Take a look at the top box office hits from the past few years, and one thing is clear: We are in an era of superhero dominance. Comic book powerhouses DC and Marvel loom large on both the big and small screens, which makes breaking into the superhero genre seem daunting.
Yet, one trio of young heroes did succeed, finding a superhero niche that had yet to be filled—preschoolers.
PJ Masks premiered on Disney Junior in September 2015. It stars three children—Connor, Amaya, and Greg—who, during the night, transform into their alter egos: Gekko, Catboy, and Owlette. By that November, Forbes reported the animated show gathered more than 1.5 million unique viewers and an audience share of 29 percent among 2- to 5-year-old viewers.
Joan Grasso, senior vice president of licensing in North America for the family and brands team at Entertainment One (eOne), the show’s production company, says PJ Masks was the first superhero series specifically designed for preschoolers. This means that, while the heroes always save the day, they do so with no violence whatsoever.
“Basically, our heroes outsmart the villains in every episode by using their special super powers, which get pulled out in every single episode,” Grasso says. “They use those super powers and the power of teamwork to outsmart their opponents, so preschoolers love it. They don’t really realize that it’s not so violent, but it’s aspirational for them. And of course, moms love it because it’s safe for kids.”
Grasso, who has been part of the PJ Masks development team for about four years, says the show took a few years to get off the ground because they wanted to get everything right—the storyline, the characters, and the animation all had to make sense for their target audience.
When the show did premiere, Grasso says it “immediately exploded out of the gate,” and her team realized fans wanted PJ Masks products—and they wanted them right away. Originally, eOne planned a consumer product launch two years after the show’s premiere, but moved the timeline up to get products out sooner. In January 2016, eOne named Just Play as the brand’s global master toy partner.
Since then, the show completed two seasons, with the third season set to premiere this June.
Working with Just Play, eOne released a variety of PJ Masks products. Last year, Grasso says, the company was especially happy with the success of two toys: the Super Moon Adventure HQ Rocket and PJ Masks Romeo’s Lab Playset. The team initially had some worries about Romeo’s Lab, Grasso says, because it was the first PJ Masks toy based on a “baddie.” However, the item still performed well.
“I think it’s a testament to how popular the brand is, and the fact that if an item really looks great and has a lot of play value in it, it can be successful, even if it’s based on a villain,” she says.
Looking forward to this year, and even a few years ahead, Grasso says the team has plans for new product lines and digital and social campaigns—in addition to new episodes of the show. “I think one of the keys to ensuring continued success for the brand is that we have newness infused to continue to engage our audience,” she says.
The new products include character Pez dispensers and a PJ Masks Super Learning Phone from VTech. Just Play also introduces a PJ Masks Super Moon Adventure Fortress Playset and a PJ Masks Seeker play set.
When developing digital content, the team has to keep in mind both their target audience—kids—and the parents who control kids’ access to the internet and TV. In addition to PJ Masks apps and websites for kids, eOne creates content and social media campaigns for parents. There is even a monthly PJ Masks newsletter for parents, which includes product offers, activity ideas, and more.
eOne also plans to continue PJ Masks character meet-and-greets, sweepstakes, and promotions with its team of VIP blogger influencers, who often break the news of new PJ Masks products and initiatives.
In addition to expanding its products and digital offerings, PJ Masks continues to expand into experiential activities and events. For example, the brand partnered with My Gym to offer the “Super Moves” exercise program at more than 180 locations in the U.S. and Canada. This weekly preschool class, running this month, features PJ Masks-themed challenges and activities. According to Julie Christopher, eOne’s vice president of marketing in North America for the family and brands team, the class encourages preschoolers to “tap into their own hero powers and be more active through fun fitness and games.”
This year also marks the second tour of the series’ musical stage show, PJ Masks Live. This year’s show, PJ Masks Live: Save the Day! features new content and new characters, including PJ Robot. The tour is set to perform in more than 30 cities.
As the brand continues to grow, Grasso notes its global reach. She says the content team “does an amazing job of ensuring that the content resonates around the world, not just in the U.S.” For example, the show is available in five languages on Netflix.
So why does PJ Masks have such a wide appeal? The creators intentionally included a female hero in the trio, Owlette, so PJ Masks would resonate with a wider audience.
Grasso also says there is an aspirational aspect of the show. Ultimately, kids can see themselves in the heroes who “go into the night to save the day.”
“All the characters have their own super powers,” Grasso says. “I think kids want to be them and go out there and save the day, just like they see their favorite characters do in every episode.”
This article was originally published in the Pop Insider’s Winter 2019 Issue No. 2, click here to read more!