Years after the hugely successful TV show Zoboomafoo, brothers Chris and Martin Kratt are back with new animated series and stage shows that mix science education with fun and adventure
By Leslie Foster
With such beloved family shows as the Emmywinning preschool series Zoboomafoo, the liveaction adventure series Be The Creature and the new animated Emmy-nominated hit Wild Kratts under their belt, most parents are familiar with the work of the Kratt brothers.
Founded in 1993 by Martin, 47 and Chris, 44, the brothers’ entertainment company has produced more than 225 episodes of high-quality television programs, broadcast on channels around the world.
While the brothers have offices in Canada and the United States, they have made Ottawa their home base.
And in an email interview with Ottawa Parenting Times Magazine in August, the brothers reflected on their successful career and the variety of experiences and adventures they’ve had over the years.
Born in “the wilds of suburban New Jersey,” they worked with Canadian partners when they first began making wildlife films and their first series, Kratts Creatures. They have lived in Toronto and Montreal, but moved to Ottawa for their most recent venture, Wild Kratts, because of the “amazing animation” in the city.
But they also love Ottawa’s natural beauty, and all the opportunities for adventuring. “With Ottawa’s Greenbelt, the Gatineaus and the Ottawa River close by, you can go whitewater kayaking right downtown, you can go mountain biking on all the trails in the Greenbelt, hiking, cross-country skiing … everything is just a few steps away,” said Chris.
He also enjoys Ottawa’s wildlife, having had many great animal adventures with raccoons, groundhogs, foxes, rabbits, snapping turtles and more.
Animal adventures have been the heart of the Kratt brothers’ extensive body of work. Kratts Creatures was the brothers’ first show, which brought them all over the world. Zoboomafoo was recorded in the studio setting of Animal Junction, where the animals were brought in.
Through their work, the brothers experienced first-hand how unpredictable animals can be.
“One day, we were hanging out with a black jaguar that liked to play in the pool with a basketball, the next day we had a snow monkey that just wanted to hug Zoboo the whole day,” said Martin.
“Every day was full of surprises on that show.”
Be the Creature allowed the brothers to live with different animal species for an entire month in the wild.
“The stories of their natural lives just unfolded as they would,” said Martin. “For example, we lived with a group of African wild dogs for a whole month and tried to keep up with them as they hunted impala and gazelle.”
Wild Kratts is a perfect evolution of their animal-loving journey. “There were things that we knew animals did that we just couldn’t capture on camera,” said Martin. And so they chose to share their vast knowledge using animation.
For example, picture sperm whales and giant squid, battling at 6,000 feet beneath the ocean surface. “We did a whole episode on that, and brought it to life with animation” said Martin.
Working with your sibling day in and day out might prove challenging for some, but Chris and Martin enjoy sharing their memorable moments. “Each trip is like a trip of a lifetime and to be able to share that with your brother is pretty amazing,” says Chris.
They’ve enjoyed experiences like filming the only pride of lions in the world that regularly hunts elephants, they’ve swam with spotted dolphins in the Caribbean, they’ve leapt around tree tops with lemurs. There are no animals the Kratt brothers are afraid of or would refuse to work with.
“As long as you understand the animals, you can behave around them in a way that you don’t get hurt and the animal isn’t upset, threatened or harmed,” says Martin.
The business of working with animals has produced some very funny anecdotes. Chris recounted the story of the time the brothers were in Indonesia filming Komodo dragons. He was attempting to get a close shot “…and suddenly, I was maybe a little too close and a Komodo dragon started turning and running towards me.”
Chris began to run but tripped, and soon had the dragon climbing on top of him. He escaped and started to run, but noticed that Martin was standing by the camera, mouth agape, staring. He hadn’t moved an inch!
Martin says that he and his brother have very different approaches to things, and that is representative of who they are as people. But ultimately, they have much fun together, and an easy, genuine buddy banter.
And in case you were wondering how they know so much about all the amazing creatures they teach children about, Chris has a degree in biology, while Martin has a degree in zoology.
Both Chris and Martin have had their children work with them as well.
“We always made our shows because we are kids ourselves and still like to have fun like kids,” says Martin.
“Now, having kids, it gives a unique perspective on animals and it keeps everything fresh.”
“The more you interact with kids, the more you stay excited about the animals in the natural world.”
And the kids are excited about their fathers’ adventures.
Chris’s son says he wants to go on every single one of the adventures with his dad.
When Martin and Chris aren’t in the wild with creatures or in the studio working on Wild Kratts, they bring their love of animals to the stage with award-winning live shows.
Ottawa is in for a treat when they premiere their latest stage adventure at Centrepointe Theatre, with two shows on Nov. 9 at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. They will act out a story of one of their very first creature adventures in the Amazon rainforest.
The audience will join them on a mission to film the giant river otter, one of the world’s most endangered species.
Audience participation is key, as everyone will be asked to become the creatures in the story – including howler monkeys,
scarlet macaws, caimans and wild rainforest pigs, with the brothers’ hilarious antics featured throughout.
This first Kratts brothers’ adventure ultimately became the first episode of
Kratts’ Creatures and the brothers say that simply following their passion for animals led them to create all of their TV and stage shows. Accordingly, the brothers encourage kids to follow their interests and passion and pursue their dreams.
Tying into their latest venture, Wild Kratts, the brothers use “Creature Powers Suits” to showcase animal abilities, sharing informative and hilarious demonstrations of animal “wow facts” in an event that’s sure to entertain the entire family.
To purchase tickets, visit www.centrepointetheatre.com
Photos: Kratt Brothers Company