Riverview Elementary students Kalista Nguyen (from left), Cade Yoder, Keagan Ard and Izzy Clare explain Wednesday how they used Story Maker technology to help make the animated movie “The WonderGrove Wizard of Oz.” The project was part of their work in teacher Kimberlee Spaetig-Peterson’s class. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Riverview Elementary students Kalista Nguyen (from left), Cade Yoder, Keagan Ard and Izzy Clare explain Wednesday how they used Story Maker technology to help make the animated movie “The WonderGrove Wizard of Oz.” The project was part of their work in teacher Kimberlee Spaetig-Peterson’s class. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Snohomish students are filmmakers who animated update of ‘Oz’

Terry Thoren, former “Rugrats” producer, brings technology to classrooms.

Eighty years ago, Judy Garland as Dorothy traipsed down the yellow brick road in her blue gingham dress. Now, a retelling of “The Wizard of Oz” is lending that movie classic a true-to-life plot twist. A new animated film, created partly by kids in a Snohomish classroom, has Dorothy worried about starting middle school.

“The WonderGrove Wizard of Oz” is the result of a collaboration among 24 schools around the country, including Riverview Elementary in Snohomish. Using Story Maker, technology produced by the Wonder Media company, students in Kimberlee Spaetig-Peterson’s class at Riverview spent months on the project.

Billed by Wonder Media as the first feature-length animated movie produced by students, “The WonderGrove Wizard of Oz” will be shown at a red-carpet local premiere at 3 p.m. Saturday in the Snohomish High School Performing Arts Center. Kids who worked on the film, from Spaetig-Peterson’s highly capable class of fourth, fifth and sixth-graders, will perform musical numbers at the event.

“Last year going to school, it was just another day — 3:15 and done,” said Rocco Hallstrom, who was new to Spaetig-Peterson’s class this year. “Now I’m excited to go to school.”

For the film, students collaborated to create background scenery and dialogue, cast characters for voicing the parts, and record in a sound booth. Across the country, other kids were doing similar work on different scenes for the movie. All the segments were put together by Wonder Media in Los Angeles.

The Story Maker tool is powered by software called AnimationNow, which helped kids bring characters to life. On computers Wednesday, students in the Snohomish classroom showed how they picked from dozens of moves — among them a wink and a wave — and with a timeline chose how long a character would perform that action. The audio was edited by software called Audacity.

More than high-tech curriculum, it was a writing project. Students worked and reworked dialogue to suit characters expressing anxiety the way a middle-schooler might.

A visitor with Hollywood history dropped by their classroom Wednesday. Terry Thoren may be best known for his former role as head of Klasky Csupo, the company that produced “Rugrats.” The animated series, featuring Tommy Pickles and his baby buddies, was a Nickelodeon hit from the ’90s through the mid-2000s.

Terry Thoren, CEO of Wonder Media and former producer of “Rugrats,” brought his company’s technology to classes nationwide, including to Riverview Elementary in Snohomish, to collaborate on an animated film. Here, he talks with students Wednesday about the movie “The WonderGrove Wizard of Oz.” (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Terry Thoren, CEO of Wonder Media and former producer of “Rugrats,” brought his company’s technology to classes nationwide, including to Riverview Elementary in Snohomish, to collaborate on an animated film. Here, he talks with students Wednesday about the movie “The WonderGrove Wizard of Oz.” (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Today, as founder and CEO of Wonder Media, Thoren focuses on kids and education. Now living in Snohomish, with an animation studio in Los Angeles, he has shepherded the use of Story Maker in 172 school districts nationwide. Riverview was among the first schools to use the tech tool.

“People don’t understand what these kids accomplished,” Thoren, 67, said Wednesday. “It is hugely complicated,” added Spaetig-Peterson, who in August traveled with 29 students to a Story Maker National Conference in Los Angeles.

The trip included a showing of “The WonderGrove Wizard of Oz” at what’s historically known as Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, a must-see on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Equipment, including microphones and the sound booth, was provided by the Snohomish Lions Club, which Thoren said he has joined. Spaetig-Peterson hopes next year to partner with Eisenhower Middle School in Everett, which also has the technology and support from the Everett Central Lions Club.

In a TEDx Talk sponsored by Sno-Isle Libraries several years ago, Thoren talked of switching from cartoons shown on commercial TV — vehicles for selling toys and fast food to kids — to animation aimed at influencing children in positive ways. In Spaetig-Peterson’s classroom Wednesday, kids were excited about learning through Story Maker.

Since working on the Oz project, Kalista Nguyen said she has a better understanding of all the work that goes into other movies she sees. “If we didn’t have Story Maker, the day would be more boring,” added Izzy Clare, another classmate.

“This means I can have new jobs in the future, and be excited when I come to school,” said Seth Haney, who’s also in the class.

Although it’s a wrap for this movie project, Spaetig-Peterson and her students are ready to try another one.

Next, she said, is “Return to Oz,” updated with an environmental theme.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

‘The WonderGrove Wizard of Oz’

“The WonderGrove Wizard of Oz,” an animated feature-length film that students at Riverview Elementary School helped create, will be shown at 3 p.m. Saturday at Snohomish High School Performing Arts Center, 1316 Fifth St., Snohomish. Cost is $5.

Student filmmakers will perform music at local premiere. Expected to attend is Terry Thoren, CEO of Wonder Media. The company created the technology schools used to create the film. Snohomish Mayor John Kartak, former Mayor Karen Guzak and singer-songwriter Tim Noah are also invited.

The film will be shown again, at the same site, at 5 p.m. Nov. 16.

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