A truly inclusive cartoon, even for deaf, blind, visually impaired or autistic children, explained by its TV producer Raffaele Bortone, of Animundi, in an exclusive interview for Licensing Magazine
Raffaele, tell us how this innovative television project came about.
We asked ourselves a simple question: are we sure that ALL children can enjoy a cartoon? The answer is no. Because deaf, blind/visually impaired or autistic children are not in a position to learn and share this form of entertainment, joy and fantasy with others. And this made us think a lot about how important it was to start with a cartoon in order to activate that need, dare I say it, that necessity, for inclusiveness and accessibility that can help break down forms of prejudice and isolation even among children. This is how the idea came about, following a meeting with the PUNTIDIVISTA publishing house, which specialises in producing texts for children with learning difficulties, to create an audiovisual product, a cartoon, which would be truly suitable for all children, including those with sensory difficulties. It was necessary to create a completely new working methodology, which we called CARTOON ABLE, and which included a whole series of assistants specifically designed to make the product usable also for those with visual impairment, hearing impairment or autistic spectrum disorders. A product which, however, also contained elements of originality and usefulness that would make it enjoyable also for the so-called able-bodied, in short a cartoon suitable for everyone… in all “SENSES”.
What does it mean that Lampadino and Caramella is an innovative and accessible cartoon for all senses?
The innovation lies precisely in the accessibility and inclusiveness present in a cartoon for the first time. In this way, children can interact, empathise without some of them feeling excluded from a confrontation where they are told about their favourites and their adventures, thus feeling like they are all participants and being able to understand the contents thanks also, for example, to other forms of language that children can learn to recognise and know exist. I’m thinking of sign language, which has just recently reached a historic milestone in Italy with official recognition by our parliament as an active language in our country. We decided to include balloons in the cartoon, in a comic-strip style, where deaf actors, wearing the same make-up as the characters, translate the dialogues of the protagonists into LIS (Italian Sign Language), which would otherwise only be understood by hearing children. This is because deaf children who have not yet been educated and who use the LIS as their only form of communication would not be able to read the subtitles, which we have nevertheless inserted and worked with a special syntax to make them easier to read for those who can already read but do not know sign language. The addition of a narrator’s voice, combined with musical comments and noises that contextualise the actions and the places where they take place, and the harmonisation of the images with shapes, colours and number of non-disturbing elements, help blind and autistic children to understand the cartoon.
And what are its added values that make it unique?
First of all, it is a product not for many but really for all. And this gives it a high social and moral value. It is no coincidence that it was awarded the UNICEF prize at the last Cartoons on the Bay as the best social product. Another important element is that it has led thousands of families to think that there used to be a climate of unconscious inequality. The reception from this point of view has been extraordinary. The official Facebook page of Lampadino e Caramella collects dozens and dozens of testimonials and praise for the initiative both from so-called normal families and from those who, before this cartoon, felt that their nucleus was a victim of discrimination and inequality. An inequality that involved their children, who will become, let us remember, the women and men of tomorrow. Experiencing marginalisation because no one has thought about the joy and enjoyment of those who are unfortunately less fortunate, results in a society that is more distressed by those who suffer deprivation and less sensitive by those who have not been put in a position to perceive the problem. We are working on this project in order to make, with our small contribution, our society and the future society more attentive and sensitive to welcoming those different from ourselves.
How was it built and realised and with which partners?
The television series is based on the creative and productive contribution of our company ANIMUNDI and the participation of RAI RAGAZZI and the Ministry of Culture. The conception and the first films to test the validity of the CARTOON-ABLE method, with the codification of its working procedures, passed through the crowdfunding goal on the TELECOM platform “With You We Do” which selected the project. In this way we immediately submitted the idea to popular opinion, just to test if the real need was perceived and received an incredible response that led, on that occasion, to the direct participation of TELECOM ITALIA itself and structures such as the Banca di Credito Cooperativo di Roma. In terms of production, since the series is also aimed at children with sensory deficits, we have had a constant exchange with structures and operators in the specific areas related to the various disabilities. In this respect, the PUNTIDIVISTA managers acted as a hub, filtering and mediating the information. Another important contribution came from the company EYES MADE which took care of the management of the deaf actors and of the linguistic mediation linked to sign language. All this meant that the product was also considered in therapeutic terms within an experimental research protocol by the paediatric ophthalmology department of the NIGUARDA Hospital in Milan for the treatment of amblyopic children. In short, a project that, in addition to its natural social benefits, so to speak, extends its “benefits” to the medical field, always in aid of children. And of this we are proud and delighted.
Where and when did you launch it and with what initial results?
The pandemic we are experiencing was in its first dramatic stages, and still is, a time of great fear and uncertainty. We are all paying the consequences and the weakest, including children, are suffering the most. For this reason, during the first lock-down in March last year, RAI RAGAZZI, thanks to its director Luca Milano, decided to anticipate the airing of the first season of Lampadino and Caramella on 29 March 2020 as a world premiere on RAI YOYO precisely to allow for the first time all children, no one excluded, to freely enjoy a product capable of uniting and creating a moment of inclusiveness and sharing, allowing families reunited by the pandemic a moment of reflection, also thanks to a cartoon. The series has been on air continuously for over a year on RAI YOYO with several daily appointments. Audience approval has exceeded all expectations – so far with over 200 million viewers overall – and, according to official Auditel data, it continues to be the most watched programme among all the national thematic channels for children. It is also simultaneously present on RAI PLAY, on the free RAI PLAY YOYO app and on Telecom Italia’s TIMVISION on-demand platform. It has also recently landed on the radio channel RAI RADIO KIDS, precisely because of its features that are also suitable for listening, and it is the most popular programme here too. All this has opened the way to start discussing possible collaborations with potential licensees, with some of whom we have already closed agreements, but with a vision of products in line with the unique characteristics of the cartoon. Let’s not forget the numbers that these products would address in addition to the normal reference market in our country: in Italy, 1 child in 160 has an autistic disorder, 1 million people are visually impaired and almost 400,000 are blind, while 5% of the school population has hearing problems such as deafness and hearing loss. Not forgetting the households where these disabilities are experienced. A different way of doing business, with a special focus on ethics and social issues and with the aim of sustainability and accessibility, for which Lampadino and Caramella are standard-bearers.
What are the next developments on television and elsewhere for this property?
The 20 episodes of the first series will be joined by another 20 episodes of the second season, which are at an advanced stage of production and will be available by the end of 2021. Among the novelties of this new series is the presence of around 30 new talent voices who have enthusiastically joined the project, also following the success of the first season, which made its inclusive purpose public and where I would like to remind you that personalities such as GIOVANNI ALLEVI and GUILLERMO MARIOTTO participated spontaneously, among others. Also in this new season there are important personalities ranging from the world of show business, entrepreneurship, journalism and music, which we will unveil shortly. They lend their voices to characters who, in many cases, resemble them or in some way are also in their profession. It will be a fun way of merging reality with the fantasy of the MagiRegno. Among the next objectives will be to further structure the property through a third season and its greater internationalisation with the creation of versions suitable for foreign markets, as well as the creation of a television special. This will be flanked by a series of initiatives already underway, including the sensory workshops that were so successful during the pandemic, as well as participation in shows and events with shows and mascots in continuity with what began in the pre-COVID era. Communication will be particularly focused on and strengthened, and represents a plus and a must for this property, as it is now the most popular cartoon series in the history of national animated series. This will also be achieved thanks to the collaboration with an important strategic partner who will be the link between our brand and all those companies who will consider it compatible with the positioning of their brand and their current products and/or to be realised with all the benefits that companies will be able to draw from it in compliance with the intentions and objectives of our cartoon: inclusiveness, sustainability and accessibility for all children. Let’s all try to make our world a better place, because the MagiRegno where Lampadino and Caramella go is the most beautiful place there is… but also the most beautiful place for each of us!