How 'Bluey' special 'The Sign' was created: 'It's one of the most beautiful episodes we've made'

This article contains spoilers about “The Sign” episode of “Bluey.”

Everyone’s favorite Australian dog family is going supersize.

The Sign,” a highly anticipated 28-minute special episode of “Bluey,” is now streaming on Disney+. While a typical episode of “Bluey” is around seven minutes long, “The Sign” is the equivalent of a two-hour movie in the “Bluey” universe.

“We always said wouldn’t it be incredible if we could do three seasons and a movie,” executive producer Daley Pearson says. “We would love to do beyond that but wouldn’t that be an Everest to climb. I think this is a version of delivering on that promise. It was such a great creative challenge that we had to do it.”

“Bluey” which is produced in Brisbane, Australia, by Ludo Studio (which Pearson co-founded) typically has four animation teams that work on individual episodes. For “The Sign,” the four teams collaborated. “This is the first episode made by the whole studio,” Pearson says. “That was a big production challenge in itself.”

Since the show’s inception, Pearson says, it has taken risks. He cites episodes like Season 2’s “Sleepytime,” which takes Bluey’s younger sister Bingo on a dreamy nighttime journey, and “Flat Pack,” which is about assembling furniture but also about evolution. “There were always these traditional ‘Bluey’ episodes, but then there were always these avant-garde episodes,” he says.

“The Sign” is the pinnacle of that.

Read more: How five 'magic' years turned an Aussie kids show into a global TV phenomenon

“It’s an episode about these very important things that these characters are going through,” Pearson says. “It’s probably the biggest possible changes these characters have ever gone through. There’s a bit of experimental feel to it. Will it work? Will the audience stick with it? And I think it’s one of the most beautiful episodes we've made.”

The episode, which was written by series creator Joe Brumm, finds Bluey, Bingo and their parents, Chilli (Melanie Zanetti) and Bandit (Dave McCormack), preparing for the wedding of Bandit’s brother Rad (Patrick Brammall) and Bluey’s godmother Frisky (Claudia O’Doherty), two characters that first met in Season 2’s “Double Babysitter.” The title of the episode refers to the “For Sale” sign in front of the Heeler home. Because of Bandit’s new job, they are selling their house and moving, something Bluey, in particular, is not happy about. And while Chilli is trying to be supportive, it’s clear she doesn't want to move either.

“These parents are having to deal with these big life decisions, but they are also putting on a brave face for their kids,” Zanetti says. “And the moment we see the vulnerability between Mum and Dad, it’s those moments as a kid when you start to realize that your parents are just people or dogs and fallible and very human/canine.”

Throughout the series' three seasons, adult topics like why there is friction between Chilli and her sister Brandy (Rose Byrne, whose cameo in “The Sign” will make viewers happy) have been seamlessly woven into the plots. But “The Sign,” which also finds Chilli trying to save the wedding after Frisky runs off, gives the adult characters even more time in the spotlight. “When you are used to the format of seven minutes, there’s only so much you can play with and attack at once,” Zanettti says. “With this, there’s so much more scope for going deeper and nuanced.”

McCormack says the episode lifts the veil on what the parents are dealing with while still trying to be there for their kids. “It’s all going on for people, and you don’t realize and people keep it hidden,” he says. "They're going through hard times as well, and they are trying to keep a lid on it, but it’s all gone out of control.”

“The Sign” also tackles some bigger themes like the unpredictability of life. “We are always trying to make the right choice. Like everyone is trying to do the right thing. The difference between what we should see as the right thing and what in our gut and heart we feel is the right thing. I think there’s a beautiful looking into that and grappling with that in this episode,” Zanetti says.

McCormack adds, “Everyone is trying to make the best decision at that time, and you’re going to make mistakes. I think that’s for me the underlying feeling of this episode — you’ve just got to try and do your best. You’re going to get it wrong sometimes. But you’ve just got to do what you think is right at the time with the info you’ve got, which is a pretty big concept for a kid’s show.”

Does Pearson feel like “The Sign” has a larger message?

“I feel like ‘Bluey’ episodes are turning into a bit of a Rorschach test,” Pearson says. “It’s hard to say what we meant. It’s hard to put our own meaning into it. It’s always lovely to get these letters and emails and meet people on the street [and hear] that episodes or characters meant something to them that we may not ever thought of or dreamed of. It’s always lovely to hear the audience completing the circle rather than we complete it for them.”

Since the show’s premiere on Disney Junior in 2019, the series has defied any possible predictions of success and become a global phenomenon. It is consistently one of the top streaming shows. A stage version of the series titled “Bluey’s Big Play,” debuted in America in 2022 and continues to tour. Zanetti and McCormack have been guests on “The Tonight Show,” and they even made an appearance at the Twin Cities Comic Con last year. But that’s not necessarily how they measure the show’s success.

Read more: Review: A 6-year-old reviews 'Bluey's Big Play'

“My favorite part is that the show has brought so much, not just joy into people’s life, but also healing,” Zanetti says. “What I didn’t expect was people in their early 20s saying, ‘I have had a really difficult childhood and this show is reparenting me.’ Or, ‘I didn’t think I’d be able to have kids because I didn’t know how to treat them correctly from my upbringing but now I feel like I could be a mother.’ Things like that are just profound and that was not expected.”

McCormack and Zanetti, who record the show separately, got the episode in two parts, and while recording the first half of the episode, had no idea how it was going to end. “We didn’t have to act like we didn’t know what was really going on because we didn’t know what was going on,” McCormack says.

“That has never happened before,” Zanetti says. “That was exciting and a little bit scary.”

Therefore, like viewers, Zanetti and McCormack didn’t know if the Heelers would go through with the move until the very last moment. “It was like in 'Toy Story 3' when they’re about to go into the incinerator and they hold hands and make peace with what’s happening,” Zanetti says. “I had one of those moments. I had to surrender, and then at the end, I was crying.”

True to his laid-back canine alter ego, McCormack had quite the different reaction. “I was feeling a little excited about a new house,” he says. “Part of me was almost like, ‘Ooooh, I wonder what this is going to be.’”

Pearson, who says hints have been dropped throughout the third season that a possible move was the direction the show was heading, says they never seriously considered relocating the family. “I think it would have been a tough decision to move them. The whole point of these characters, and this family, is it’s aspirational; they’re the best of everyone. To move them, it just felt like it would have been a bit of a betrayal of the audience. I think keeping them there, it was always going to be that.”

Now that the show has climbed its own personal Everest, what’s next?

“It was sort of no secret that it was a bit of a test to see does an audience like ‘Bluey’ as a longer format? Would a feature film work for ‘Bluey?’ We don’t know yet,” Pearson says. “We’ll wait until Sunday. We hope people like it and if they do we would love to think about where it could go next.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.