Crime-fighting Australian pigeons take flight to Hollywood with help from James Corden

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The humble pigeon may be an unlikely breed of star but an author-illustrator duo from Melbourne have been turning the birds into a crime-fighting troupe of superheroes – and they’re about to take flight to Hollywood. 

The children’s television giant Nickelodeon has just signed off on a deal with the English actor and comedian James Corden to produce a film and TV series based on Andrew McDonald and Ben Wood’s children’s book series, Real Pigeons.

The Emmy-winning showrunner, director and producer Ben Winston, a frequent collaborator of Corden’s and producer of his The Late Late Show, will helm the TV series and film alongside Corden.

The deal has come as a shock to the modest Australians. 

“My philosophy is that I make books, and I’m really excited that they think that they think that they can turn the story and the characters into something that will appeal to a TV and film audience,” McDonald tells Guardian Australia. 

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The novels follow a secret band of crime-fighting pigeons, Rock Pigeon, Tumbler, Frillback and Homey, who save unsuspecting humans – and other animals such as the endangered kakapo – from all kinds of trouble. 

The stories had their genesis when McDonald started paying closer attention to the ubiquitous urban birds on his walks. 

“I started wondering about pigeons and what’s going on in their little brains, and I thought, wouldn’t they be the ultimate crime-fighting outfit or surveillance network? Because they are everywhere, they see everything,” he says. 

Soon he was falling down a research rabbit hole, uncovering all kinds of interesting morsels about the different types of pigeon and their distinctive traits, such as the common rock dove, the frillback pigeon “that looks like a wedding cake bird” and tumbler pigeons, which can somersault mid-flight.

“I learned that pigeons can fly faster than cheetahs can run,” he says. “I learned that their eyes are better than human eyes. They’re obviously a superbird.” 

His publisher, Hardie Grant Egmont, paired him up with Wood, the illustrator. 

The partnership is “organic” and truly collaborative, Wood says. “Illustrators don’t always have that kind of relationship with authors.”

The books are an unconventional mash-up of visual and literary storytelling styles, with pages resembling anything from comic strips, to chapter books to a cinematic shot from a film. 

Wood says he always imagined the characters as animations when designing them, giving the artwork a dynamism that naturally lends itself to film adaptation. 

“I never went into it as a 2D world, it was always an animated world in my head,” he says. “Even the way I compose the images, I tend to think, ‘Where’s the camera?’ I want them to be immersive.”

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McDonald and Wood say they have fans across the primary school age bracket, partly due to the books’ distinctive visual style. 

“When a kid opens up a Real Pigeons book we give them two things,” McDonald says. “We say, we’re gonna have fun and solve a mystery together and it’s going to be a bit like a game, and it’s going to be really silly. We definitely lean into the silliness.”

There are five books so far in the series, published by Hardie Grant Egmont, beginning with Real Pigeons Fight Crime. 

The series has been a solid seller for the publisher: since its release in 2018, Real Pigeons Fight Crime has sold 28,452 copies in Australia alone, and it has been available in New Zealand, the US, Canada and some European territories since late last year. 

A start date for production is yet to be determined.

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