Magic Light Pictures, the multi-award-winning family entertainment company, marks its 20th birthday this year. With new animated special Tabby McTat lined up for a coveted BBC One Christmas slot, the licensing programme for preschool series Pip and Posy poised to launch and The Gruffalo’s 25th anniversary in 2024, there’s plenty to celebrate, says the company’s head of licensing Aidan Taylor-Gooby.
“We have a come a long way since Michael [Rose] and Martin [Pope] founded Magic Light as an independent production company,” says Aidan Taylor-Gooby. “Even in my six years here, the growth is evident. When I joined in 2017, we were 12 people and our licensing activity in the UK was conducted through agents. One of my first projects was bringing the licensing activity in-house. We now have more than 30 employees and a much larger office. We have a licensing team of six supported by a marketing team of four and we are simultaneously managing multiple brand strategies.”
As well as its hit preschool series Pip and Posy, Magic Light is known for its visually rich adaptations of children’s books by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, for which it also manages the licensing rights. Its 10 previous adaptations including The Gruffalo (2009), Room on the Broom (2012) and The Smeds and The Smoos (2022), were appointment viewing for families at Christmas, and this year’s offering Tabby McTat – the tale of a busker and his cat, featuring the voice talents of Jodie Whittaker and Rob Brydon – looks set to replicate their success.
“Our licensing partner Aurora has developed a range of plush and Sainsbury’s is launching a nightwear collection. We also have some fun PR activity planned for the launch of the film on BBC One,” says Aidan.
Donaldson and Scheffler’s books are adored by families, and Magic Light’s licensing programmes are developed with that in mind. “These are books that have enriched the imaginations of millions of children and families around the world. Our aim is to produce content, experiences, activities and products of the highest quality that will be cherished for years to come,” Aidan asserts. “With The Gruffalo, for which we now work with over 50 UK licensees, this has always been about taking a long-term view in order to build a classic evergreen brand and always trying to exceed the audience’s expectations in terms of quality.”
The live space has proved particularly fruitful for The Gruffalo, with Forestry England having produced woodland trails based on the brand since 2014.
“The woodland setting is such a natural location for families to interact with The Gruffalo, and the fact they are free to visit ensures The Gruffalo is available to everyone,” says Aidan. “At the other end of the scale, Merlin Entertainment has invested deeply in producing incredible immersive experiences at Chessington World of Adventures Resort, Warwick Castle and, most recently, The Gruffalo and Friends Clubhouse in Blackpool.”
Magic Light also works with smaller parks and attractions to create pop-up events and trails for its stable of brands. Recent activity in this space includes Superworm and Room on the Broom trails with Kew Gardens and sister site Wakehurst. Success in the outdoor space has been replicated in other territories, too. “We worked with our local agent Mondo TV to open the first Gruffalo trail in Italy at Wonderwood family park in Northern Italy this year. Australia remains strong for us with several live trails in place and an active local group of licensees, managed for us by Merchantwise.”
Germany is the brand’s second biggest territory for licensing, says Aidan. “We’ve worked with Active Merchandising in the territory for many years. Italy is also important and growing fast. The next focus for us will be other European territories where the books and films have performed well, including France, Iberia and Poland.”
Pip and Posy is a huge focus for Magic Light following its phenomenal success on Milkshake! and Sky Kids. This year the company staged a series of interactive live experiences with Whipsnade Zoo and Parkdean Resorts. It also recently announced Bandai as its master toy partner alongside eight other phase one licensees: Blues Group, Aykroyds, TDP, Ravensburger, Amscan, Tonies, Kennedy Publishing and Star Editions.
“The show has such great reach and recognition that we can take a much broader approach to partners and retailers and aim to grow the product range and distribution quickly,” says Aidan. “We are gearing up to our launch in spring 2024 and can’t wait for fans to begin engaging with the product range. We’re looking to expand into soft lines, home textiles, accessories, footwear, greetings cards and role play and we have several exciting projects in the pipeline. And watch out for our new spin-off series, Pip and Posy Let’s Learn, on Sky Kids this autumn.”
Magic Light shows have had three Oscar nominations and four BAFTA wins.
Productions have aired in 50 different languages in 180 countries.
Tabby McTat will be the company’s 11th adaptation of a Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler picture book.
50: the number of The Gruffalo UK licensees.
The Gruffalo nature trails are completed by 1.5-2.5 million people per year.
530k: the number of subscribers to The Gruffalo YouTube channel.
Pip and Posy is the number one show on Sky Kids.
£600k: gross revenue in 2022 for Pip and Posy and The Gruffalo cinema showings.