Precious, Fib, Ruffles and Suds are four little kittens who live happily between the high walls of the Kingdom of Cats. But when they get banished after an unfortunate series of events, they will have to face the perils of the wild world outside and find a treasure splendiferous enough to earn King Walter’s forgiveness. Adventure, meowgic and hairballs await in this RPG-inspired serialised odyssey!
Dungeons & Kittens
Director: Jeremy Guiter
Author: Mélanie Duval
Graphic Authors: Clément De Ruyter, Brendan Merien, and Théo Ferré
Producer: Philippe Alessandri (Watch Next Media, France)
Format: 13 X 22’
Target audience: Children (6-9)
Techniques: 2D digital
Dungeons & Kittens is a TV animation series project of an authentic fantasy adventure story by Watch Next Media that was pitched at Cartoon Forum 2023. The project takes into account the content and direction of the story, the visual design, and action scenes to ensure a captivating and authentic fantasy adventure for children.
We interviewed Jeremy Guiter, the director, Mélanie Duval, the author, Clément De Ruyter, the graphic author, and Philippe Alessandri, the producer.
Interview with Jeremy Guiter, Mélanie Duval, Clément De Ruyter, and Philippe Alessandri
Hideki Nagaishi (HN): Could you please let us know what part of this animation series you think will be the most appealing or attractive to the prospective audience?
Jeremy Guiter: The emotion and relationship between the kittens. When I was a kid, my favourite film was The Land Before Time (1988). I’ve watched the film almost 100 times… The relationship between the characters was so strong and touching and I’ve really wanted to build and show that in Dungeons & Kittens. Like The Lord of the Rings, in this series, the quest is very interesting for the plot but what is the most interesting is the evolution of characters during the quest. They start the quest as children, and they come back as adults.
HN: Philippe, how did this series project start and why did you decide to produce this project?
Philippe Alessandri: Our artistic director, Jeremy Guiter, showed me the artwork of Clément De Ruyter and I immediately fell in love with it! We hired Melanie Duval (Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir) to help Clément write the story arc for a 13 half-hour series. Simultaneously, we had a couple of designers to translate Clément’s gorgeous illustrations into models suitable to the production of an animated series. When we decided to develop Dungeons & Kittens two years ago, I anticipated that broadcasters, which at that time where only looking for shows of self-contained episodes, would eventually commission some serialized shows. The positive feedback from the Cartoon Forum 2023 has comforted me in this intuition.
HN: Where did the initial idea of the story come from?
Clément De Ruyter: I’ve always loved initiation stories, where characters who are far too small for their fate are pushed by fate to brave dangers. There’s undoubtedly a bit of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, and Okilélé, a French children’s book by Claude Ponti, that have been constant sources of inspiration. At the very beginning, I was thinking about a sci-fi project with cats in space, but after a while, I realized that I wanted to explore the “genesis” of this universe through the lens of young adventurers, and that became Dungeons & Kittens. And quite quickly, I wanted to make it into a role-playing board game to “test” my stories and my universe with my friends. I wanted to create a contrasting universe that speaks of childhood and beautiful friendship but also of wandering and danger, a bittersweet fable, and that’s when the unfair quest of King Walter appeared to me. And then, as time went by, Watch Next saw the drafts of the board game, and here we are!
HN: Jeremy, what have you kept in mind and what have you struggled with so far when working on the story of the series with Clément De Ruyter and Mélanie Duval ?
Jeremy Guiter: As we were on the same page about the relationship between characters, I didn’t have to fight for this. But something else was part of the heart of the show for me, too. We built this story from the universe of Clément. And initially, Dungeons & Kittens is a role-playing board game made by Clément. I didn’t want to lose that part in the show, so I insisted on keeping the principle of the dungeons. The strength of the series is “Little kittens in a world way too big for them” (like hobbits in The Lord of the Rings), so that I needed a world very hard for them. Films were a bit scary when we were kids. and now there is too much censorship… As we want to build an immersive show, I want to be free to show on the screen everything I need to for the story.
HN: Could you please let us know the story behind the visual creation? What are you taking care in the most?
Jeremy Guiter: Four of us did the visual development: Clément De Ruyter (the project creator), Brendan Merien (designed the characters), Théo Ferré (designed the sets), and me (directed and did the storyboard/animatics + illustration research).
Clément De Ruyter: I really wanted to have a singular artistic direction, mixing very cute character design with a medieval fantasy universe that tipped over into the post-apocalyptic. The idea was to create a real contrast between “cute” characters and a rusty devastated world where animals rebuild civilizations by salvaging what they can. All this was to give the universe a much larger scale and texture, and I wanted to stand out from the more generic animal fantasy that only refers to fairy tales. I think Mélanie and Jeremy were touched by this and helped me develop this vision.
Mélanie Duval: When the amazing team of Watch Next asked me if I was interested in developing Dungeons & Kittens, I already knew the work of Clément and was already madly in love with it. So, even if at that time I was super busy, I said “Yes! A thousand times yes!”. It was my long life dream to bring back full-of-extraordinary danger-and-mysteries epic adventures I’ve loved so much, like the legendary The Mysterious Cities of Gold (1982) as a kid and Battlestar Galactica (2004) as an adult, to kids’ TV. Stories with gigantic stakes, above all, deep and sometimes really ambiguous fascinating characters with dark past, mysteries, and facing impossible dilemmas … who sometimes make really bad choices!
So, my mission on this show, what I’m taking care the most, is to write a team of adorable kittens… Who are not “the nice little group of cute friends who face big challenges with the power of friendship”. They are the challenge. OK, there are dragons, conspiracies, and world-threatening dangers, but their biggest adventure is among themselves. Slaying dragons is not easy, but have you ever tried to say “I love you?”, “Sorry I was wrong.”, and “Could you stop hurting me?” As spectacular and grandiose (and beautiful) as their outside world is, the heart of the show is what happens between them (and there will be a lot!).
I’m taking an extra-care to keep the fine balance not only between dark and dramatic moments, but also super heartwarming, light, funny, and almost cheesy ones.
The show is a roller coaster of emotions and sometimes the biggest challenge for me is just to stop blubbering being my computer while I am writing, or trying to pitch the team a heartbreaking turn of events or a long awaited reconciliation…
HN: What part of the project is especially excited or challenging for you as a producer?
Philippe Alessandri: The project is artistically very exciting. Writing a serialized show is new to us and adapting Clément’s artwork to the animation constrains while keeping its aesthetic and charm is motivating and not that easy. Raising a budget of $6 million for 13 half-hours without giving up all our rights is also very challenging!
HN: What is the current status of the project? Please tell us about the progress and schedule of the project so far, if possible.
Philippe Alessandri: We have written the full story-arc and the pilot episode, and will write 5 more scripts as part of our development deal with France Televisions. We have produced a trailer, and will deliver the animatic of one episode by the end of the year. We will hopefully launch the pre-production in the Spring of next year for a Summer 2025 delivery.