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Trip sponsored by Disney but the opinions/experience are mine. Some interview questions and responses have been edited to improve readability.
You may not instantly recognize the name Chris Nee but I guarantee you have heard of Doc McStuffins! If you have little ones that love Disney Junior you may have also seen or heard about a super cute new show – Vampirina. Well Chris, is the genius behind BOTH of these amazing shows. She is the Executive Producer for Vampirina and we had the opportunity to screen a new episode (oh my gosh this show is adorable) and sit down to talk with her about the show and her inspiration.
Chris seemed so excited to talk to us and hear what we think about the show that we chatted for quite a while! I think we all felt like we could just sit and discuss all kinds of things with her. Here is just some of what we had to talk about.
On her secret to writing shows that both kids and adults 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. And 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.
On which character Chris relates to the most:
[LAUGHS] 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. The character works for me and I have so much fun writing her.
On finding out Mister Gore is created from one of Chris’ real life teachers:
Yes, he’s my own teacher. I would love to tell you about Mister Gore. He’s actually kind of different from the character here. So, Mister Gore was my sixth grade teacher and he was a Korean War vet and he actually had a plate in his head and he was the guy who always wore the three-piece suit. So while everyone else, it was, you know, I won’t age myself exactly but it was the nineteen seventies and all the male teachers had the handle bar mustaches and flared pants, and then there was Mister Gore in a three-piece suit and he scared the bejesus out of me.
Every grade from Kindergarten up through Fifth Grade you were terrified of the day that you opened up and found out you had Mister Gore, you were like, ‘oh my god, no.’ But every single one of us would say he was one of the greatest teachers I ever had in my entire life from beginning to end. He just asked so much of us and he knew we could do things that we didn’t know we could do. He was an incredible teacher, so anyway, his name was specific and I’ve actually tried to use him a couple times and the fact that I could make a teacher who was named Mister Gore, even though this Mister Gore is sort of a different version.
On the character Bridget:
There was a period where there were people who were asking, ‘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.
On Upcoming Music in the Show:
I don’t think you’ve seen Chef Remy Bones yet. I think he airs this week. Just wait for, oh my gosh, that song. We have Broadway composers for this show. Dimond and 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.
They’re just having this moment where they’re kind of blowing up and we have been so, so lucky. 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.
On conflicts the characters address in the show:
I think fear is actually the greatest emotion that controls our lives, honestly. And I think for little kids, there’s so much that’s new for them and it’s easy to talk about the show from the perspective of, [Vampirina is] really different and her friends have to figure her out.’ But, she’s also in this world and she’s the new kid and she’s the kid who also knows she doesn’t quite belong.
She ddoesn’t want to give away all of who she really is but also wants to fit in. And we’re gonna see a lot of that play out. Of her trying to understand what her identity is. Is she Pennsylvanian now? Is she Transylvanian? Is she allowed to be both at the same time? And how do you own that? And there’s some beautiful stuff coming up with Nanpire, which is the grandmother played by Patti [LuPone]. It is about what it’s like to come in to a new place and how much do you take on, how much do you hold on to yourself?
So that stuff is hugely important for us and so easy to play on in this world. And then, I’m also really a heart on my sleeve person, obviously and this is a show like all of my shows. I try to create worlds where you could have characters say, ‘I love you,’ and you don’t go, ‘yuck,’ that doesn’t feeling like he earned it. Right? And we’re gonna see a lot of that stuff play out.
There’s an episode where Gregoria accidently gets given away with a bunch of antiques. And believes that after all these years, she has been thrown away, that she’s too old. By the way when those episodes air, where Wanda sings, you let her know she can sing. I was like, ‘when you get cast in a musical, I want my ten percent.’
She was like, ‘I’m singing a song?’ But she’s just, she’s such a great character, and there’s some ageism stuff in there about feeling like she’s been thrown away for something new. That stuff is fantastic. It’s such a rich world for us to play in and lots of good stuff coming up.
If you haven’t seen Vampirina yet – go watch it! The characters are adorable, the music is SO good and it’s just such a fun and unique new show that I think will be around for a while. Have you seen it yet? What do you or your kids think?
You can catch the show on Disney Jr, or on the Disney Jr website (they have fun printables too)! Here’s a peek at the episode I got to watch:
You can already get the cutest Vampirina gifts for your kids in stores (I’ve seen some on a new end cap at Target!) or online!