Matt Braly’s ‘Hoppy’ Childhood Memories Inspired New Disney Channel Series, ‘Amphibia’
With Season 2 already greenlit, and Season 1 set for a June 17 debut, Disney Channel viewers will soon be seeing a considerable amount of fearless teen Anne Boonchuy, and her experiences with an odd family of frogs, led by Sprig Plantar, in the animated comedy series, Amphibia. Created and executive produced by Annie Award-winning director Matt Braly (Gravity Falls), Amphibia is inspired by childhood trips he took to connect with family in Bangkok, Thailand.
According to Braly, “Amphibia was inspired by my memories as a child of traveling to Bangkok every summer to visit my mother’s side of the family. At the beginning of each visit, I would be immediately overwhelmed by how different Thailand was compared to California. But, by the end of the trip, I never wanted to leave. In creating Amphibia, I wanted to bottle up that magical feeling. Anne will arrive feeling one way, but the world begins to grow on her over the course of the series.”
Much is planned around the show’s impending launch. Amphibia will debut with new episodes daily beginning Monday, June 17, through Thursday, June 20. Following the premiere week, the series will air daily throughout the summer. A series of shorts, Teen Girl in a Frog World, will also begin rolling out in August on Disney Channel YouTube. Coinciding with the series premiere, the DisneyNOW app will also unveil an immersive role-playing game Amphibia: Locust Pocus, where players go on quests to help Anne and Sprig fix the damage in Wartwood caused by the locusts. Amphibia is produced by Disney Television Animation and carries a TV-Y7 parental guideline.
Braly’s feeling like a “fish out of water” during his childhood Thailand visits formed the foundation of the show and led to the creation of Anne, a 13-year-old girl who is magically transported to a fantastical world of frog-people. Anne is loosely based on Braly’s grandmother and is voiced by Brenda Song. Starring alongside Song is Justin Felbinger (Disney Junior’s Miles From Tomorrowland) as Sprig Plantar; Amanda Leighton (This Is Us) as unpredictable pollywog (aka tadpole) Polly Plantar; and Disney Legend Bill Farmer (the voice of Goofy) as overprotective and traditional grandfather Hop Pop.
The show boasts an extremely strong supporting guest voice cast that includes Tony Hale (Veep and Forky in the upcoming Toy Story 4) as mysterious salesman Apothecary Gary; Stephen Root (Barry) as Wartwood’s Mayor Toadstool; Jack McBrayer (30 Rock and the Wreck-It Ralph films) as Mayor Toadstool’s assistant, Toadie; Olympic figure skaters Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir as celebrity talent show judges; Diedrich Bader (American Housewife) as famous bugball player, Frog Jordan; and Kevin McDonald (Lilo & Stitch and Kids in the Hall) as restaurant critic Mr. Duckweed.
Amphibia is a script-driven, hand-drawn 2D animated series featuring 11-minute episodes, produced in collaboration with three South Korean studios: Saerom, SMIP, and Rough Draft Korea. “These wonderful studios were specifically chosen because they still animate on paper, and it’s a look that I preferred for this project,” Braly shares. “I even flew over there early in production and got to meet with some of the staff. I have to say it was an amazing feeling to hold a scene in my hands and flip through it. I’ve always loved hand-drawn animation and am glad it perseveres.”
“Amphibia is a script-driven show,” Braly continues. “We have a writer’s room that is responsible for full scripts that are then handed off to our amazing storyboard artists. Our writers have a 4-week brainstorm at the start of a season, in which dozens and dozens of story ideas are pitched. By the end of the process, we usually have the entire narrative framework for the season figured out. It’s also a ton of fun.”
Braly’s writers room includes a number of women – a majority, in fact. “It was very important for me that Anne feel genuine, so we made sure that the people working behind the scenes reflected her background,” he explains. “Our writer’s room was mostly female, with one man and three women. Also, two of our directors were Asian American. Collectively, everyone has reached into their own personal experiences to deliver a character who feels absolutely real.”
One of the show’s big challenges for Braly has been adjusting to the dynamic of integrating and trusting a large creative team. “As a creator, it’s sometimes hard to know when to delegate,” he notes. “After all, the characters and world are your babies! It can be difficult to let go and trust people around you with them. Ultimately, I’m super glad I did. I’m incredibly fortunate to have such an amazing team of people around me from writers, to artists, to editors, to production staff.”
Though Amphibia is episodic, its story is structured around a season-long arc. “The show does have an overarching plot, though you can absolutely hop in and enjoy episodes on their own,” Braly states, “But viewers who stick with the entire season will have the best possible experience!”
In announcing the Season 2 pickup, Disney Channel’s senior vice president, Animation Strategy, Meredith Roberts, said, “Matt and his team have created an imaginative new world in Amphibia, with multifaceted, relatable lead characters who throughout the series will experience transformational journeys. We are excited to introduce these new characters as part of our Disney Channel animation line up and can’t wait for viewers to follow along on their adventures.” For Braly, those transformational journeys form the heart of the show. “Ultimately, the series is about change,” he concludes. “What I love about Anne as a character is that she’s imperfect and I like to think it’s what makes her relatable. We’re all growing and learning on a daily basis, and that doesn’t stop once you become an adult.”
Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-at-Large of Animation World Network.