If you had to name a favourite cult series, which one comes to mind? Friends or Corner Gas? Breaking Bad or The Littlest Hobo? Game of Thrones or Lost? When talking about memorable TV shows, educational shows are not usually included in that ranking. And yet, over 40 years ago in Québec, a youth program captured the imagination of an entire generation of children, surely having a greater impact than most major cult series: Passe-Partout. It’s even been said that Passe-Partout was “the most remarkable series for toddlers in Canadian history.”
This timeless series is now back on our screens, after several alternative versions and a break of almost 30 years. The younger generation seems delighted… and so are the parents. Joceline Genest and Sophie Legault, producer and content producer for the current version, share their thoughts about this lasting and amazing success.
On the left, content producer Sophie Legault – personal photo. On the right, producer Joceline Genest – Photo: Lori Chamberland
Returning To Its Roots
The team at Attraction Images wanted to provide an educational program for children aged 3 to 5. The concept of Passe-Partout quickly stood out. As Joceline Genest tells: “We did a lot of research. Several projects were written when we finally understood that what we were looking for already existed in Passe-Partout. We wanted to know if what was created 40 years ago was still relevant. Along with specialists, we thoroughly analyzed the show. It basically had everything to be reproduced in its original DNA and presented to today’s children of the same age group.” Sophie Legault agrees: “The way Passe-Partout communicated with children 40 years ago was excellent. It treated kids as persons in their own right and not as babies. It presented content in a simple way, from the kids’ vision of the world. Since then, children’s lives have obviously changed. Certain elements were adapted to reflect today’s society and technological components were added to represent today’s world for children — not because it was essential to stimulate them. We truly wanted children to be able to identify themselves, without altering the formula.”
The 2019 version is still very similar to the 1977 original. “The goal was to update the concept without distorting it. Respecting the content was important. Because of its thirst for knowledge, discovery and values of self-respect and the respect of others, it seemed like the perfect show for us,” says Genest. Discussions began with Télé-Québec who broadcast the original series and who owns the Passe-Partout brand.
Outdoor set – Photo: Karljessy
40 Years Later
Sensing that bringing this educational tool back to the screen was essential to the world of education, Télé-Québec and Attraction Images were on board. It was a big challenge to bring an updated version back to the small screen in light of the resounding success of the original Passe-Partout (1977–1979). It was so beloved that after 125 episodes, the public presented a petition with 85,000 signatures to the Quebec National Assembly requesting that a sequel be produced! With various versions, production continued and Passe-Partout was broadcast until the early ’90s and rebroadcast until 1998 on Télé-Québec, Radio-Canada television, as well as TV Ontario.
Few puppets from the show – Photo: Karljessy
Beyond its popular success, Passe-Partout’s mandate is what made it a remarkable show. As Sophie Legault points out: “The show was created in the ’70s by experts and teachers who were following the Ministry of Education’s program. The main goal was early intervention among children, to help them with school.” As Quebec’s version of Sesame Street, the show initially targeted disadvantaged communities, but quickly reached children from every region. Yet, to achieve the goal of mental stimulation and education, a show must get children’s attention. That is not an easy task in today’s context. As Joceline Genest points out: “Nowadays, children’s attention is very much in demand by new technologies. What they see on screen is so rich, in a context where several youth-oriented shows bombard kids with colours, sounds and speed. We made the bet that, although children’s lives changed, their need for stimulation remains the same. We offer something quieter, closer to the normal rhythm of real life, while still being stimulating. Kids basically need simple things to grow up.”
Puppeteers at work – Photo: Karljessy
Winning Back Hearts
The first episode of the fifth generation of Passe-Partout produced by Attraction Images aired on February 25, 2019. Were people watching? “The response was spectacular,” says Genest. “More than 700,000 viewers watched the first episode. There was great curiosity and interest, first by the parents, who wanted to see what was done to THEIR Passe-Partout. Although everyone had an opinion about this, we kept our audience. We received a lot of moving messages from parents. There was a lot of joy. We also received several videos of children responding to the characters. It was amazing — this is when we knew we had succeeded.”
While this latest version of Passe-Partout could have been done under pressure and with performance metrics in mind, it is clear from Joceline Genest and Sophie Legault that this project was driven by genuine enthusiasm and positivity. There is a lot of pride in this work. As Legault expresses it: “The show could not have existed without our awesome team. Everyone is doing such a great job. Passe-Partout is like six productions in one. Some segments are very technical. We have as much digital as real footage. As much outdoors as in studio. We are filming with the entertainers (Passe-Partout, Passe-Carreau, Passe-Montagne and the others), but also with puppets, Alakazou, real children and animals. It takes a lot of skill, organization and versatility.”
Passe-Montagne, Passe-Partout and Passe-Carreau – Official photo
The new generation of Passe-Partout followers already hope that this latest version will be as lasting as its predecessors. While waiting to see what the future holds for the series, little ones already cherish the characters. As Legault explains: “By the way they talk to children, the characters make them believe that they are able, that they can learn, that they will grow up. I think they bring hope to children and parents alike.” Passe-Partout is the key that opens all the locks…
The 5th generation of Passe-Partout is broadcast on Télé-Québec, from Monday to Thursday at 6:00 pm. All segments are available at coucou.telequebec.tv and full episodes are available on zonevideo.telequebec.tv.