Disney Remakes Hit Israeli Teen Series 'North Star' at 'Game of Thrones' Studio

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The cast of Israeli TV series "Kokhav Hatzafon" ("North Star").
The cast of Israeli TV series "Kokhav Hatzafon" ("North Star").Credit: Joey Cohen

Disney Studios has produced an international version of the Israeli kids’ TV series “Kokhav Hatzafon” (“North Star”), about the adventures of a teenage girl who moves with her father to manage a small hotel in northern Israel.

Shooting on the new version, to be called “The Lodge,” took place earlier this year in Northern Ireland (where the series is also set) and featured actors from England, the Netherlands, France and Denmark.

It’s premiering in Britain in September, with a U.S. premiere likely to follow in October. It will eventually be distributed to 108 countries.

The original Israeli series, which ran for two seasons from 2014-2016, was written by Michal Cooper Keren and was broadcast on Israel’s Disney Channel.

Cooper Keren told Haaretz Monday she had always envisioned the series as having potential for a foreign audience.

“I always tried to write a story that was global in character,” she said. “Even the names of the characters are pretty adaptable to the world at large, with names like Sean, Dean, etc. The signs on the set are also written in English, even though the series was filmed in Israel.

“In the script, we chose not to mention Israeli places like Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, but to speak in general about the city versus the country, or the north versus the south,” she added. “That way, no matter where you watch the series, you can connect.”

Cooper Keren visited the Disney set in Northern Ireland. “They’re filming it in the same place where they film ‘Game of Thrones,’” she said. “The set manager was used to getting pails of blood every day and extras that had to have one eye, and suddenly our people came with all kinds of unicorns and blond children wearing pink. In budgetary terms, it was amazing to watch them film there, with equipment and backdrops that we can only dream of.”

She said she was not involved in the actual remake. “I sent the producers the original ‘bible’ [a page outlining the plot and describing the main characters] before they started work. In general, everyone draws on his own world,” she added, explaining the changes made to the Israeli script. “They went for the more adventurous side, with the kids searching for treasure, while in our version there’s a case of governmental corruption. They, for example, had great interest in the ecological aspects, while here that doesn’t interest anyone.”

This isn’t the first time Disney Israel has succeeded in selling its television wares to its international parent company. “Kokhav Hatzafon” was preceded by the sale of the kids’ series “Yomanei Hahofesh Hagadol” (“Summer Vacation Diaries”), which was distributed in dozens of countries in its original version with either dubbing or subtitles.

In this deal, the series is being remade from scratch, but is being shortened from the 50 episodes that were broadcast in Israel to a weekly drama of only 12 episodes. The new version also includes songs.

David Levine, vice president for programming, production and strategic development for Disney Channels in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and general manager of Disney Channels UK and Ireland, said in a statement that the company can only hope that “The Lodge” will repeat the success “Kokhav Hatzafon” enjoyed in Israel.

Guy Karni, general manager of Disney Channels Israel, said, “‘Kokhav Hatzafon’ made it to the radar of Disney international for two main reasons: Preserving the high quality of the story; and the high quality of production that we achieved here. They decided to buy the scripts from us and although they were able to change them as they saw fit, a visit to the set proved that they retained many of the original plotlines.”

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