Metamorphoses of the Most Popular Children’s Cartoon in Kyrgyzstan
How can one make the most popular cartoon in a country even better?
Close your eyes. Imagine you are running with your best friend in a field, with a beautiful kite flying high in the sky above you. You are breathless with joy. But wait! You are really in a vaccination room getting an important immunization. And a few moments ago you were so very scared. So it is with little Akylay and Aktan. With the advice of his best friend, Akylay, little Aktan imagines a happy thought and it worked perfectly: no fear at all, and in fact the vaccination was over before he knew it.
Who are Aktan and Akylay? Almost any child in Kyrgyzstan can tell you. They are the two main characters of ‘Keremet Koch’ (‘Magic Journey’), the animated programme produced by the National TV and Radio Corporation. Since the end of 2006, every day during prime time television, Aktan and Akylay have been gathering Kyrgyz children in front of the TV screen for five minutes of entertainment and education. These five minutes take them on an adventure in a fairy tale world that supports early childhood development and gives children and their parents helpful advice.
This cartoon has won the hearts of almost every girl and boy of Kyrgyzstan and stimulated the creators to want to use media even more to serve Kyrgyz children.
At the end of 2007, some of the most creative minds (artists, composers, singers and writers) and specialists in child psychology and early childhood development from Kyrgyzstan worked together to look at the series critically and to see how they could make it even more developmentally appropriate and child-friendly.
Here is the result. On 6 October 2008, children, as usual, were glued to TV and were surprised. The cartoon now lasts for 15 minutes. The music, some of the animation and the sets have been changed. New characters have been added, including more caregivers and a friend who is disabled. There is more child humour in the progamme. Akylai, the little girl, has taken on a leadership role and Aktan, the little boy, is more sensitive.
And there are many wonderful stories from real Kyrgyz children. Two and a half year old Aktan Madalbekov is from Talas region. His parents named him after one of the main characters of the ‘Magic Journey’. And what is even more exciting, his favourite hero speaks with the voice of his own older brother, Dastan.
It was quite unexpected news for the Madalbekovs and their relatives when 12 year old Dastan was selected to be the voice of Aktan in the most popular cartoon in Kyrgyzstan. “He learned about the selection process from a TV running line when he was in the remote village of my parents helping in the field to weed the beans. We supported him in his wish, though I was quite sure that there are many other talented children in Bishkek, the capital. But he was selected. It was a big surprise on the one hand, but on the other hand I think it is the realization of a dream he has had when he first saw the series,” says Dastan’s mother, Ms. Jamilya Madalbekova. Since he was three years old, Dastan liked to play roles. At four, he recited lines from ‘Manas’ – a famous and quite complicated Kyrgyz epic. His favorite toy had been a pencil or pen which he used as a microphone. “It is so exciting to watch him in the sound studio. He does not simply use his voice – he plays the role with gestures and movements,” shares Ms. Lira Aitymbetova, the producer of the ‘Magic Journey’.
Dastan, the other children who voice the ‘Magic Journey’ characters and other children who participate in pre-testing the show are valuable members of the creative team. Their voices (both literally and figuratively), their intelligence and valuable creative inputs are helping to make the new version of the ‘Magic Journey’ reflect their needs, wants and interests. The cartoon still helps children to better prepare for school, but it is much more. It strives to nurture their imagination, self-confidence, problem solving skills and to love learning. Another very important goal is to portray and nurture diversity, and the strengths of all children, especially the most vulnerable.
The creators are expecting a new wave of letters and pictures from children. For more than a year every letter that came to the ‘Magic Journey’ has been read and answered. Now children’s correspondence acquires a new role: pictures are sorted and are being used in preparing a special sequence that is part of each episode – a story within the story. The team is excited about the new changes and the how real Kyrgyz children can help Aktan and Akylai in difficult situations.
UNICEF continues to support ‘keremet-kochers’, as the growing team of creators call themselves. At the end of October 2008, UNICEF supported a second capacity-building workshop to improve scriptwriting skills and to help the team produce the first live-action sequences where real children from around the country will be highlighted. It was one more chance to learn from international experience and bring in new knowledge and fresh ideas, as well as feed the growing enthusiasm.
Ms. Barbara Kolucki, an international expert and consultant for many internationally known series and media for children (including Sesame Street and many UNICEF Country Offices around the world) has helped to build local capacity in Kyrgyzstan since 2007. She has consulted on the early childhood development programmes supported by UNICEF in the country. In addition, she singles out Kyrgyzstan as a place with a tremendous opportunities and potential to reach the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children through the potential positive power of developmentally and culturally appropriate media for children. “We know that children are watching and listening to whatever else their families view. But, the ‘Magic Journey’ has the power to present an alternative. Together with holistic early child development programmes that reach caregivers and the community, it can be a safe haven for children who need to be heard. It can be a mirror to all children that they are valued. It can be a model to caregivers of simple, enjoyable activities where children have fun while learning. It can truly be a MAGIC Journey.”