchen, Pillow Cat’s Sweet Dreams Bedroom, and MerCat’s Primp and Pamper Bathroom.
“Gabby’s Dollhouse is such a magical property for preschoolers and it felt like a natural evolution from the show into the toys,” says James Martin, Spin Master’s senior vice president, marketing and global business unit (GBU) lead, preschool. “The series is rich with storytelling, lovable personalities, surprise moments, and adventures. Gabby’s Dollhouse is the ultimate dollhouse experience, a modern take on traditional dollhouse play, and our imaginative toy line stays true to that.”
Some of the dollhouse accessories also feature QR codes that kids can scan to unlock even more surprises and rewards in the Gabby’s Dollhouse app, available on iOS and Android. Developed by Spin Master Digital Studio, the app creates a digital environment for fans to dive further into the fantastical worlds and kitty characters from the series. Kids can join Gabby to explore her dollhouse room by room, unbox surprises, discover new hobbies, make friends with the kitties, and play more than 30 mini-games that feature singing, painting, cooking, crafting, and planting. At time of print, the app has more than 5.5 million downloads and is ranked the No. 1 educational game on Google Play across 32 countries.
Spin Master will roll out even more toys this fall and Universal Brand Development will expand the Gabby’s Dollhouse brand with additional partners in the apparel and home goods space next year.
Gabby’s Dollhouse leads the way in dollhouse wish fulfillment. The positive messaging of the series will help kids see the silver lining shining through any cloudy day with the help of quirky kitty characters and pretend play — and kids can join the fun inside their very own dollhouse world to match.
This article was originally published in the October 2021 edition of the Toy Book. Click here to read the full issue!