An edgy re-imagining of PBS children’s show Arthur has the internet praising the creative minds behind the project. It’s diverse, full of stunning visuals, and features an original storyline captured in the minute and a half trailer: Now the beloved children from the fictional Elwood City are teens—and Muffy’s missing.
A group of students from the University of Texas at Austin has given both the 20-year-old show and its subsequent meme new life after releasing a set of photos on Oct. 26. They followed up with the full-service trailer this month.
— I’m Him (@DNkoola) October 27, 2017
The project even got a retweet from Riverdale actor Cole Sprouse.
Sophomore radio-television-film major Daniel Nkoola, the creator of this project, had been mulling over the idea for a while before finally deciding to go ahead with it. He settled on the long-running TV show because he connected with the characters as a young, Black male growing up in America where representation for role models was scarce. The video itself was shot and edited by Ukairo Ukairo, a junior RTF major.
The American-Canadian series that debuted in 1996 has been a mainstay among millennials who grew up watching the show. It followed the daily goings of aardvark Arthur Read through the daily triumphs and challenges of growing up, through Arthur’s near-constant rivalry with his wise-mouth sister D.W. and neighborhood adventures with his closest pals Francine, Buster, Brain, Muffy, and Sue Ellen.
“When you talk about the industry, representation is just so bad that I found myself as a child coding animated characters that maybe weren’t explicitly racialized or weren’t explicitly human as being like me. As being Black,” Nkoola, who came to America from Uganda when he was 4 years old, told the Daily Dot. “I identified with that community of characters in ways that I didn’t with other kid shows because there [were] no barriers preventing them from looking like me.”
This isn’t a far-fetched notion given the gap between 20th century Black TV shows like Static Shock, A Different World, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and the current renaissance in Black-helmed TV that elevates Black stories and struggles from Black writers and producers like Atlanta, The Carmichael Show, Sugar, and Insecure.
The 19-year-old saw the opportunity in using the show’s animal characters to create a diverse re-imaging that included Black people and other marginalized communities both behind the scenes and in front.
This project was about re-creating that vision he had as a child but also about cashing in on the pop culture phenomenon surrounding Arthur. The show is a constant meme these days because it made an impact: Many identified with the human struggles that the show unpacked like asthma, dyslexia, cancer, and getting along with your community.
“Part of the idea is how absurd it is. How purely bonkers is the notion of Arthur, this child animal being an edgy millennial. That was part of the fun. How mismatched it seemed,” Nkoola said. “On Twitter in particular, Arthur [has gained a bit of a cultural [following] in the last two years and so.”
This isn’t the first time the children’s show has been re-imagined. In 2014 Chance the Rapper remixed the show’s theme song into a soulful R&B jam, including background vocals from Wyclef Jean, Jessie Ware, and Elle Varner. Around 2016 our titular aardvark became a meme icon after a scene where Arthur clenches his fist went viral.
Rachel Obimah, a pre-med biochemistry engineer, is elated with the response the project has gotten online.
“It feels like an honor,” the 22-year-old shared. “I know that everything is nostalgic when we’re older, especially when we’re tying it to things we watched as a kid. Even though we’re mostly Black, I loved [that] there were no negative comments about us all looking Black or just having a Black version of a show that everyone [has] already watched. I loved that it brought a lot of positivity.”
Nkoola and Obimah both believe the diverse representation is what caused social media to react so strongly to the video trailer.
Ya'll crazy talented wtf please actually make this into a series https://t.co/rDNsnOYvl7
— S (@sarah_ogun) November 4, 2017
This was exemplary, OMG give them their Emmy https://t.co/zp7LlOBfBl
— mick beth (@XOXOGOSSIPGOTH) November 8, 2017
As for if there will be more to come like a full episode or more shorts, Nkoola is hesitant to make any promises as the goal was to do the photo shoot and trailer only:
“I think the best thing to come out of this is that people of color at this institution and others came out and said they were inspired to create. And I think that was the most positive thing to come out of it. People want to create something like this outside the institution of Hollywood.”