Every generation has its cultural touchstones. If you’re a millennial, you know Mario from Luigi and have probably daydreamed of owning your own Pikachu. You also know Bob, Dot and Enzo, because like Nintendo and Pokémon, ReBoot, the world’s first computer-animated television series, was a big part of growing up in the ’90s.
And not just in Canada. ReBoot and Beasties, both products of the same Canadian studio, were airing in 65 countries by 1997. But the new millennium hasn’t been kind to Vancouver’s Rainmaker Entertainment. It’s a shadow of its former self, and losing more than a million dollars a year. Now the studio has plans for a comeback: in September, it announced that ReBoot would be returning to TV, just in time for its 20th anniversary. But will today’s kids, for whom 3-D animation is standard fare, swarm to its second coming?
“ReBoot was a ground-breaking show when it launched in 1994,” explains Michael Hefferon, the company’s new president. He says the resurrected series will be similarly ahead of its time, letting kids interact with episodes through tablets and smartphones. It’s not just about the show, he says—ReBoot is a franchise. The company’s new TV division is also appealing to yesteryear; it’s being branded as Mainframe Entertainment, the name the company scrapped in 2006 when it was acquired by Rainmaker Income Fund. “Mainframe was a well-known brand,” Hefferon says, “which all came on the back of ReBoot.”
So why now? Rainmaker was recently demoted from the TSX big board to the Venture exchange and reported $1.2 million in losses for the first half of 2013. Last year’s losses were even bigger. Rainmaker was then almost taken over by Chinese animation firm Xing Xing. The deal fell through at the last minute, but the company’s near-death experience prompted a rethink, Hefferon says. It was time to “make this business make sense, and that’s one of the reasons I’m here.”
Much of the money Rainmaker makes now comes from producing two Barbie movies a year for Mattel, a long fall from the days this same studio was inducted into the Smithsonian Institution, having been nominated by Bill Gates himself. There was even a time Rainmaker thought it could take on Disney.
Perhaps a trace of that dream still lingers. The company released its first theatrical film, Escape from Planet Earth, in February, which took in $57 million in the U.S. and Canada. A flop by Pixar’s standards, but for an independently animated film, not bad. Rainmaker has another movie, Ratchet and Clank, based on the popular video game series, hitting theatres in 2015. Add ReBoot to the mix and you’ve got a lot of big projects for a not-so-big studio. It’s a fickle business—Disney closed its Pixar Canada studio recently after just three years in Vancouver—but who knows, maybe Bob, Dot and Enzo can still save the day.