The enchanting children’s book “Not Quite Narwhal” by Jessie Sima has captivated young readers with its delightful story and captivating illustrations. Now, this beloved tale takes on a new dimension as it makes its way to television, carrying a powerful message of inclusivity and celebrating disability representation. In this article we explore the TV adaptation of “Not Quite Narwhal” and how it promotes a more inclusive narrative for children.
The TV adaptation that launches on Netflix July 19th, “Not Quite Narwhal” boasts a talented voice cast, including Nevin Kar as Kelp, Lucy Lowe as Scallop, Ryan Lopez as Cruz, Scarlett Kate Ferguson as Pixie, Sasha Knight as Ollie, Mixie Chen as Juniper and Katy Sullivan as Riki.
In “Not Quite Narwhal,” we follow curious and fun-loving Kelp who has always believed he is a narwhal like the rest of his family under the sea, until the day he makes the most amazing discovery – he’s actually a unicorn! Rather than choose one or the other, Kelp embraces being both a narwhal and a unicorn, juggling his day-to-day life as he figures out how to navigate his two worlds: the ocean and land. The TV adaptation beautifully brings these themes to life, presenting a story that resonates with children of all backgrounds.
Co-Executive Producers Brian K. Roberts, Nakia Trower Schuman and Sarah Katin shared how they approached the show; “The theme at the heart of the show is understanding and celebrating your complete, unique self. In developing the characters and stories that would express the theme it was obvious that the show would be layered with many kinds of representation and inclusion, including disabilities. Our storytelling approach was unique, though, as we generally did not make those differences something that the characters called attention to. For example, we have a unicorn character who uses a prosthetic (voiced by the Paralympian and Tony Award-nominated actress Katy Sullivan). [In addition] we have an episode featuring a character who is low vision. That character and his storyline was conceived by one of our writers, Matt Opatrny. Matt used the story to express his own experiences growing up as a child with low vision. Our approach to the specifics of disability inclusion were informed by consultants” says Roberts.
“One of the initial things that drew me to Jessie Sima’s book, aside from its thoughtful themes of inclusivity, being true to yourself, and accepting differences, was the enchanting nature of the illustrations. Jessie presented a whimsical world that we really wanted to play in and explore. The first time Nakia [Trower Schuman] and I read the book we fell in love with all the charming little visual details. Like Kelp using “water wings” to swim and unicorns strumming guitars or peddling snow cones. There’s even a rhino that pops up on the back cover and asks if they’re a unicorn. This made us smile so much that we really wanted to find a way to use it in the series. We weren’t able to use the rhino, but we do have Riki, a guitar-playing unicorn, Chef Jinglehooves (voiced by Tony Award-winning James Monroe Iglehart), a unicorn who sells snow cones from his cart, and, of course, in a flashback episode, we see Kelp learning to swim with “water wings”. We even emulated the pointy art-style of the unicorns’ hooves that Jessie imagined, and I gotta say there’s something really fun and magical about watching Kelp and his unicorn friends move and gallop around on them. It just fits the spirit of the book. Basically, the book was always our North Star. So many times in design meetings when we were discussing how something should look and feel, someone would inevitably whip out the book and say, “Let’s see what Jessie did!” says Katin.
One of the my favourite aspects of the TV version of “Not Quite Narwhal” is its commitment to disability inclusivity. The show ensured authentic representation and collaborated with experts and advocates in the disability community, the series offers genuine portrayals and nuanced perspectives, allowing young viewers to see themselves and their experiences reflected onscreen.
“Not Quite Narwhal” goes beyond entertainment; it serves as an educational tool to promote empathy, compassion, and acceptance among young audiences. The series encourages conversations about diversity and disability, teaching children the importance of kindness, understanding, and the value of inclusion. It has the potential to shape attitudes and create a more inclusive society.
Schuman stated, “It was a dream to work with our crew. Not only are they such a talented bunch, but they have a genuine passion for the show and its themes. We pretty much made the entire show during the pandemic with our crew spanning across several continents, so our crew were naturally diverse. And, just like our audience, in many ways we’ve all felt “different” or “other” at some point in our lives and that was something we could all relate to and connect with. I think that’s where a lot of the shared passion comes from. People feel this is an important story to tell. From a writing perspective, Sarah [Katin] and I felt that the best way to serve the show was to look for writers who have vastly different points of view to our own. We were so lucky and grateful to find writers who have such interesting lives, who could bring their unique stories and plus the show in ways that Sarah and I couldn’t. We encouraged our artists to find ways to add their own personal touches and it was important to us that we created a safe space where we could share and draw from our experiences and at times, vulnerabilities. We couldn’t have hoped for a better collaboration. Sarah and I truly believe that if we can all have a great time and enjoy what we’re creating, then it can only turn out great. The entire experience has been a perfect example of where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
In conclusion, the TV adaptation of “Not Quite Narwhal” stands as a shining example of the positive impact media can have in shaping young minds and promoting inclusivity. By weaving a heartfelt narrative with disability representation the series embraces diversity and challenges societal norms. Through its endearing characters and storylines, “Not Quite Narwhal” fosters a more inclusive and accepting world, one where every child can feel seen, valued, and celebrated for who they are.
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