Go inside the mind of Chris Gilligan, Executive Producer of Disney Junior’s latest animated series, Goldie & Bear, in this exclusive interview. Here we discuss his inspirations, the filmmaking process and why fairy tales are so important to keep alive in the minds of young children.
About Goldie and Bear
Disney Junior and the Disney Channel brought the timeless stories we all know and love to the hearts of our children in a whimsical fairy tale, folklore and Mother Goose mashup which made its debut in November.
Created for children ages 2-7, the series is set in the magical world of the Fairy Tale Forest where Goldie and her friend Bear (Goldilocks and the Three Bears) seek out fun and adventure with their neighbors (who are of course other fairy tale characters) like Little Red Riding Hood, The Big Bad Wolf and Humpty Dumpty.
My Take on the Show
As The Fairytale Traveler I feel a strong obligation to keep these great stories alive. I get excited for their adaptations, especially when they speak to young children. Of course this is why I enjoy doing so much work with Disney, as they have been the foremost film company to keep these stories alive. Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity to interview Executive Producer Chris Gilligan. I wanted to learn more about his ties to the greatest tales of all time, the animated filmmaking process, and why Goldie & Bear is special apart from the hoards of animated entertainment available today.
Maria Tatar (series consultant), chair of Harvard University’s Folklore and Mythology program says,
When we are stumped, a story often provides the answer – not in the form of a one-liner but in a conversation about the things that mattered to us in the tale.
Even in our fast-paced culture where many two-year-olds know how to run an iPad before they can read, fairy tales, folk tales and nursery rhymes and their moral and ethical takeaways have remained alive and as vital as ever, and the through line that connects multiple generations.”
My Exclusive Interview with Executive Producer Chris Gilligan
TFT: First I’d like to say I am a huge fan of some of the projects which you’ve worked on. I’m a product of the 90’s and a big fan of the Celebrity Death Match, so I’m a little fangirl over all of this ha! I also love James and the Giant Peach (which my 7 year old is addicted to) and Frankenweenie. I err on the side of pop culture and dark art, so way cool.
CG: Thanks Christa, likewise! I checked out your website and thought it was kindred and inspired…think I’ve got a unicorn galloping around in my head too (at least I hope that’s what that noise is!)
TFT: You have a pretty broad range of projects, how would you say these have come to fruition in your work on this series?
CG: The common thread is that I’m always on the lookout for great characters and interesting worlds to explore when choosing projects, so when Nancy Kanter, Joe D’Ambrosia and Lori Mozilo at Disney Junior approached me with Goldie & Bear, it was a lucky day! The rich literary universe of Fairy Tales which is chock-a- block with amazing characters became an immediate playground for new stories and visual ideas.
TFT: Do you feel like, as an artists and EP, there’s a creative obligation to adapting fairy tales? Do you think adapting them keeps them alive and is this a goal?
CG: Absolutely! There is always a respectful incorporation in our storytelling. While creating new stories from old, we want to find what was at the heart of the traditional tale and highlight it. Even the basis for the series…the notion of “what happens after the fairy tale”, posited by Jorge Aguirre (Series Developer/Co-Executive Producer) speaks to the creative obligation. While we all know the original fairytale where Goldilocks takes off after “breaking and entering” the Bears’ house…it’s the idea of her coming back, apologizing and becoming fast friends with Bear that keeps the story/stories going. A whole world of possibilities opens up!
Our hope is that our unique take on the stories will inspire a new, or renewed, interest in the larger fairy tale landscape and families will reach for that Mother Goose volume on the book shelf to enjoy the original stories and characters…many of which inspired Disney himself.
TFT: What do fairy tales mean to you? I know it initially comes off as a bit of a feminine word (though quite dark in nature and mostly originated by men) but as a man, how do they hold meaning to you?
CG: I actually never thought of these stories as a gender specific. I think there’s a childlike innocence and a suspension of disbelief that goes along with the genre. There’s also, as you mentioned, a dark often cautionary side to the original tales that are as much for the story teller as the listener. They work on a dual level this way – something for child and parent.
That said, the words of our illuminating series consultant Maria Tatar, chair of Harvard University’s program in Folklore and Mythology and John L. Loeb, Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures, come to mind again. She mentions the metamorphic nature of fairy tales and how
stories are about shape-shifting and they too change constantly. And the deeper reason for that is the optimism of fairy tales–they tell us that transformation is possible, that things can change for the better and for a happily ever after.”
For me, that is the aspect of fairy tales I find most fascinating and what we try to bring to the series. As our titular characters try to resolve a conflict, they do so in an environment of hope, success and the pursuit of a happy resolve.
TFT: I often wonder, as I’ve worked with and interviewed other animators and filmmakers before, is there an inner cartoon in you? Do you go through your day being silly, finding humor in things others may not or even brightening the days of others?
CG: The curse/blessing of being an animator is that EVERYTHING can come to life! So, yes, there isn’t a day that goes by where the Salt and Pepper shakers don’t sing a duet, the Cat doesn’t give a dissertation on the virtues of napping or a Security Blanket doesn’t have a moment of self-doubt, often to the amusement of others.
TFT: With this show being geared towards very young children, how do you supervise the messages being sent?
CG: We always keep the kid point-of-view in mind! From the blank page, working with Story Editors Joe Ansolabehere and Claudia Silver, we identify a relatable kid theme that works with a traditional fairy tale element in every story, all while exploring the central relationship of the series: the evolving friendship between Goldie and Bear (and a bit of funny too!).
So in “Pinocchio-itis,” for example, we wanted to tackle the tricky subject of kids fibbing. In our story, Goldie’s got a 24-hour virus that makes her nose grow every time she doesn’t tell the truth. So, when Mama Bear (unaware of Goldie’s predicament) asks her to keep Bear away from the house while she prepares a surprise for him, Goldie soon discovers she’s stuck between her obligation to keep the secret and being honest with her bestie Bear!
TFT: Can you walk me through the creative process? How does Goldie & Bear go from concept to viewer? And are you involved at all in the script / story?
CG: Very much so…the whole thing starts with me and the writers brainstorming story concepts. Approaching the storytelling much like the filmmaking process, I like the visuals and the words to influence each other in a healthy volley.
The design team, led by our Art Director Matt Haber, start early at the story concept stage so that the writers can take visuals into their thinking at outline, first draft and so on.
I go back and forth with the writers on every phase towards the finished script, developing the visuals along the way.
At the record, the final script is now a culmination of both visual and narrative thinking. This is where the fantastic cast brings the words to life!
The storyboard artists then pick up the visual storytelling to draw and invent to the “radio play” of the recorded script. Our Head of Story Abigail Nesbitt leads the team. The result is an animatic which is a blueprint of sorts for the animators to take and breathe life into. By this point, models have been built, rigged and textured from final designs.
Our Lead Animation Director George Samilski and Supervising Lead Animation Director Josh Greer hone the performances. Once approved, final lighting and rendering bring picture to fruition.
Sound design adds credibility and audio garnish to the visuals while the score supports moments of emotion, drama and humor. Songs are an important element in the storytelling too. Rob Cantor composes inventive, memorable hooks with narrative significance to support the stories. His lyrics are always clever, humorous and whimsical in turn. It’s great to have these tunes as part of the storytelling fabric…they are such a rich part of the Disney tradition.
Altogether, there’s a certain alchemy of techniques at play, all of which comes from an incredibly hardworking collection of artists that thrive on this culture of collaboration!
TFT: Who’s been your biggest influence in your professional career?
Walt Disney, for sure. At an early age I was lucky enough to know what I wanted to be: an animator. My local library got a copy of the Christopher Finch tome, The Art of Walt Disney and that was the end of it! Since it was considered a “Research Only” book it couldn’t leave the building so I practically lived there, pouring over every page. They couldn’t get rid of me! Walt’s story, those illustrations and the sheer joy in every gesture drawn and nuance of performance articulated through line and color – I was hooked!
TFT: Why should moms be DVRing this show for their kids with such a competitive slew of kid’s entertainment on platforms like Hulu and Netflix?
CG: Goldie and Bear have a friendship worth watching; their tales are full of fun, funny and heartwarming moments. With a collection of colorful and hilarious supporting characters, it’s a new world built on familiar fairytales for both children and parents to enjoy!
TFT: Last one here…. What’s your favorite fairy tale and why? As you’ve been educated in Germanic Folklore -notably a hallmark for the fairy tales we know today, do you think there are a few tales which have gone under the radar and should be introduced into pop culture?
CG: Pinocchio…probably that animator thing…a puppet come to life! Every day I feel a bit of that magic, that possibility. There are so many stories from around the world I would love to explore with “Goldie & Bear.” Bunbuku Chagama from Japan or The Singing Tortoise from Africa could be fun additions!
TFT: Thank you so much Chris. I hope you have some fun reading through these and answering them. I’m a huge advocate of sharing the greatest stories ever told with our children. I’m utterly fascinated with mythology as they are the roots of the fairy tales which we have all grown to love. Thank you for bringing this to life for children.
CG: And thank you Christa for inviting me to play!
Watch the ADORABLE trailer here:
For more information on Chris Gilligan.