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February 11, 2016

Exclusive: Netflix’s ‘Beat Bugs’ has ticket to ride Beatles tunes


Bill Keveney / USA Today

Beat Bugs will get by with a lot of help from iconic Beatles songs.

Netflix’s new animated children’s show, due in August, features five bug-like creatures living out childhood adventures to the words and music of Beatles tunes performed by Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder (Magical Mystery Tour), Sia (Blackbird), Pink (Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds) and other stars.

“It’s a family-oriented story that uses the narratives and perhaps best melodies of all time to tell stories of joy, happiness, community and adventure” in a magical world, creator Josh Wakely says.

Beatles music was a part of Wakely’s upbringing in Australia, and his belief that the music and stories will connect with children and parents motivated his pursuit of the project. “I have very strong memories as a child of imagining what it would be like in the world of Strawberry Fields Forever or Yellow Submarine,” he says.

The big challenge, however, was getting permission to do covers of the songs, which are not easily licensed. Wakely partly credits naivete for helping him obtain rights to the catalog from Sony/ATV Music Publishing.

“I would say, ‘I’ve got this amazing idea for a kids show, and all I have to do is get The Beatles rights.’ People would roll their eyes. … I thought it would take four months. It took three years,” says Wakely, whose son, now 2, was born during the long process.

Other songs featured: When I’m Sixty-FourDay Tripper, Ticket to Ride, You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away, With A Little Help from My Friends, Get Back and We Can Work It Out.

Beat Bugs focuses on five small, youthful creatures – leader Kumi and her four friends, Jay, Crick, Buzz and Walter – who learn life lessons growing up in a suburban backyard. Good Day Sunshine accompanies the sun’s return in a story in which Crick worries about winter. When Walter isn’t getting along with others, his friends sing All You Need Is Love.

Netflix has ordered two seasons of the series. Each season will be presented as 13 half-hour pairings of 11-minute episodes that will each feature a Beatles tune (52 songs in all). Wakely, who has rights to about 300 in total, is ready for the possibility of additional seasons.

The universal appeal of Beatles’ music was compelling to Netflix, now expanding internationally, with a large slate of children’s programming. The streaming service plans to launch 20 new children’s series in 2016, more than doubling its slate.

The music is “cross-generational and cross-cultural,” says Andy Yeatman, director of children’s content. “We think kids will love (the music). We know moms, dads and grandparents love it. This stood out as a unique and potentially iconic show (with) great animation and storytelling.”

Wakely always planned to have contemporary artists perform the songs, which are arranged in ways to appeal to children, including “putting the melody right up front.”

In addition to Vedder, Pink and Sia, performers include James Bay (Hey Bulldog), The Shins (The Word), Of Monsters and Men (Eleanor Rigby), Chris Cornell (Drive My Car), Regina Spektor (And Your Bird Can Sing), James Corden (I’m a Loser) andBirdy (In My Life).

The singers “have all got a love for The Beatles,” says Wakely, who writes, directs and produces the series. “Often those superstars have young children. They quickly got how amazing it would be to bring this music to all children but to their children, as well.”