Special thanks to Marvel, Disney and ABC for sending me on this all expense paid trip to cover THOR RAGNAROK, “The Mayor” on ABC, CARS 3 Blu-Ray release, Disney Junior’s “Vampirina” and littleBits’ STAR WARS Droid Inventor Kits. All opinions are my own. There are affiliate links in this blog post.
There’s a new kid in town. She’s a little different from everyone else. Oh yeah, her name is Vampirina and she’s moved to Pennsylvania from a little place called Transylvania.
If you haven’t seen Disney Jr.’s newest show Vampirina you are missing out. The show aired on October 1st and my three-year-old and six-year-old have been hooked ever since. When I was in Los Angeles covering the world premiere of THOR: RAGNAROK I was able to watch an episode of Vampirina that hadn’t aired as well as chat with executive producer, Chris Nee, who also happens to be the creator of a tiny show called Doc McStuffins. Nee is petite in stature but she has a huge heart for kids. The episode we watched was called “The Ghoul Girls/Game Night” and it was jam packed with laughs and great music, which I’m beginning to understand will be a regular part of Vampirina‘s episodes. Let’s look at the interview with Chris Nee, shall we?
Interview with Chris Nee, Executive Producer of Vampirina
Did you pull inspiration from any other shows because there’s something about Vampirina that makes me think of The Munsters.
I definitely thought about The Munster’s and The Addam’s Family. Those are sort of the obvious callbacks and I went back and watched some of the episodes and it’s funny what works and what doesn’t work in those. There’s some truly dark stuff in there, which I had forgotten. I sort of, I grew up watching those shows. One of the things that was interesting in tackling this was the idea that it is a fine line because obviously so much of the fun is about her keeping her identity secret. But, I also didn’t want that to be the focus. I think in 2017 it was not okay for someone to want, that her driving goal would be to hide who she was inherently as a character. I actually went in to Disney and I almost didn’t make the show because I said, we have to be able to figure it out, this piece. For me to want to do it, that can’t be the story that I’m telling.
First of all, we really wanted to make sure that anyone who ever found out that she was a vampire, loved her anyway. That she was clearly okay with telling people who she was. I hope that we’re telling the story which is, ‘This is not a family who’s ashamed of who they are in any way shape or form, they are worried that they’re gonna scare other characters and that there’s gonna be too much attention on them.’ We just try to shift it so there are other reasons why it would be best. Instead of it being just focused on this thing that she’s trying to keep secret, we try to never tell it in that way. It’s just in 2017 it can’t be the story.
My favorite part in one of the episodes is where Bridget finds out that she is a vampire, ’cause she’s afraid of everything and yet she accepts her right away. That’s cool.
Thank you. For me what the show is, it feels very 2017 to me. It is a show where we say, ‘she is different and sometimes that’s hard to be friends with.’ We’re not saying that she isn’t different, we aren’t saying that everybody’s exactly the same and there’s never stuff isn’t being conveyed as a conflict because we’re coming from different perspectives. In fact, we’re saying that’s exactly what this is and yet you can still be friends, it’s important to be friends, it’s important to see each other from your perspective…it was so satisfying to hear you guys laughing at Bridget, honestly.
There was a period [of time] where there were people who were like, ‘is [Bridget] whiny?’ And I was like, ‘she’s all of us.’ And Poppy’s such a great character ’cause she’s such a good friend but it’s Bridget who struggles every single time and yet she loves her friend, so she’s gonna keep facing the stuff that’s hard for her to get there. And you know, honestly we need a little more of that in this world, facing the stuff that is different. We have a huge country that’s really different. And maybe the only way that we’re gonna get someplace is to say, ‘you’re different from me but let’s hear each other and I still want to be your friend through it. We can still find common ground, and I think for me, that’s what this show is about.
Music plays a huge part in the show, can you tell us a little bit about the music?
We have Broadway composers for this show, Christopher Dimond and Michael Kooman, they are actually out of the country right now because they’re in London putting up a musical at a little place called The Globe. Which is where Shakespeare got his start.
The song in the pilot was their audition song without a change in it. We went in you know and what we do is like a blind audition with some composers. And we give them the material and they come back and we discuss. Like this is a good song and then that song exactly as you heard it is in the pilot.That just played and we all went, ‘oh, wow.’ And I was really excited because the truth is, Disney Junior had not quite done this kind of a really Broadway musical sound like what was happening in Frozen and all that stuff. And I, that’s my thing. I listen to musical channels a lot. I was just riding my bike yesterday and thinking people probably think I’m listening to something super cool and hip. But I’m listening to “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” in my ear and there’s nothing cool about that at all.
What’s your secret to writing or crafting shows that both adults and children enjoy?
I would say that I think it’s incredibly important because what I really want to do is bring families together to watch shows. I think those shows that so actively sort of alienate the parents really create the separation in the enjoyment. For me, for whatever reason, I have a great ability to remember what it felt like to be a kid and that’s obviously what I’ve tapped into for twenty years working in kids TV.
I think one of my secrets is often when you ask someone who works in kids TV exclusively, who are you writing for they’ll say, ‘the kids.’ And I know that’s the right answer, but I’m writing for myself. I’m trying to make myself laugh and I’m trying to work out my own stuff and remember my own childhood and remember those feelings and write the world that I hope we can live in, but I’m really writing for myself. I’m also a mom so, I certainly know what it’s like to want your kid to watch shows that the music is something you can stand ’cause you’re gonna watch it a lot. You know, maybe there’s a couple of jokes for you, but everything needs to work for the kids first. But, if I give you guys something that’ll make you laugh along the way, I think it’s a great way to kind of make it a universal experience.
If you’re writing for yourself, which character are you relating with the most?
[Nee chuckled] Well, you asked that in a way I can answer ’cause often it’s, ‘what’s your favorite character?’ And I’m like, ‘I’m not crazy. You don’t name your favorite kid.’ I will say I really love Gregoria. Gregoria and Demi I added to the cast because, obviously the books are such a huge inspiration, but there’s a lot that’s not there in terms of building out a world that you can tell X amount of stories every week. I really wanted the comic relief and I really like intense specificity of character and you can see that on Doc [McStuffins] where everyone’s really solidly who they are.
I wrote Gregoria for Wanda [Sykes] having no idea she would say yes. That character was the biggest leap of faith because she’s a very cantankerous character for a preschool show. There were moments where I had to say, ‘I promise you it works in my head, it works in my head.’ It’s gonna be her with this voice and Wanda’s voice is Wanda’s voice. And there’s no missing that–.’ The character works for me and I have so much fun writing her.
I was sent to LA with one question only from my 6-year-old daughter, “My six year old wants to know how Vampirina is able to go outside during the day.”
It is a very intense sunblock and we do talk about it in the episodes. Obviously you have to find a way to get past that piece. There had originally been a line in the pilot, which would have stopped a lot of Twitter chatter that addressed it and it just got lost for time because there was so much we wanted to do emotionally in that episode. But, it will come up later on and there will be episodes where if she goes outside it’ll be very clear. There’s an episode where they go to the beach during the day. And in fact that all gets screwed up because it turns out they of course forgot to bring the sunblock and then that screws everything up. There definitely are references to it.
You can watch episodes of “Vampirina” now on Disney Junior and the Disney Channel.
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