During the Thor: Ragnarok event in October, we had the chance to head to Disney Junior’s studios to screen two brand new episodes of the new show Vampirina. Both of the episodes, Ghoul Girls and Game Night, will be included in Disney Junior’s big screen HalloVeen in theaters this coming Saturday, October 28th in theaters near you!
I won’t give away any spoilers about the episodes, but I will say Game Night may be my favorite Vampirina episode yet, and that’s not just because I’m addicted to board games. Like all of the other Vampirina episodes so far, it’s full of fun, kindness, and a little learning for everyone involved. And one incredible made up board game!
Ghoul Girls is also a fun new episode all about believing in yourself, and you can watch an exclusive sneak peek of that episode below with commentary from Chris Nee.
Interview with Vampirina Executive Producer Chris Nee
After we screened the episodes, we had the pleasure of sitting down with executive producer Chris Nee (Doc McStuffins) to talk about her inspiration for the show, upcoming episodes, and the principles and lessons she wants kids and adults to get out of the show. Chris was just as friendly as the characters she writes for Disney Junior and made me fall in love with Vampirina even more.
Inspiration for Vampirina
Like any work of art, the inspiration behind Vampirina isn’t pinpointed to one particular thing. Chris talked to us about where some of the inspiration for the show came from. She definitely watched some of the more popular vampire shows like The Munsters and The Addam’s Family but those didn’t seem to be a main source of inspiration, not as much as these things anyway.
Writing a Show for Herself
When asked about her secret to writing a show that both kids and adults will enjoy, Chris told us her secret is that she doesn’t write her shows for the kids. Instead, she told us that she writes for herself.
“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 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 little jokes for you, and you obviously don’t want to be writing those jokes, 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 also told us that she wants to bring families together to watch shows. And I’d say she’s accomplished that in Vampirina, since I’m pretty sure I enjoy the show as much, if not more, as my 4-year-old. I love that we can watch and enjoy it together, humming the theme song all day long.
The Vampirina Book Series
One of the things many people probably don’t know (I didn’t!) is that Vampirina is actually loosely based on a series of children’s books. Loosely because books never translate exactly to a weekly TV show with different stories and characters.
Chris touched on the book series when she talked about the character most like her in the show, the gargoyle Gregoria.
“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.”
She went on to explain that she actually wrote the role of Gregoria specifically for actress Wanda Sykes without asking her first.
“She [Gregoria] 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 [to Wanda], I promise you it works in my head… It’s gonna be her with this voice, which is so intent, and Wanda’s voice is Wanda’s voice. And there’s no missing that. You’re going to be put into this gargoyle, and this plush is going to be the one that you want.”
Another character that was fun for Chris to write was the teacher Mister Gore who was actually inspired by a teacher she had in sixth grade.
“He’s actually kind of different from the character here. Mister 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 a three-piece suit. Every day from kindergarten up through fifth grade you were terrified of the day that you opened up and found out you had Mister Gore, you were like, ‘oh no!” But every single one of us would say that 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.”
Another unique thing about Vampirina is that it actually includes a lot of Broadway style music. Chris calls herself a New York Broadway kid who grew up on Broadway and listens to Broadway (and Disney!) classics as she rides her bike. She talked highly of the Broadway composers, Kooman & Dimond, who work on the show.
“The song in the pilot was their audition song without a change in it. 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, really leaned into a really Broadway musical sound. And that’s my thing. I listen to musical channels a lot.”
With Chris’ Broadway background, she was more than enthusiastic about Patti LuPone joining the cast as Vee’s Nanpire.
“I don’t want to date myself, but I saw Evita twice in the original run with her. And getting to cast her in a role is just amazing. ”
Chris also gave us a little insight into working with Isabella Crovetti, the 12-year-old who voices Vee, aka Vampirina.
“We got so lucky with Isabella, 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 workd with her she came to a big recording studio where there were orchestras and some of the greatest albums you’ve ever listened to were recorded there. And she walked into the middle of 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 her first take. She’s a Broadway level singer who happens to live in LA, and we get to take advantage of that.”
I’m with Chris on this one, Isabella is a total pro. Just watch this clip of her singing, so good!
Lessons Kids and Adults Can Learn from Vampirina
One of the things I love the most about Vampirina is that there really is a good lesson to be learned from every episode but rather than hitting you over the head with that lesson, it’s something learned casually and more organically. Throughout the interview, Chris talked to us about some of the things she hopes audiences and kids especially will learn from the show.
Figuring Out How to Be Friends Even When You’re Different
When we talked about Bridget, one of my favorite characters and a total scaredy cat, finding out that Vee is a vampire and accepting her right away, Chris explained,
“It is a show where we say ‘she [Vampirina] 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 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 again talking about Bridget,
“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 are different. We have a huge country that’s really different. And maybe the only way we’re gonna get some place 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.”
Leadership & Kindness
Another thing that Chris mentioned to look out for is learning how to be a good leader. The Game Night episode we screened for instance was a great example of what leadership is, or as Chris put it,
“A great leader knows how to figure out what the best course of action is for everyone. And it’s so hard, even in just kids’ games to figure out how to be sure that everyone is being satisfied and no one’s being left out and nobody’s being left behind.”
One of the things that makes Vee such a great leader in the show is that she’s kind, all of the characters are. And I’m sure that’s one of the main reasons that Vampirina is actually the Disney Junior representative for the Choose Kindness campaign. You can download all sorts of fun activity pages and a guide to choosing kindness on the Disney Junior website here.
Fear and Control
When asked about what other typical children issues and conflicts we can expect to see in the show, Chris touched on an issue that I’m sure will hit home for both kids and adults, I know it did for me.
“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 [Vee] 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. She 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? It is about what is it like to come in to a new place and how much do you take on, how much do you hold on to yourself?”
Let me be the first to say that is not just an issue for little kids. Honestly, if anything I think it’s even harder as an adult and as an adult, I let fear control my life more than I ever thought possible. We’ve lived in Texas now for just over a year, and I still am letting fear dictate most of my in-person interactions and decisions. I lived in Virginia for 10 years. I had my comfort zone and my friends. I knew what my life looked like. People knew me before I was a mom or a blogger. They knew that I was a runner. They knew I was a project manager. They knew I was fun and creative. They knew I was a little crazy, and they loved me for it.
A year of living in Texas and other than my family and a couple of people, I feel like I don’t belong and am not sure I ever will. I don’t want to move back to Virginia, but I miss that part of me. I miss people knowing that I’m fun and like to laugh. I miss not being scared that I’ll walk into an activity at church or at a moms group and no one will talk to me. And that when no one talks to me, that I’ll lose a bit more of the self-confidence I’ve been working so hard to gain back. Since the move, blogging is my comfort zone because it’s easy to face my fears from behind a computer screen. If someone doesn’t respond to a message or an email, I can just tell myself they got busy. It’s not that easy when you sit at a table of women, and they all just talk around you.
I totally get Vee, and I know there are so many other adults and kids out there who do as well, so I can’t wait to see how they address such important issues in the upcoming season. Hopefully with some incredible songs from their Broadway composers, Kooman & Dimond, and more incredible writing and storytelling from Chris Nee.
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. Whether they’re making their own music videos, planning a party or throwing a sleepover, Vee and her friends always figure out how to have fang-tastic fun! You can watch the Vampirina trailer below!