Exclusive Interview with Chris Nee – Creator of Disney Junior Vampirina
Have you seen the new Disney Junior Vampirina show? It’s more than just adorable. During my press trip with Disney and Marvel Studios I was able to be part of an exclusive interview with Chris Nee, the creator of Disney Junior Vampirina and Doc McStuffins. We received a lot of insight into the new Disney Junior show and how many life lessons can be taught to young children while the parents will enjoy watching along.
Vampirina tells the story of a young vampire girl who faces the joys and trials of being the new kid in town when her family moves from Transylvania to Pennsylvania.
I must say, with each question we asked or each topic that was brought up, Chris Nee found a way to lift up another part of her team. It was pretty amazing. This was the first thing I noticed about her. She is very excited and proud, not only her family-friendly shows, but of the work her team does in support. She was more than humble and willing to share the praises.
Exclusive Interview with Chris Nee – Creator of Vampirina
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. 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 because you’re gonna watch it a lot.
And 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 make it a universal experience.
So, if you’re writing for yourself, which character are you relating with the most?
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 characters 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. And Demi is delightful to write for and then Vee for me is, I’m always writing my own experience through her. And we got so lucky with Isabella [Crovetti], I mean, can we talk about her singing voice?
The songs you’re hearing now, she was probably eleven years old when she first came in to sing the songs that are coming out now. The first time we actually worked with her she came to a big recording studio where there were orchestras and some of the greatest albums you’ve ever listened to recorded there. And she walked into the middle of it and she actually stopped and said, ‘I need to warm up.’ And I was like, ‘oh this kid’s a pro.’
Like, in a good way and then she just opened her mouth and we could have taken the first take. She’s a Broadway level singer who happens to live in LA and we get to take advantage of that. Obviously, I really like Broadway and I put a lot of music in my series.
We heard you said Mister Gore, the teacher in Vamprinia, was one of your own 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, Mr. 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, I won’t age myself exactly but it was the 1970s and all the male teachers had the handle bar mustaches and flared pants, and then there was Mr. Gore in a three-piece suit and he scared the bejesus out of me.
Every grade from kindergarten up through 5th grade you were terrified of the day that you found out you had Mr. 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.
There was nothing funny about Mister Gore. I think he was secretly funny but not a funny guy but an amazing teacher. So, I was really happy to get to do that and I’ve been hearing from people I went to elementary school. Yes, he’s named Mister Gore for a reason.
How can Vampirina 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. But, look, there were certain things where you have to get past it to be able to do this show and that was one we thought a lot about. And that seemed like the best way to do it.
Inspiration for Vampirina
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 her driving goal to be to hide who she was inherently as a character. And 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 are telling the story, which is what we’re trying, ‘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.’
So, we just try to shift it so there are other reasons why it would be best. But, 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.
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.
The game in the Game Night episode was adorable.
That was hard. Anytime we’re making up a game, honestly, somebody pitches a ‘make-up a game episode’ and you’re like, they’re so hard. Because ultimately, there’s a whole profession of people who make up games, so it’s super hard to do and do in a way that it doesn’t feel like the game you already know but the rules make sense. But yeah, I mean it was a lot, that one took a long time.
And then you’re just waiting for Brown Bag, who is our studio in Ireland who I also work with on Doc, their designs are so amazing and so we sort of gave them like, ‘here’s what we’re thinking,’ and then they just plus it out. I mean that stuff with the cards coming out of it and the doors opening, they’re adding all of those things and then we’re like, ‘yay!’ With those things, you have to figure out the rules of the game and then you have to figure out the actual episode.
And a lot of it is production, you’re thinking about production when you’re doing things like having spider webs all over the place ’cause you know, they’re going, ‘ohhhh.’ That’s a lot to design for one episode but they’re so amazing. I think they always have a moment where I write very big and lots of characters, so I think they spend a lot of time reading my stuff and going ‘ha.’ But, they always say yes, which is fantastic, that’s a great way to fill the show. That’s how we ended up with an entire hospital on Doc. Poor guys.
Thank you to Allison from All For The Boys for capturing these great shots of Chris Nee during our interview.
Thank you to Disney Junior for hosting me and providing me with this opportunity.
Catch Disney Junior’s Vampirina on Monday and Friday mornings at 11 am.