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Magic Light Pictures

Programming Profile

Making the holidays last all year


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.


Ollington expects the number of viewers to reach over eight million after the premiere as people catch up online via BBC iPlayer.


“What was brilliant was both the reaction both in the press, which gave it four- or five-star reviews, and on social media, which was maybe the best reaction we’ve ever had. Both from an audience point of view and a critical point of view, it’s been extremely well received. I am delighted so far with the performance,” Ollington says.


Tabby McTat

While Magic Light’s animated specials premiere in the UK at Christmas, Ollington points out that they continue to be watched throughout the year, increasing viewership numbers as the year progresses.


“Our specials have got well over 100 million views on iPlayer, which is staggering. So even though the specials are intertwined with Christmas, they live on throughout the year,” he says.


Tabby McTat is headlining the slate of shows Magic Light is taking to Kidscreen in February, where the prodco will focus on the film’s global roll- out, having already secured presales with several international broadcasters.


It is joined on the slate by Magic Light’s previous animated specials: The Smeds & the Smoos, Zog, Zog & the Flying Doctors, The Gruffalo, The Gruffalo’s Child, Room on the Broom, Stick Man, The Snail & the Whale, Superworm and The Highway Rat. Like Tabby McTat, each of the films are adapted from Donaldson and Scheffler books and have enjoyed international success year after year.


The Smeds and The Smoos

While the specials can be bought individually, they are often also sold as a package. “There is always a demand for high quality specials,” says Muriel Thomas, Magic Light’s distribution director. “Linear broadcasters are always very keen to schedule them around special times for kids during the year and they always do extremely well, so they are on regular repeats year after year.


“Now we have 11 specials there is a trend to put them together as collection, or to put a couple together and to create an event or a marathon on linear. They are also performing extremely well on broadcasters’ on-demand services where they are viewed many, many times.”


The first of the specials, The Gruffalo, debuted in 2009, but despite being 14 years old still sells well due to its timeless nature and the fact it has built a reputation as a classic film.


“The Gruffalo is always relevant in terms of story, while the quality of the animation remains fresh,” says Thomas. “It reaches new audiences every year and now we’ve got a new generation of little brothers or sisters watching it with their older siblings and with the wider family.”


In addition to Tabby McTat, a key focus for Magic Light this year is animated series Pip and Posy, which recently premiered its second season on Sky Kids and Paramount-owned Channel 5’s preschool strand Milkshake! in the UK.


Pip and Posy

Pip and Posy follows the adventures of a mouse and rabbit, and Magic Light also recently finished a 26×5’ miniseries to accompany the main series. International broadcasters to have acquired season two include Germany’s ZDF, France Televisions, Rai in Italy and many more.


“Pip and Posy has been a big success in the UK and all of our international partners are really pleased with how it has performed,” Ollington says. “On Milkshake!, it performs brilliantly where it’s up against Paw Patrol, Paddington and Peppa Pig. It regularly comes in the top three on a consistent basis. We’re launching our master toy with Bandai this February and if that goes well in the UK we can build that further in other territories.”


Thomas adds that feedback from the first season has been “extremely” good in key territories such as Germany, France, Italy and Australia, noting that discussions for a potential third season are taking place internally. “Friendship and playing are key themes that connect strongly with preschoolers all around the world,” the exec says.


Pip and Posy is Magic Light’s first series after years of producing specials, but may not be the last, according to Thomas, who says the prodco has further series in development that it hopes to announce later in the year. Elsewhere, the company is not averse to experimenting with other mediums, including stop-motion and live-action.



“The main focus is the story and how best the story can be told,” Thomas says. “So regardless of the technique – if it’s stop motion, 2D animation or live action – it’s about what the best result will be for the story itself.”


Meanwhile, an area of distribution Magic Light has expanded into is cinema, which it aims to explore further this year, particularly internationally.


“Expanding our audience to cinema is an opportunity that has grown over the past few years, especially in the UK and France,” Thomas says. “We want to explore cinema distribution in other territories because we realise the audience really appreciates seeing our films on the big screen. It also creates an event and an outing for kids that complements watching them on TV.”


Another key priority for Magic Light in 2024 is increasing awareness of the prodco’s brand name, which Ollington points out had previously been overshadowed by the famous IP it has adapted.


The Gruffalo

We’re becoming more and more known as a brand in our own right,” he says. “The Gruffalo has developed over the past twenty five years into a beloved evergreen brand,’ but Magic Light hasn’t been as known itself. It’s our aspiration that Magic Light continues to be known in the industry as a brand in itself. This should be the case because the excellence and quality of everything Magic Light touches deserves to have industry recognition. This time next year we’ll be even further ahead with this.”


In the meantime, Magic Light will be working on this year’s animated Christmas special for the BBC, but eager viewers and buyers will have to wait until March or April to find out what 2024’s story will be.

More programming profiles

  • 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.

  • 17-02-2022

    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.

  • 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.”