My first memory of Bluey was that perfect theme song.
The incredibly catchy, colourful, 24-second opener, which features the main characters — a family of four talking blue and red heeler dogs — dancing along to Joff Bush’s melodica music, has resonated with people so deeply it has a 10-minute YouTube loop with almost 10 million views.
That number offers a small glimpse into the popularity of Joe Brumm’s animated series Bluey, but it barely scratches the surface. The show broadcasts in 60 territories and has been the number one children’s series in Australia since its launch in 2018. As I learned when I started watching the show with my 16-month-old son (and then later, when I’d keep watching even when he was occupied with something else), Bluey is a funny, absorbing, and calming series that you could have rolling for hours in the background without ever getting bored.
But what exactly is it about Brumm’s show that appeals not only to its target audience, children, but also the adults who watch it with them? Why has it become so popular? I spoke to producers Charley Aspinwall and Daley Pearson, the co-host of Bluey podcast Gotta Be Done, and a number of grownup fans of the show, to find out.
What’s Bluey about?
Created by Joe Brumm in 2018, Bluey is an Australian kids’ TV show about a family of dogs: Chilli Heeler/Mum (Melanie Zanetti), Bandit Heeler/Dad (David McCormack), and their two young daughters Bluey and Bingo (the voice actors’ names for the younger characters aren’t public). Most of the episodes revolve around some kind of trip out, game, or adventure — one story sees Dad taking the girls on a chaotic trip to the swimming pool; another sees the whole family playing a role-playing game on an imaginary bus; one focusses on a trip to the beach in which Bluey goes off on her own to find Mum, and has to navigate a series of obstacles before catching up with her. Often stories will have a moral or deeper meaning behind them.
“Every episode is based around a game and gameplay,” producer Charlie Aspinwall tells Mashable, explaining that many of the script ideas were born from the creative team’s own experiences as parents.
“It’s a big part of it — you want to make it about something but it needs that game. Like in ‘Bike’, for instance, Joe [Brumm] watched a small boy trying to put on a backpack by himself — and that’s Muffin in that episode. He got one arm in, then he tried to get the other arm in, and was just spinning around and around. You combine that with Bluey trying to ride her bike and Dad encouraging her and suddenly you’ve got a story about resilience and not giving up.”
Credit: BBC Studios
What makes Bluey stand out from other kids’ shows?
The first you notice about Bluey is the show’s polished quality. The animation is beautiful, the detail impressive. You can feel the level of effort that’s gone into it.
Each episode takes around four to five months to produce, Aspinwall and Pearson explain, and a team of 50 to 60 people to make. There’s scripting, storyboarding, voice recording, animatic, background, animation VFX, music, and sound to sync across departments. The fact Bluey has its own VFX department in itself, Pearson explains, is unusual.
Credit: BBC Studios
Each episode also has a unique score thanks to sound designer Dan Brumm, who personally records custom sounds on location for individual episodes. You may not notice these individual details when watching Bluey, but the effect adds up, giving the show a rich texture.
“I grew up doing a lot of music including clarinet, and musical history and styles,” Kate McMahon, an Adelaide-based comms manager who co-hosts a Bluey podcast called Gotta Be Done with almost 1 million downloads, tells Mashable. “I particularly love the clever use of composition throughout the show from maestro Joff Bush. Most kids’ shows you get one repetitive theme used throughout. But every episode of Bluey has an original score, sometimes with seven or eight individual pieces of completely different music.”
Why does Bluey appeal to adults?
When I tweeted about Bluey, asking if any adults wanted to talk to me about the show, the response was huge. Around 250 people responded, and the replies were unanimously positive.
“We always start watching Bluey with the children but they inevitably see something shiny and wander off, leaving us watching it sometimes for several episodes,” 43-year-old insurance copywriter Catherine France, who’s mother to two-year-old Sebastian and nine-year-old Arabella, tells Mashable. It was a sentiment echoed by pretty much everyone I spoke to.
“There have been many occasions where he’s wandered off and I’ve stayed glued to it.”
“I only ever put it on for [my 16-month-old son] but there have been many occasions where he’s wandered off and I’ve stayed glued to it,” says 35-year-old Bethan Moore, who works as a head of sales in the publishing industry. “My partner and I spend a fair bit of time discussing our favourite episodes and have managed to get members of the family watching it who don’t have children.”
Credit: BBC Studios
So what is it about Bluey that appeals to everyone?
One of the things that kept coming up when we spoke to people was the show’s relatability. This was something I also felt myself in the weary-yet-determined nature of Bluey’s parents. Bandit appears to be a model dad in a lot of ways, but he’s not perfect. In the “Yoga Ball” episode, Bingo has to tell Bandit he sometimes plays too rough during games, and at various points in the show we see just how tired his children’s nonstop activities make him.
Aspinwall says Bluey shows the tough parts of parenting as well as the fun bits, and includes lessons you don’t find anywhere else.
“I like that it appeals to the kids and also has asides for the adults, rather like panto but done better and more subtly,” actor/director and mum-of-two Emily Howlett tells Mashable. “I also like the themes it explores.”
“As my husband puts it, there’s genuinely not a single ‘bad’ episode,” says 42-year-old marketing co-ordinator and mum to two girls Rae Helm. “It’s so relatable for both parents and children, the animation is fab, the Heeler house is enviable, and the screenwriting is just so moving…I’m not going to lie, more than one episode has brought me to tears!”
“Most kids’ TV is the same: it’s formulaic, boring and most of all, annoying as hell,” adds Moore. “Bluey, on the other hand, feels relatable and authentic. The Heelers are a pretty ordinary family, going about their life: the parents are trying to juggle work and parenting, they’re tired, they get frustrated; the kids are making friends, feeling anxious, letting their imaginations run wild. There is always something to learn in an episode, for adults and kids, but it’s never patronising. I guess it’s aspirational as well. We all wish we had a bit more time or patience to play with our children.”
“There’s no show on TV that can make me laugh and cry within seven minutes like ‘Bluey’ can.”
Despite the fact it’s about a family of cartoon dogs, the show also comes with plenty of realism. There are moments of tension between sisters Bluey and Bingo, mistakes get made by parents Chilli and Bandit, and episodes like “Sleepytime” show just how draining sleepless nights with young children can be. Ultimately, it’s this realism that helps people connect with the show.
“There’s no show on TV that can make me laugh and cry within seven minutes like Bluey can,” says McMahon. “It has so much heart, and has changed the way I parent for the better.”