Chico Bon Bon has long been a star to the fans of Chris Monroe’s five Monkey with a Tool Belt picture books, about an industrious monkey who uses the items in his tool belt to get himself and others out of various situations. Now, Chico Bon Bon will become a celebrity in the eyes of many more: Netflix is releasing an adaptation of the books for its streaming service.
The first 10 episodes of Chico Bon Bon: Monkey with a Tool Belt will premiere on May 8; there will be a total of 40 episodes that each run for 10 minutes in season one. Netflix describes the fast-paced animated episodes produced by Silvergate Media (Sunny Day, Peter Rabbit) as tales about “monkey mechanic Chico Bon Bon and his Fix-It Force [who,] armed with tools and mechanic smarts, helps the people of Blunderberg solve all of their problems.”
Monroe, a professional cartoonist who once worked part-time at a Duluth, Minn. hardware store, introduced Chico Bon Bon in 2008 with Monkey with a Tool Belt (Lerner/Carolrhoda). This was followed by Monkey with a Tool Belt and the Noisy Problem (2009); Monkey with a Tool Belt and the Seaside Shenanigans (2011); Monkey with a Tool Belt and the Maniac Muffins (2016); and Monkey with a Tool Belt and the Silly School Mystery (2017).
Chico Bon Bon’s fans have something else to look forward to: taking full advantage of the monkey’s turn in the Netflix spotlight, Carolrhoda is releasing in August a sixth title in Monroe’s series, Monkey with a Tool Belt Blasts Off!
A Long Journey to Stardom
According to Maria Kjoller, Lerner’s director of rights, special sales and international distribution, the effort to bring Chico Bon Bon to the screen has been in the works for years. “It all began over a friendly cup of coffee” during BEA 2010 with her, Monroe, and Kurt Mueller, a film producer whose background includes a stint at Sesame Workshop. In 2011 Mueller became executive v-p of creative content at Silvergate. Mueller, who grew up in Minnesota, “totally ‘got’ Chris’s unique sense of humor,” Kjoller recalled. “And he knew [the books] would translate well into an animated television series.”
What makes that meeting even more serendipitous is that Monroe was attending that BEA convention for Lerner, but to promote a fall 2010 picture book that had nothing to do with Monkey with a Tool Belt.
After Silvergate optioned TV, motion picture, and dramatic rights, “near-miss deals came and went,” Monroe said, praising Mueller’s commitment to adapting the books into a series. She admitted to finding it “pretty surreal” to see Chico Bon Bon being promoted on Netflix as an upcoming release. “I always thought from the beginning that Chico would make a great animated character,” she said. “This is like a dream come true.”
Monroe, who wrote one episode with the screenwriters, about “dangerous garden gnomes,” said that she has viewed three episodes already and that “it’s really fast-moving, more than the books.” A major difference between the book and the Netflix series, she noted, is that the shows “really focus on the science; each episode has a concept, which is how they solve the problem. The science in the books is much sillier. But they kept the essence of the humor. A certain spirit [in the series] comes from the books.”
But, Monroe said, she does feel some ambivalence about the series launching during the current pandemic. She pointed out that, with children holed up in their homes, parents are eager for new content to educate and entertain their kids this spring and summer, thus guaranteeing Chico Bon Bon a captive—and receptive—audience. “It’s too bad that this is why it’s going to be so widely seen,” Monroe said. “I have to temper my excitement with this reality. But then we all need a break amid the darkness.”
Rather than walking the red carpet at some gala event in New York City or Los Angeles on May 8, Monroe said she will probably watch the premiere with her son and granddaughter at home in Duluth. “Maybe we’ll make banana treats and wear our tool belts,” she said with a laugh.