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Magic Light Pictures

Programming Profile

Superworm success drives Magic Light Pictures’ expansion for 2022


With its holiday hit Superworm wriggling its way into millions of festive front rooms last Christmas, UK animation house Magic Light Pictures is lining up new content for 2022 and beyond.


UK-based Magic Light Pictures, founded in 2003 by joint MDs Martin Pope and Michael Rose, has built up a strong reputation in the kids’ and family space, particularly for its animated Christmas specials for the BBC. With classics like The Gruffalo and The Gruffalo’s Child under its belt, the prodco has won three international Emmys and two Baftas and has been nominated for four Oscars.


“We formed the company because we wanted to make high-quality programmes with a focus on the family audience,” Rose says.


Martin Pope,
Magic Light Pictures

“The journey really began for us by getting the rights to The Gruffalo, which we started talking about in 2003 and then secured in 2007. Up to that point, there had been very few animated Christmas specials – there had been The Snowman [on Channel 4] and the Wallace & Gromit films on the BBC from a decade before – so we sort of revived the genre. The Gruffalo premiered on Christmas Day 2009 on BBC1 at 16.45 in a primetime slot. Ten million people watched it, with families all around the UK watching together.”


Family co-viewing is a huge priority for Magic Light, which has produced nine half-hour animated Christmas specials for the BBC that are based on books by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. In addition to The Gruffalo and The Gruffalo’s Child, these also include Stick Man, Room on the Broom, The Snail & the Whale, Zog, Zog & the Flying Doctors and The Highway Rat.


The ninth and most recent adaptation is Superworm, about a super-strong worm who is always saving the day, but who can save him when he gets too full of himself and is captured by the evil Wizard Lizard? It is voiced by Patricia Allison, Rob Brydon, Olivia Colman, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith and Matt Smith. The show premiered on BBC1 last Christmas and headlines Magic Light’s playlist on C21’s Digital Screenings this week.


Michael Rose,
Magic Light Pictures

Pope describes the show as “a lovely comedy with a heart-warming theme of friendship with a brilliant hero and a terrific villain – not to mention a fabulously talented cast.”


Regarding its Christmas outing, he adds: “We were absolutely delighted with how Superworm performed. It was the fifth most watched show on Christmas Day and the number one children’s show, with 40% share of viewing. During the first week, over seven million people had watched the film, and then there were more on the [BBC streaming platform] iPlayer. It’s gone absolutely phenomenally and we’ve had brilliant reviews.”


After their BBC premieres, Magic Light’s Christmas specials stay on iPlayer all year round and also go to the prodco’s coproduction partner, ZDF in Germany, before being sold all over the world. According to Rose, the films have travelled to 180 countries. Superworm has already been sold to Movistar in Spain, NRK in Norway, RTV in Slovenia, SVT in Sweden, The Knowledge Network in Canada and ABC in Australia, among others.


Magic Light has also struck partnerships with cinema operators in countries like France, Spain and the UK to play its films. “Our films work wherever families gather. They are for a pan-family audience, with a core of younger children maybe between three and eight years old, but are something the whole family can watch together,” Rose says.



Magic Light’s execs also point out that while their animated specials have been produced for a Christmas premiere, they can be, and are, watched throughout the year. Room on the Broom, for example, gets a big audience in the US every year at Halloween.


“The specials are popular all around the world. In the UK, they are a particular Christmas thing because that’s when families are sitting together in front of the ‘gogglebox.’ But they’re experienced by kids in Germany and in Italy and so on at very different times. They are continually in demand. It’s about imaginative entertainment and when kids want to watch,” Pope says.


While Magic Light has made a huge name for itself in the animated specials market, the prodco’s credits go beyond that genre. Last year, it expanded into the kids’ series space with preschool hit Pip & Posy (52×7’), which also features on the company’s Digital Screenings playlist. The show, for UK terrestrial Channel 5’s Milkshake! block, Sky Kids and ZDF, is based on Axel Scheffler’s books of the same name about the adventures of a mouse and rabbit.


The Gruffalo
The Gruffalo

“We started developing Pip & Posy three or four years ago as we were looking to gently expand what we do,” Rose says. “It’s a world of preschool friendship, showing the ups and downs of friendships and how you might navigate through them.


“We thought that was a lovely subject matter for a series, particularly in a world where people are growing up ever more disconnected from each other. We thought if we could encourage children to develop friendships from an early age, showing how to navigate them, how to sustain them, how to repair them when little things go wrong and how to do the right thing for their friends as well as for themselves, then this would all make for a lovely underpinning to the show and a reason to make it.”


Magic Light’s debut kids’ series has been tremendously successful. It has sold well internationally, with deals in place in France, Italy, Australia, Scandinavia, the Czech Republic, South Korea, Canada, the Netherlands and Israel, among other markets.


Stick Man
Stick Man

“We’ve had more than 3.1 million viewers on Milkshake! and have also been creating a social media marketing strategy around it, focusing particularly initially on YouTube, where we’ve had 7.5 million views in little over six months for our clips and shortform content,” Rose says.


According to Rose, Magic Light has increased investment in marketing and social media in order to adapt to an ever-evolving market. The prodco’s Gruffalo YouTube channel has had over 115 million views in the last few years, while its catalogue on iPlayer gets millions of plays every month.


Additionally, the Magic Light brand has expanded into the live entertainment sector, with experiences based on its IP at places including theme parks, entertainment venues and even walking trails across the UK. The latter came about after a deal with Forestry England, part of the Forestry Commission, to create 26 Gruffalo-themed walking trials, and these have recently been augmented with Superworm trails designed to educate kids about the importance of worms and other creepy-crawlies.


Zog and the Flying Doctors
Zog and the Flying Doctors

Looking to the future, Magic Light intends to continue focusing on its existing IP but is also in the market for new ideas.


“We continue to believe that you get what you focus on and that it’s best to do a few things, but do them really well,” Rose says. “So as well as continuing to grow Pip & Posy and the Gruffalo brand, we’re always looking for the next thing. There’s one other children’s picture book series that we’ve optioned called Mr Panda, by the brilliant author-illustrator Steve Antony, and there are some other ideas we’re looking at as well, in addition to a new film for Christmas.”


Pope adds: “We are certainly looking to expand what we do. We will definitely be doing at least one other series very soon.”

More programming profiles

  • 26-01-2024

    Magic Light Pictures’ latest holiday special debuted last month and here the company’s marketing director, Marc Ollington, and distribution director, Muriel Thomas, outline how its specials are a year-round business.


    As each new year rolls around, UK prodco Magic Light Pictures celebrates the success of its latest animated Christmas special, which has become a much-anticipated staple of BBC One’s festive line-up.


    Marc Ollington
    Marc Ollington,
    Magic Light Pictures
    Muriel Thomas
    Muriel Thomas,
    Magic Light Pictures

    Last year was no different, following the Christmas Day premiere of Tabby McTat, an adaptation of celebrated author/illustrator duo Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s picture book about a busker and his pet cat. The film earned itself a spot in the top 10 programmes watched on Christmas Day, according to Magic Light marketing director Marc Ollington, with around 3.4 million live viewers for its premiere TX, and up to seven million in total after one week consolidated.


  • 22-09-2023

    Michael Rose and Martin Pope, the duo behind Magic Light Pictures, look back at their 11 adaptations of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s much-loved picture books and reveal how they plan to take the brands into the future.


    It is widely acknowledged that reading books to children delivers profound emotional and learning benefits. But there’s also evidence that it is a source of inspiration to the readers too. How many times over the years, for example, have film and TV producers said their creative ‘eureka’ moment came via the time-honoured ritual of a bedtime story?


    Take Michael Rose and Martin Pope, the co-founders of award-winning London animation studio Magic Light Pictures. Back in the mid-2000s, they were both reading Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s much-loved picture book The Gruffalo to their respective children. Determined to adapt the book into an animation film, they spent the next four years convincing publishers, agents and the authors that they could be trusted with this cherished property.

  • 30-01-2023

    Magic Light Pictures is best known for its animated Christmas specials on BBC One and now it’s diversifying, execs from the company reveal.


    As Magic Light Pictures celebrates its 20th birthday, 2023 is shaping up to be a big year for the UK prodco, which has made TV specials loved by many millions of kids around the world.


    The award-winning London company, founded by joint MDs Martin Pope and Michael Rose, has produced 12 of the BBC’s Christmas animated specials, including 10 films based on the story books by Britain’s best-selling author and illustrator, Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler.


    Its most recent, The Smeds & The Smoos, had more than 8.5 million linear viewers last December, with many more streaming this beautiful film on BBC iPlayer. This success is the culmination of two decades of hard work, creativity and smart stewardship from Pope and Rose.

  • 12-09-2022

    Michael Rose, joint MD at UK animation studio Magic Light Pictures, talks about the company’s strategy for turning shows into brands, and offers a glimpse of the company’s MipJunior slate via C21’s Digital Screenings.


    Magic Light Pictures is probably best known as the Oscar-nominated production house behind many of the BBC’s recent animated Christmas specials, such as The Gruffalo, Zog and Superworm.


    Last year the company launched its first animated series, Pip and Posy, on Paramount-owned Channel 5’s Milkshake! children’s block and on Sky Kids, with the show achieving fantastic ratings and international success.


    The series is about two best friends whose lives revolve around a wonderful world of play. Based on the picture books illustrated by Axel Scheffler, the illustrator of The Gruffalo, it aims to show preschoolers how to build lasting friendships with kindness, resilience and flexibility.

  • 14-09-2021

    After a bumper year for the animation industry in general, Muriel Thomas of Magic Light Pictures reveals the UK company’s slate for this year and discusses plans for international expansion, as part of its C21 Digital Screenings showcase.


    While the events of last year sent many TV production houses into meltdown, the animation industry overall was less affected. Rather than shooting on location, CGI animators were able to keep working from their homes. Despite many challenges, productions could continue.


    The UK’s Magic Light Pictures – best known for producing Oscar-nominated animated specials based on Julia Donaldson and Axel Schleffer’s books, such as The Gruffalo and Room on the Broom – benefitted from this along with other animation houses and was also able to keep ahead of the gradually flattening curve through its position as both a producer and distributor.

  • 29-01-2021

    Magic Light Pictures’ joint MDs Michael Rose and Martin Pope and head of international distribution Muriel Thomas showcase their C21 Digital Screenings playlist, discussing why young audiences deserve quality content and reveal details of their new project.


    Launched in 2003, Magic Light Pictures (MLP) originated from joint MDs Michael Rose and Martin Pope’s mutual desire “to produce imaginative, thought-provoking and exciting entertainment for children and families worldwide,” says Pope.


    Previously, Rose had set up the feature film division at Aardman Animations and Pope was a live-action producer, working with industry heavyweights including Alan Bennett and John Schlesinger at the BBC. “We shared an interest in focusing increasingly on the family market, as we realised it’s an incredibly important audience who deserve to be well served by the best there is,” says Pope.


    “What’s wonderful about this audience is they are so clear-sighted; they can sniff out anything that feels inauthentic. It’s important to work with writers and directors who have a clear sense of what they’re trying to say and deliver it in a congruent way.”