The Kenn Commandments, Part 2

If you’ve been ingesting your daily dose of Cold, Hard Flash like good little boys and girls, you’d know that I recently posted the first half of an interview with Kenn Navarro, one of the creators of ‘Happy Tree Friends.’ And because you’ve all been so wonderfully patient, I now present you with the second half, hot off the presses:

AARON SIMPSON: The HTF message board crowd seems supportive of a HTF movie – has there been discussion of a longer-format HTF project?
KENN NAVARRO: Oh man! I think people, myself included, would jump off buildings after watching a mind-numbing 2-hour HTF feature! Ha, ha! We are in the process of trying out a half-hour block consisting of 7-minute episodes. There’s a real charm to the short episodes and I think it’s part of what makes the show work… I would not want to lose too much of that quality going to a longer format.

AS: Has there been discussion of producing HTF episodes in another medium? 3D perhaps?
KN: The idea has definitely been tossed around. I wouldn’t want to replace the episodes and go full 3D since I LOVE the 2D format, but we’ve certainly talked about doing a 3D episode, just for the heck of it. We’ve even had the idea to do an old-school, stop-motion episode with one of our writers, Ken Pontac (creator of “Bump in the Night“, “Gary & Mike” and “Clay Fighters”), who has a phenomenal stop-motion background. Maybe someday.

AS: Besides being a creator/writer/director, you’re also a Flash animator. Have you created any work in Flash of your own recently?
KN: No, nothing recently. Happy Tree Friends is a very demanding baby that ALWAYS wants to be fed and most of my creative juices go there. Besides, I also have a very voracious video game habit, so all my spare time goes there.

AS: When you first started at Mondo, what were you hired to work on?
KN: I was hired to work on the Flash cartoons actually. When I came on, Mondo Media was still doing animated service work, mostly in the 3D video game realm. I, along with two other guys, was tasked with making these Flash cartoons work over the Internet. Back then, only the guys at Spumco were doing any sort of character animated Flash cartoons and we took a slightly different approach to it. We rolled out with our initial line-up of three shows, “The God & Devil Show”, “Thugs on Film”, and “Like, News”.

AS: Do you have a sense of the diversity of the HTF audience?
KN: Yes, we have fans from all walks of life! My little brother started watching the show when he was 8 (he’s 13 now) and he LOVES it! All his friends at school watch it as well. On the other end, we also meet a lot of parents in their 40′s that love it. I would say our core demographic is 18-24 skewed male… although we get a surprisingly big female following also. Really, there’s something for everybody! Even my cats like ‘Happy Tree Friends!’

AS: There have been rumors of HTF heading for a US cable network. If so, would there be a need to cut back on the graphic nature the episodes?
KN: Not if I have any say in it! It’s a big part of the show and I think once you start taking stuff like that out it becomes totally different. The show would lose it’s flavor and punch that our core audience loves and it just becomes watered down. We might as well do an entirely new show at that point.

AS: Did you have an involvement in the design of the HTF vinyl toy sculpts?
KN: Yes! The guys over at Stevenson Entertainment Group are TERRIFIC people and were really receptive to our ideas! In fact, I would say they executed on about 90% of the things we wanted to do. For some reason, they couldn’t package raw meat in the figures. I guess it’s some sort of bio-hazard or something… who would have guessed?

AS: Do you have a favorite piece of HTF merchandise?
KN: I would definitely have to say the action figures and plush toys. I’m a huge toy collector and seeing ‘Happy Tree Friends’ in toy form is a dream come true!

AS: How do you respond to attacks aimed at the violence in HTF?
KN: There’s violence in ‘Happy Tree Friends?’ What the!?!? Well, we never claimed it’s for everyone. There’s people who “get it” and those who don’t. Dean MacDonald, our creative director here at Mondo, came up with a great tag line for HTF: “Not for small children and big babies”… which is spot on! First of all, I think people should chill out and realize that it’s a CARTOON! It’s all done for laughs and good times and no real bunnies or beavers are harmed during the making of the show… intentionally at least. It’s a strange double standard when nobody cries foul when the Coyote falls off the cliff or when Tom and Jerry go at it with swords. We just take it to the next level. Besides, they all come back in the next episode so no character really stays dead in HTF land.

AS: Have you ever been personally confronted by someone offended by the show?
KN: Not personally, although I already have instructions on what to do in case I suddenly disappear or something. We get a lot of mail (both snail mail and the “e” variety) about it and I actually like reading through that stuff because it’s quite funny. Recently we had a concerned parent tell us “I would rather put my children in a 4-way intersection before I let them watch this.” I guess that makes the kids more susceptible to the show somehow? And they call us crazy?!?!

AS: Do you ever find yourself feeling sorry for the sliced, diced and dismembered characters in HTF?
KN: Sometimes we’ll hit on a weird nerve when we come up with a gag and look at each other and go… “oh, that’s just wrong.” But then we quickly come to our senses and realize that’s the gold we’ve been digging for!

AS: HTF seems to be taking off all around the world, and especially in Europe and the UK. Have you gotten a sense of how well HTF is fitting into the European entertainment market?
KN: The Europeans really seem to get HTF. In fact, it seems like most of the world does since a lot of our fans are from all over the globe. There’s more European merchandise than here in the US, and the show was recently rated #1 on MTV Latin America.

AS: Besides Europe, where else have you witnessed HTF gaining a foothold?
KN: We’ve pumped HTF into the waters of South America, Australia, New Zealand, and it will soon reach Asia. Apparently it has taken control of Brazil in particular. There’s a small pocket of fans in Japan too.

AS: What animators, illustrators or painters inspire you?
KN: Oh man! There are way too many to mention! Inspiration hits everywhere! Features, TV, commercials, print, packaging and even some spray painted doodle on the sidewalk. I get juiced off all that stuff. I’m a total sponge… with square pants and everything!

AS: What animation DVDs have you picked up lately?
KN: I’m excited to pick up Genndy Tartakovsky’s ‘Clone Wars‘ on DVD. His team did a GREAT graphic spin on the ‘Star Wars’ characters. ‘The Incredibles‘ is another gem. Brad Bird and the team at Pixar did an amazing job on that feature. Truly, an incredible effort in story, design and craft. I also recently picked up a couple of Anime titles like the DVD release of ‘Giant Robo‘, which is just a classic; as well as ‘Samurai Champloo‘, very dammed cool.

AS: Are you working on any personal projects that you can speak about at this time?
KN: If I told you, I’d have to kill you… and I like you, so I don’t want to have to do that.

AS: For any future projects of yours, would you ever consider the web a good place to start the distribution?
KN: Yes! The web is just a PHENOMENAL tool to reach people. I actually think we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what the Internet, as we know it today, can do. There’s so much potential with this medium and it’s really exciting to be living in such creative times. What other tool allows you to connect to the information you want at the click of a button, interact with other people, share and distribute all sorts of data and content, and receive some Viagra emails??? Ah, it’s a wonderful world wide web!

Thanks, Kenn. Great interview. I also want to thank Christina Chavez for her help, and to the thousands upon thousands of fury HTF creatures who’ve sacrificed their lives to bring smiles to our faces.


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