At the age of 4, Josh Wakely ran around the house pretending he was in a yellow submarine. He wasn’t old enough to establish his own musical tastes, but he became a fan of The Beatles through the music his parents played.
The Australian native’s fascination with the Fab Four’s music has manifested itself in a new animated series for Netflix, “Beat Bugs.” Each half-hour episode features music from The Beatles as a basis for the adventures of a group of young bugs in a backyard that is their universe. Songs like “Penny Lane” or “Strawberry Fields Forever” gave him stories that suggested wonderful imagery to use in each tale.
The key selling point was always the message: “All You Need is Love.” It’s the love the five bug buddies have for each other that leads to stories about friendship, support and using your imagination.
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It’s all told through high-quality animation.
“We had to deliver Pixar-esque quality animation,” Wakely says. “I fought and battled at the beginning to have high production values.”
The show won’t feature the original Beatles recordings. Songs – from “Help!” to “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” – are performed by either the young insects or guest voices such as Pink or Sia.
Wakely says deciding who would sing which song was “an organic process.” As he would write the story, it would just feel right, such as having the character voiced by Pink featuring a lot of pink color in the design.
Once he saw the character, Wakely suggested approaching Pink to sing the tune, but he was told she may be too busy. As with his initial plan to get Beatles tunes, Wakely boldly went ahead with his idea and got Pink to sign on to perform “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.”
Although the process to get the rights to the music took years, the series creator was so confident he would get to use the tunes. He started writing scripts and creating storyboards for the episodes before a deal was finalized.
“Maybe I was just mad. I look back now and think, ‘What was I thinking?’ We went into debt pursuing the idea, but I always had such a clear idea of what I wanted to do, I knew it would happen.”
Wakely’s well aware he’s dealing with music that is beloved by generations.
“I was always deeply aware of the responsibility I had. I felt it everyday,” Wakely says. “That is why I pursued so passionately for so long getting the rights, because I could always see what the idea could be.”
Using music loved by multiple generations works in Wakely’s favor. While the series is aimed at children, it will appeal to their parents too.
Andy Yeatman, director of original kid’s content at Netflix, praises Wakely for developing a compelling children’s show filled with life lessons that transcends generations – one where parents and grandparents will enjoy the show alongside their children.
Along with Pink, other artists performing Beatles tunes will be Sia, Eddie Vedder, James Bay, The Shins, Of Monsters and Men, Rod Stewart, Jennifer Hudson, Chris Cornell, Regina Spektor and James Corden.
All of this music is endlessly inspiring to me.
It seems Wakely heard more than Beatles recording when he was little. He’s already secured the rights to a catalog of Motown music, plus the works of Bob Dylan for future productions.
This is just the start of using top names from music history in projects.
“I believe to my bones that good songs hold up over generations not just because of the melodies, but because they tell great stories,” Wakely says. “You are not going to find a better storyteller than Bob Dylan. All of this music is endlessly inspiring to me.”
- Available 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 3, on Netflix
- Jay: Charming, mischievous and witty 7-year-old beetle.
- Kumi: 7-year-old ladybug with a vivid imagination and zest for life.
- Crick: Tall and gangly seven-year-old cricket who is the most creative of the bugs and develops gadgets and inventions.
- Buzz: The 4-almost-5-year-old fruit fly is the youngest of the group.
- Walter: An 8-year-old slug with a plump body and big personality.