“It’s all about kindness and compassion” Nanalan’ creators speak about their mission to heal the world ahead of Mental Health Week

Canadian television series, Nanalan’, was last on TV in the early 2000s, but it seems to be everywhere in recent months with its latest resurgence across social media. The show centers around the adventures of a young puppet girl named Mona as she spends time learning and playing in her Nana’s backyard. While the show was originally targeted towards children, it has garnered a new fan base among millions of adults who are finding comfort and nostalgia from its simple yet whimsical nature. 

By exploring themes of kindness, compassion and mindfulness, Nanalan’ offers refuge in today’s overwhelming world and in many ways aligns with CMHA’s core values. It’s why we’re partnering with Nanalan’ for the 73rd annual Mental Health Week to highlight the power of compassion and emphasize how kindness connects us all.  

To celebrate, we spoke with the creators of Nanalan’, Jamie Shannon and Jason Hopley about all things Nanalan’, their mission, and what this partnership means to them. 

What inspired you to create the show? 

Jamie: I somewhat forget and so does Jason, but we were developing a lot of shows for a little while and I think one of our contacts was looking for a preschool show. It was kind of a combination of our art and us talking about grandmothers that Nanalan’ came to be. Nanalan’ is the backyard of a Nana – a Nana land, and that’s what my Nana’s backyard was called. And then Jason’s Nana had this nicknack kind of house, so, we kind of took the inside of his Nana’s house and made this Nana world. Mona was just this character that we both were kind of drawing as we were trying to get to the simplest of things and depict a kind of curiosity and innocence, and we got to bring that character to life as the protagonist of this Nana show. 

Why do you think Nanalan’ is resonating so well in today’s world? 

Jamie: I think the show resonates so well this time around because of its simple, pure essence. One of the things about the show is there’s no computer graphics, even the lettering comes up on sticks. That’s a statement that we were making, and I think it’s especially appreciable when you’re in a world of Artificial Intelligence. It’s not filled with cuts all the time…it’s about the performance and I think people are melting into it because it’s the counter movement to what is today. 

Jason: There’s joy and comfort represented in the series that is so needed right now. We are constantly inundated with heavy news and people are looking for comfort and humanity. Nanalan’ has that in abundance. Mona sees the world in a joyful way and Nana provides a safe, supporting and loving space for it. 

You’ve been receiving overwhelming interest in Cameos to provide comfort and support. How does it make you feel to know that, through these characters, you’re providing mental health support to thousands of people? 

Jamie: It’s pretty neat. I’m stepping up to the charge. We’re seeing tons of people who seem like they’re just super exhausted and burnt out asking for PEP talks. I’ve taken, you know, all my 53 years of life and wisdom and squeezing it out that little green puppet. It’s interesting. 

Jason: It’s absolutely an amazing feeling. To me, the biggest joy about doing cameos is exactly that… responding personally to people who need a kind word… or a reminder of how wonderful they are. That direct connection to somebody who finds comfort in the characters, and trying to help them feel like they’re not alone and that they are worthy of feeling happy. The fact that these characters really resonate with people…. that the show gives them comfort on hard days is quite an honour. 

How do you think mental health conversations have shifted since Nanalan’ began over 20 years ago? Do you notice there’s less stigma? 

Jason: So much has changed about the topic of mental health. 20 years ago, it was often seen as weak or “damaged” if you went to a therapist. It was surrounded by a veil of shame. The fact that the demographic of TikTok, which is a fairly young demographic for the most part, have coined the term “healing your inner child” for the account, is truly remarkable. It speaks to the openness to talk about your mental health and keep the conversation going in a more global way. 

Why were you interested in getting involved with CMHA for Mental Health Week? 

Jamie: Nanalan’ is all about kindness and compassion. It’s been the theme in a lot of the episodes, like the little frog or the bird. I don’t mind branding ourselves with a little bit of that because that is what we’re doing.  

Jason: I was thrilled about the idea. Mental health is very personally important to me. Many members of my family have suffered serious depression so it’s a topic that has played a significant role in how I view the world. Also, my therapist of over 20 years is pretty much my hero. 

Would you be able to speak more about healing one’s inner child and the positive impacts doing so can have on an adult’s mental health.  

Jamie: I try not to talk about it too much, but yes, we’re trying to heal the earth. We’re on a mission to save the world with Nanalan’ and lots of people are joining. It’s not particularly directed, but we know it’s based on love and comfort and peace. We just wanted to make a show that was our ideals at that moment, like mindfulness, meditation, sharing or expressing your emotions and that kind of thing. And as it turns out, those are just wonderful lessons people are getting from it. 

Jason: I think that if you can identify the moments, or situations, or traumas we faced as children, that still create knots in our behaviours, it’s the beginning of the path to mental health. As an adult you have better tools and coping mechanisms and support to protect that child in you who couldn’t protect themselves at that time. To me untying those knots from your childhood… is the truest way to be happy as an adult. 

What are ways Nana and Mona would look after their mental health? 

Jamie: I don’t know if Mona comes at it from a mental health management perspective, but I’m sure she gets residual benefits from running around in the backyard picking up frogs, chasing butterflies, giving Russell a hug, and tasting dirt. 

Jason: The way that Nana would protect and maintain her mental health would be to remember that there’s joy in the little things. Especially in her granddaughter Mona. Playing with Mona is a source of joy for her…. showing compassion to Mona and seeing the world through her eyes. Nana would also like to keep busy. Feeling productive with knitting or baking something. Also exercise… Nana loves her Jazzercise video tapes! 

This year’s Mental Health Week focuses on the healing power of compassion. In a world plagued by suffering, we emphasize that kindness is equally intrinsic to our humanity. Join us from May 6 to 12, 2024 to explore how compassion connects us all. To learn more, visit mentalhealthweek.ca