“Different is Acceptable.” Vampirina Producer Chris Nee interview focuses on equality & girl power
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In my Vampirina review and Chris Nee Interview, we’ll discuss the importance of making a TV show that children can enjoy, relate to, and learn from. This event was hosted by Disney as part of the #ThorRagnarokEvent. All spooky opinions are my own.
It’s not every day that an animated show touches on so many deep topics. Disney Junior’s new show, Vampirina, is a colorful, fun, and clever animated series for young children to enjoy weekdays on Disney Junior. To sum up it up, it’s basically a show about a family of vampires from Transylvania who move to Pennsylvania. The story focuses a lot on family values, friendship, equality, and belonging.
Being the kid at heart that I am, I decided to give the show a try myself. After the first episode, I was hooked. Initially, it was the witty comedy and silly puns that kept my attention. I loved the idea of a “Scare B&B” which was totally a play on words of the ever-so-popular Airbnb. The more I watched, the more the storylines touched me on a level that I hadn’t expected. I watched the young girl, Vampirina, begin a new school with regular humans. I saw her struggle to belong, all the while trying to prove that while she had the same heart as everyone else. The few episodes I watched, showed Vampirina and her family struggling with their identity. They tried to hide pieces of their lives because they didn’t want people to be afraid. Each episode ends with a positive outcome, leaving children with a sense of satisfaction and parents with a sense of pride.
Vampirina Producer Chris Nee Interview
I had the pleasure of chatting with the Vampirina Producer, Chris Nee who gave us an insider’s look at what it actually took to bring this The Munsters-esque animated series to televisions around the country. Kids everywhere are completely enamored by this show and parents are right on board with the underlying theme of belonging. It’s especially exciting to me personally because of all the girl power in the show!
5 important underlying Vampirina messages
1. Vampirina was made for families to enjoy together.
Even in 2017, it’s uncommon to see shows that families can watch together. I think we all remember the TV babysitting us as kids – mainly because our parents couldn’t endure another episode of Sesame Street. We get it, but wouldn’t it be nice to watch shows together as a family? You know, the shows that parents find themselves watching for a half hour after the kids have gone to bed. Vampirina is one of those shows and this Chris Nee interview confirms that she intentionally designed the show that way.
What I really want to do is bring families together to watch shows. I think those shows that so actively sort of alienate the parents really create the separation in the enjoyment.
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’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 kind of make it a universal experience.
2. Importance of being yourself.
I think we are all beginning to talk a lot about acceptance in our society, but are we talking about how important it is to be yourself, love yourself, and stay true to yourself? I’m not sure that this topic is touched on enough. That’s one of my favorite things about Vampirina.
In 2017, it’s not okay for someone’s 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 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’re telling the story that, ‘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.
3. It encourages girl power!
As adults, it’s built into us to expect men (or boys) to be lead characters in shows and movies – even animated ones, sadly. You’ll notice that Vampirina, that the girl power is strong! I love that this show teaches children that girls are just as strong and important as boys.
We have had a lot of boy lead characters! Like when Doc McStuffins came around, Doc could have been either. The story with Doc is that I created it for my son but I made her an African American girl. And I really believed it was the representation that mattered. We didn’t need another boy lead character and 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.
4. Accepting what/who you don’t understand
Executive Producer, Chris Nee insisted that everyone who found out that Vampirina was a vampire – still accepted and loved her. Because, what would we be teaching children if we showed them that it’s not okay to be different? There are even moments in the show where friends are afraid of vampires, yet they still love and accept Vampirina.
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 that 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.
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.
5. Facing conflicts in the right way
It would be silly to pretend that conflicts don’t arise in everyone’s life. Children have conflicts that adults don’t always see, hear, or understand. Somehow, Vampirina’s Executive Producer, Chris Nee touches on these conflicts and helps children work through them. That’s what we really need to teach kids – to understand, accept, and work through conflicts.
Fitting in and holding onto who you are:
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, 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.
Vampirina 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. It is about what it’s like to come in to a new place, how much do you take on, and how much do you hold on to yourself?
I’m also really a heart on my sleeve person 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.
Watch Vampirina on Disney Junior
A young vampire girl, Vampirina (aka Vee), is the new kid in town after her family moves from Transylvania to Pennsylvania. In her unfamiliar surroundings, Vee first tries to adapt, change and blend in with her schoolmates, but ultimately she learns to appreciate her unique individuality and her friends’, too. Each episode features two 11-minute stories and includes original songs.