“For anything I take up, I have to look within myself to find conviction. I only pursue what resonates within me; otherwise, I won’t do it justice. I must feel it in my core, or I know I’ll do it badly, wrongly.”
This profound sentiment from Helen Barillé, the president of Procidis/Hello Maestro, encapsulates her unwavering dedication to authenticity and passion, shaping the narrative for the resurgence of Once Upon a Time — a French educational animation franchise created by Albert Barillé which has been aired in over 100 countries in 80 languages. The original series, Once Upon a Time…Man, emerged in 1978, focusing on detailing the overall history of mankind. Subsequently, six other series followed, each exploring different facets of history and discovery, culminating in the eighth series dedicated to everyday objects, titled Once Upon a Time…The Objects, scheduled for release in 2024.
At this year’s MIPJunior, during the world premiere of the new edutainment series Once Upon a Time…The Objects (78 x7’) co-produced by Procidis & Samka Productions in association with France Télévisions, AnimationXpress had the opportunity to interview Helen – the wife of the prodigious producer and writer Albert.
In this exclusive conversation with Helen, she sheds light on the compelling reasons behind this resurgence and the evolution of their renowned series.
“The reason for such a long time between the series was that the first seven were created by my husband,” Helen revealed, elucidating the hiatus. “He passed away in 2009, and I took over the company. It took time for us to modernise and revitalise the series, which was initially seen as a bit old-fashioned.”
Helen’s journey began with the restoration of the original series’ images, eventually leading to a global broadcast in over 20 countries currently. Reflecting on this process, she mentioned, “I started by restoring the images, and thanks to that, the series went back on TVs and is still broadcast nowadays.”
During this process, the conception of the new series, Once Upon a Time: The Object, came about. Helen highlighted the motivation behind it: “We decided to do Once Upon a Time: The Object because children just love to know more about themselves, and we thought what could interest them? Of course it would be their daily objects.” This venture involved extensive research and collaboration with six scientists over a year, followed by an additional year for writing before the commencement of animation.
“We had to adapt to the changing attention spans of children,” Helene noted. “So, we condensed the episodes to seven minutes, aiming for a 50-50 blend of information and humor, aligning with modern audiences’ expectations.”
Talking about the series’ core values—educating while entertaining—a philosophy that has resonated for over 45 years, Helene shared, “This series was born from a man who was passionate, a humanist who didn’t want children to lose their time in front of TV. He wanted to entertain them but also wanted them to learn and to enjoy.”
Navigating the landscape where broadcasters tend to prefer more comedic content over educational shows posed its challenges. “Ah, yes, the journey is challenging, undeniably so. Convincing broadcasters each time, despite the popularity and success of our saga, is no easy feat. There’s a perception that offering pure entertainment is simpler, but for us, it’s about blending education and amusement,” Helen explained. Nevertheless, they have successfully secured deals, and the new series is set to air in France on FranceTV, in Israel on HOT, in Switzerland on RTS, and worldwide on TV5MONDE in the first semester of 2024.
Despite financial challenges in some markets, Helen remains optimistic, trusting in the relevance and quality of their content to win over broadcasters and audiences alike.
Her vision extends beyond screens to theater productions, video games, and merchandise. “I want actors to be on stage and play my Maestro. This is my personal dream,” she shared, expressing her aspirations for the franchise’s expansion.
Procidis’ Once Upon a Time series isn’t merely a revival—it’s a testament to enduring storytelling, adaptability, and the pursuit of knowledge in a rapidly evolving media landscape. As Helen and her team continue shaping the imaginations of generations, their commitment to meaningful, informative content remains unwavering.