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USA TODAY

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Mar 23, 2021
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Netflix and chil-dren. The streaming service continues focusing on family-friendly entertainment, while putting an emphasis on original content.

The streaming service is stepping up its output of kids and family movies and series to fend off competition from newer kid-friendly streaming services such as Disney+. It's also emphasizing original content over borrowed (but popular) series from Nickelodeon ("iCarly" and "Avatar: The Last Airbender") and Disney Jr. ("Sofia the First.") Netflix says it will release more than 50 new original movies and TV shows aimed at kids and families this year.

Last week, Netflix plated up "Waffles + Mochi," starring a pair of cuisine-curious puppets and former first lady Michelle Obama, who plays a grocery store owner. And the feature film "Yes Day," starring Jennifer Garner and Édgar Ramírez as parents who give in to their kids' every desire for one day, remains in Netflix's U.S. top 10 list more than a week after its March 12 release.

USA TODAY can exclusively reveal that the animated feature, "The Mitchells vs. The Machines," due April 30, will feature the voices of Chrissy Teigen, John Legend, Conan O'Brien, Beck Bennett and Fred Armisen, in addition to leads Abbi Jacobson and Danny McBride. In the film, a dad (McBride) decides to make dropping daughter Katie (Jacobson) off at film school a family affair, but their trip is derailed when electronics try to take over the world.

Netflix nabbed an Oscar nomination for "Over the Moon," released in October, depicting a young girl's journey to search for a Moon Goddess. December's "We Can Be Heroes" from Robert Rodriguez followed a group of kids who teamed up to take on aliens who'd abducted their superhero parents.

Children's content is key to winning and keeping loyal subscribers, analysts say, as families with young kids crave shows they'll watch on repeat.

"We find that about 60% of all of our (subscribers) watch some kids and family content every month," says Melissa Cobb, Netflix's vice president of original animation. "So that's a significant and really important area for us."

Netflix isn't alone in focusing on this market segment. Apple TV+ features children's programming from DreamWorks Animation and Peanuts. HBO Max has expanded beyond "Sesame Street," offering "Tom & Jerry" and new Looney Tunes cartoons. Disney+ has won 100 million subscribers in just 16 months with its library of classic animated films and Disney Channel shows.

Although Netflix is sitting pretty with more than 200 million subscribers, Disney brand is more closely associated with family-friendly entertainment.

Netflix hopes to avoid the mousetrap by piquing pint-sized and parental interest with "Back to the Outback," an animated comedy film featuring the voices of Isla Fisher and Eric Bana slated for fall, as well as series like "Ridley Jones" (due this summer), from "Doc McStuffins" and "Vampirina" creator Chris Nee. "Ada Twist, Scientist" from Nee and the Obamas' Higher Ground Productions, arrives this fall, while winter will usher in "Karma’s World," created by Chris "Ludacris" Bridges. The animated series, 13 years in the making, is inspired by Karma, the eldest of Bridges' three daughters, who longed to be in the recording booth like her rap star dad.

"It kicked off in terms of her coming into my studio and saying she wanted to rap, and I kind of kicked her out, but she was so consistent that one day I had to sit her down and have a father-daughter talk," Bridges says. "I was letting her know if she wanted to do music, she has to talk about what goes on in her world the same way Daddy talks about what goes on in his world."

Bridges says "Karma's World," which centers on a rhyming, singing 10-year-old, addresses issues facing young girls.

"We just decided that she can change the world with her music, the same way, humbly speaking, that Daddy has changed the world and made a niche for himself with his music," says Bridges.

Original songs in "Karma's World" address topics like self-esteem, body positivity, discrimination and leadership, but are still catchy, says the "Money Maker" artist.

"Yes, it's definitely children's music, but it's revolutionary children's music in that it sounds current," Bridges says. "The parents will probably like the songs even more than the children."
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