Author-illustrator Dan Yaccarino is no stranger to having his work adapted for the small screen. After all, he previously created and produced two animated series, Oswald (a 26-episode show that originally aired in 2001 on Nick Jr.) and Willa’s Wild Life (which first aired on Qubo in 2008), which were based on his picture books, Oswald (2001) and An Octopus Followed Me Home (1997), respectively. Now, Yaccarino can add another animated adaptation to his slate: Doug Unplugs, a seven-episode show from DreamWorks Animation releasing on the AppleTV+ platform this month.
Based on Yaccarino’s picture book series Doug Unplugged (Knopf), which sets out to examine “the idea of online versus experiential learning,” the CG-animated, preschool-geared show follows Doug (Brandon James Cienfuegos), the titular curious yellow robot, as he explores the human world—from beach days to pet-sitting, farm visits to restaurant-eating—with his human best friend, a Black girl named Emma (Kyrie McAlpin). Eric Bauza contributes as Bob Bot, Mae Whitman supplies the voice of Becky Bot, and Leslie David Baker and Becky Robinson also lend their vocal talents to the cast. The show is executive produced by Jim Nolan (Esme & Roy), Aliki Theofilopoulos (Phineas and Ferb), and Yaccarino himself, with Nolan serving as writer and Theofilopoulos serving as director.
The journey from page to screen, however, took some time, Yaccarino revealed in an interview with PW. Originally conceived a decade ago when his two children were in elementary school, Doug developed as a character over a few years as Yaccarino noticed his kids’ increased usage of digital and online resources. Doug Unplugged released in 2013, and after the second book, Doug Unplugs on the Farm, was published in 2014, Yaccarino decided to pursue an animated adaptation. “I created a pitch bible, which fleshed out the idea as a series, some aspects of which ended up in the show,” he said. “DreamWorks was very enthusiastic about exploring the concept of kids and technology, so they optioned the book and we developed it together.”
When asked about his reaction to the adaptation, Yaccarino immediately professed his approval.
“Although I was one of the executive producers and had reviewed and contributed to every episode, when I saw the first official trailer for the first time, I cried—it was so beautiful,” he said. “It took 10 years for little Doug to make his long journey from idea, to doodle, to picture book, to screen. I’m so proud of him!”
While there’s no news yet as to potential renewal for Doug Unplugs, Yaccarino has plenty in the pipeline. After 20 years, he recently reunited with author Andrea Zimmerman for the Trashy Town sequel, Smashy Town (HarperCollins), which released in May, plus the duo are working on a forthcoming picture book series. Amid other illustration and writing collaborations, Yaccarino also has a feature project, as well as another animated series in development.
“You’d think that after 27 years of creating books and 20 years working in animation I’d be burned out or bored,” Yaccarino mused, “but I’m not. I’m excited to meet new challenges, learn from others, and explore new possibilities. I simply love it!”