Wallace & Gromit creator Aardman Animations has joined forces with English actor, writer, and TV presenter Stephen Fry to produce an animated short about the fruitless quest of the last dodo to find another of its kind. The four-minute film, The Lonely Dodo, which launched this week, was conceived by London brand agency TheFrameworks to promote the work of Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, the international conservation charity.
The challenge was to develop a new campaign on a limited budget that would help the charity build its profile outside the island of Jersey, where it is based, and appeal to a new generation of supporters, according to James Trowman, account director at the agency.
The charity, founded by English zookeeper, conservationist, and author Gerald Durrell, has worked with the agency for the past seven years. In an earlier project, TheFrameworks re-branded the organization, formerly known as Jersey Zoo, to better reflect the breadth of its conservation activities worldwide.
The new brand identity developed in 2006 featured the 'd’ from 'Durrell’ as the stylized outline of a dodo—arguably the best-known creature now extinct and a creature close to the charity founder’s heart.
Six years on, inspired by the plight of the last Tasmanian tiger—last filmed in the early 1930s and the subject of The Hunter, an Australian movie starring Sam Neill and Willem Defoe released in 2011—the agency set out to create a piece of content compelling enough to be shared socially.
"One challenge Durrell now faces is that many younger generations don’t know who Gerald Durrell was since his books (amongst the best-known of which is the childhood memoir My Family and Other Animals) no longer feature as recommended reading on the school syllabus," Trowman explains.
Another is competing for funds in an increasingly noisy charity marketplace at a time when charitable giving is down.
"We wanted to connect Durrell more closely with the dodo in the same way WWF has come to 'own’ the panda," he adds.
"But to build the powerful emotional connection we wanted to achieve, we decided that rather than attempt to explain the concept of extinction in the film, we should focus on the loneliness of an animal who’s become the last of its kind to draw people in."
The team took this concept to Aardman, where animation director Matthew Walker developed a story line in which, as it travels the world looking for another dodo to be its friend, the lonely dodo meets along the way a range of the critically endangered species with which Durrell works.
With the story line agreed, the team then approached Stephen Fry to narrate. Fry’s 2009 BBC-TV series Last Chance to See concerned endangered species, but his choice to be narrator was especially canny since he is a voracious tweeter with, at last count, 5.7 million followers.
The dodo, which only says its own name, is voiced by impressionist, comic, and actor Alistair McGowan.
The end result is a brand spokes-creature with potential for Durrell to use in other ways to speak more directly to and engage with anyone who cares about wildlife conservation, Trowman says. One idea already being discussed is a loneliness-themed The Lonely Dodo social media feed.