Written by Michael Morpurgo, Mimi and the Mountain Dragon will premiere on BBC One

Boxing Day isn’t Boxing Day without the family huddling round to watch a new heart-warming animation. And this year’s will be hitting our screens thanks to a Manchester studio. 

Based on the book by award-winning author Michael Morpurgo, Mimi and the Mountain Dragon was created by Altrincham-based Factory (alongside London’s Leopard Pictures), famed for classics like The Clangers. It also features music performed by the BBC Philharmonic and Hallé, recorded in MediaCity.   

The film started life when Jan Younghusband, head of commissioning for BBC Music TV, approached Sir Michel Morpurgo and asked him if he would write a children’s story that could be set to classical music for BBC television - continuing a tradition of introducing young people to the genre through initiatives like Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide To The Orchestra and the Ten Pieces project. 

2019 12 18 Michael Morpurgo Recording Mimi
The show features an introduction by writer Michael Morpurgo

Inspired by a trip to Switzerland, the story centres on a village that quakes in fear of the mighty Mountain Dragon. One winter, on finding a tiny baby dragon asleep in her family woodshed, a shy little girl called Mimi takes the perilous journey through blizzard and darkness to return it to her mother.

Morpurgo said: “Many years ago, in the Engadine Valley in Switzerland, I saw village children in red hats, cracking whips, ringing cowbells, banging drums, creating a great cacophony of noise as they paraded up through the village. I asked why this was happening. They are driving away wicked spirits, I was told. So began my story of Mimi and the Mountain Dragon.

"And now, extraordinarily, wonderfully, this little story is being made into an animated film, by Leopard Pictures and Factory Create. And what a team BBC Music have put together. There is music by Oscar-winning composer Rachel Portman, a script by Owen Sheers, the great Welsh poet (so he knows a thing or two about dragons!) and with magical drawings from the supremely talented Emily Gravett. I can’t wait to see it!”

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The family animation follows the story of shy Mimi and a baby dragon

It’s yet another boon for Manchester’s rich animation scene, which was spearheaded by BAFTA-winning Chorlton studio Cosgrove Hall (now reincarnated as CHF Entertainment). The brainchild of former Granada designers Mark Hall and Brian Cosgrove, this began life as Stop Frame Productions - which preceded even Aardman - and produced iconic animated content for over three decades before it was closed in 2009; producing hits like Chorlton and the WheeliesEngie BenjyDanger Mouse and Count Duckula and reworking many classic tales. 

As well as employing some of Manchester’s most creative minds, who went on to make a huge cultural impact in other areas of the arts - from Joy Division’s Bernard Sumner to Stone Roses’ John Squire - Cosgrove Hall also helped create an established animation community in Manchester, spawning the likes of Chapman Entertainment (later acquired by DreamWorks) and Animation Toolkit, which has supplied armatures to over 10,000 professional and student stop frame animations.

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Cosgrove Hall’s first incarnation, Stop Frame Productions, was founded by Brian Hall (left) in 1969

While the reputation of MediaCity has brought a wealth of talent to the city, from Brown Bag Films to Cloud Imperium Games, it’s Manchester’s abundance of home-grown animation talent that frequently draws the attention of Hollywood heavyweights. Mackinnon and Saunders have brought hits such as Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride and Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr Fox to life, while Studio Distract and Studio Liddell both count Disney as clients. The phenomenal growth of Flix Facilities saw it shortlisted for best post-production house in the prestigious Broadcast Awards and the Manchester Animation Festival is one of the UK’s biggest events of its kind. 

And of course there’s Factory, whose production of Mimi and the Mountain Dragon follows two decades of producing award-winning content across four sites. 

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Factory shows include The Clangers

Factory’s managing director Phil Chalk said: “We are absolutely thrilled to have made this magical 2D animated special of Mimi And The Mountain Dragon for BBC One. The film has been produced at Factory’s studios in Altrincham, with a truly talented team who have worked tirelessly to bring Michael’s wonderful story to life. To have the opportunity to work alongside such celebrated individuals…has been a real honour and we can’t wait for everyone to watch it on Boxing Day!”  

“We are incredibly proud to be based in Manchester, which is now a thriving hub for animation in the UK. Since opening our doors in 2010, we have made over 85 hours of animated content including BAFTA-winning Clangers, Scream Street, Newzoids and our new Annie-nominated show Norman Picklestripes. We are looking forward to 2020 as we have so many wonderful projects in the pipeline at Factory.”  

Mimi and the Mountain Dragon will air on BBC One on Boxing Day at 3.20pm