Interview with Chris Nee – Executive Producer of Disney Junior’s #Vampirina

I recently had the opportunity during my trip for the Thor: Ragnarok Premiere to go to the Disney Channel building and sit down with Vampirina Executive Producer, Chris Nee for an interview. Vampirina is Disney Junior’s newest animated series which follows the life of Vampirina (aka “Vee”) as she faces the joys and trials of being the new kid in town including making friends and attending a new school in the human world. Along the way, Vee learns that it may be easier to blend in with her peers, but it’s more valuable to celebrate the qualities that make each individual unique. Set in a Pennsylvania neighborhood, the series stars Lauren Graham, James Van Der Beek and Isabella Crovetti as the Hauntley family, friendly vampires who have recently moved from their home in Transylvania.

 

I also had the chance to check out some of the new merchandise for Vampirina as well as the original books in which the show is based on. Be sure to read through the interview for that info. I’ve added in a gift guide at the bottom in case you want to do some shopping on Amazon. These are affiliate links at no cost to you.

 

Christa Thompson at the Disney Channel Building

 

Suffice it to say, it’s been a long time since I’ve cleaned the house and cooked dinner to the sound of Disney Junior. With my only son approaching nine-years-old, the soundtrack to my life sounds more like Dan TDM (YouTube), Minecraft, and Disney XD. Still, that doesn’t mean I can’t relate to an animated series like Vampirina. I’ve been there, I know what’s important and stimulating for kids. And while all of our little angels tend to be drawn to different things, there is one common denominator, and that’s what parents are drawn to. I’d be hardpressed to see a parent loop a program on the living room TV that they couldn’t stand.

 

I remember watching Yo Gabba Gabba when my son was small and thinking, “this is awesome kid TV”. Because let’s face it, we have to live with it too. I’d rather stab myself in the throat with a fork than listen to Barney and Friends.

 

So what did I think about Vampirina and its creator Chris Nee?

 

On Disney Junior now!

 

Vampirina the Mom Review and Interview with Executive Producer Chris Nee

 

I thoroughly enjoyed watching Vampirina. And I’m not alone. According to a recent press release, “to date, “Vampirina” has amassed nearly 28 million Total Views including reaching 17 million Total Viewers via linear TV, including amassing a substantial 10.4 million full-episode views on YouTube”.

 

Vampirina

Disney 2017

 

It’s a show both parents and kids will love. It has an Addams Family edge that can be appreciated by the 30-something parent. I feel like we’re in a time where monsters and goth-like art is appreciated. Just take a stroll through Michael’s Arts & Crafts and you’ll see rows of Edgar Allen Poe inspired Halloween decor. Vampirina gets my approval for its presentation alone, but beyond the animation, there are deep messages to be received.

 

Vampirina

Disney 2017

 

No one explains that better than Chris Nee herself, Executive Producer of Vampirina and creator of the hit animated series Doc McStuffins. Right away I could tell that she is a high-energy woman, creatively charged and has a clear understanding of what kids enjoy. I can see why kids love her work so much, she really has a talent for connecting with kids while staying cool with parents.  In the interview, we talked about making an animated series that both kids and parents enjoy, about which character she relates to the most, girl power, and the overall message to children…among other things.

 

Interview with Chris Nee – Executive Producer of Vampirina

 

Chris on her secret to making shows that both adults and kids enjoy.  

 

What I really want to do is bring families together to watch shows.  I think shows that actively alienate the parents create 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.

And you know, maybe there are 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.

 

Chris Nee

 

Chris on which character she relates to the most.

 

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.  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.’

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.

 

Chris on Girl Power

 

We have had a lot of boy lead characters and it’s definitely something. When Doc came around, Doc could have been either, and I felt really strongly. I mean the story with Doc is that I created it for my son but I made her an African American girl. I really believed that was the representation that mattered.  We didn’t need another boy lead character. I was still making it for my son and I believed that he would still care about the character.

And that I could do both things and that it was more important to shine a light and bring representation that we know is sorely lacking on the screen.  So, it’s definitely something that I feel passionately about and that will always be the case. I mean will there be a next character that’s a boy? It certainly could be a boy.  It’s just these two, I enjoy being able to bring out what I know girl character’s can be, which is anything and everything.

 

Vampirina

Disney 2017

 

Chris on being inspired by the Munsters and the Addam’s Family

 

I definitely thought about the Munsters and the Addams 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 mean, 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.  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.

 

The Munsters

By CBS Television – Public Domain

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 you know, that we’re telling the story which is what we’re trying to tell 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.

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.

 

addams family

The Addams Family by ABC Television – Public Domain

 

Chris on creating a show about acceptance, as it is portrayed by the characters who are accepting Vampirina as a vampire

 

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.  

And Bridget was, it was so satisfying to hear you guys laughing at Bridget, honestly.

Thank you because, there was a period where there were people who were like, ‘is she 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.

Different is acceptable.   That’s exactly right, so we’re leaning into the difference and then frankly as a writer you get to have a lot of fun with skeletons and — 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.

 

Chris Nee

 

Chris on addressing important child conflicts in the show in the shape of learning lessons.

 

I mean I think it just continues to push up against, you know, 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 so you know, it’s easy to talk about the show from the perspective of, ‘she’s 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.

Doesn’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 accidentally 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.

 

So What Kind of Merchandise did I See?

 

We had lunch at the Disney Channel Building which is where we were able to get hands-on with some of the new Vampirina merchandise. They were also cool enough to send us home with some swag (which I’ll be delivering to my niece soon as I’m sure she’ll go batty over it).

 

vampirina merchandise

Disney was cool enough to send us home with some swag! I love it! PS purple is my favorite color!

vampirina merchandise

I love these adorable plushies!

Vampirina Books

These books really caught my eye. I love the illustrations.

 

I have to say, as I was making this Amazon Gift Guide up, I couldn’t help but be a little envious of kids these days. These toys are super cool! I wish I had a little Gothic dollhouse and car to play with when I was a kid! I think I’m going to have to tap out this list for my niece just so I can play too!

 

Here are a few extra things I found on Amazon for your little vamp

 

 

You can start with the Vampirina DVD

 

 

Okay, if I had  Vampirina Dollhouse like this when I was growing up, you would have never gotten me out of my room.

Check out this adorable Vampirina costume!

Let’s play Vampirina figurines

 

Vampirina book

Adorable Vampirina guitar and gloves

 

Original Vampirina book (one of them)

Super cute Vampirina doll and pet

Vampirina book and disc

Super cute Vampirina car

 

You can see Vampirina on Disney Junior on your TV or mobile device using the app

 

Special thanks to Disney for flying me out for the Thor: Ragnarok premiere. This in no way shaped my opinions in this post.


About Christa Thompson

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Christa Thompson is the Founder and Senior Editor of The Fairytale Traveler. Christa has been traveling the world since 2003 when she attended a summer abroad study at the University of Cambridge in England. Since then, her wanderlust has been fierce. Her three passions in life are her son, traveling, and being creative. The Fairytale Traveler brand gives Christa the opportunity to do all of these things and to live intentionally every day.

“It’s never too late to believe in what you love and to pursue your dreams.” -Christa Thompson

1 Comments on this post

  1. Hi there! Love the post! I’m sure Ragnarok was great I can’t wait to see it!
    This show looks so lovely and cool! I actually want to start watching it.

    asianacircus / Reply

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