Disney is bull(frog)ish on Amphibia, the new animated series debuting Monday, June 17th at 10am on Disney Channel and DisneyNow. The network has already ordered up a second season of the series that invites viewers to join in on the adventures of independent and fearless teen Anne Boonchuy (Brenda Song). Anne is magically transported to the world of Amphibia, a wild marshland full of talking frog-people. With the help of an excitable young frog named Sprig, Anne will transform from monster to hero and discover the first true friendship of her life.
We recently took you on a tour or all things Amphibia courtesy of show creator Matt Braly, but now we have the pleasure of bringing you an interview with Annie Award-winner Braly about the show itself and how it came to be. He talked about his time working on such animated series as Gravity Falls and Steven Universe to prepare him to take on Amphibia as well as his real-world experiences that helped to inspire its world. Braly also stressed the importance of having a Thai-American character as a protagonist and that Song was the perfect person to bring Anne to life. Keep an eye out for this special series starting this coming Monday on Disney!
How long has the idea for Amphibia been in your head? And how did your family and childhood experiences help to inspire that idea?
Matt Braly: I’d say the idea has lived in my head for about four years. After Gravity Falls started to wind down, I immediately started to brainstorm ideas for my own project. The show itself is directly inspired by memories of traveling to Bangkok every summer as a child 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 didn’t want to leave. I wanted to bottle up that magical feeling for Amphibia. Anne will arrive feeling one way but the world begins to grow on her over the course of the series.
How would you describe your lead character, Anne Boonchuy, in three words?
Braly: Stubborn, brave, and irresponsible.
How important was it to you to have a Thai-American character as the show’s lead?
Braly: It was incredibly important to me to have a Thai-American character as the show’s lead. I grew up desperate to connect to my background and was always disappointed with the lack of South East Asian characters on the screen. I used to watch The King and I and Mortal Kombat (it was filmed in Thailand) to fill the void. I’m extremely proud that kids like me will grow up seeing Anne on TV.
How has your Annie Award-winning work on Gravity Falls and experiences on other incredible shows—Steven Universe, Big City Greens, DuckTales—prepared you to take on your own original creation in Amphibia?
Braly: Every show I’ve worked on has taught me different, valuable things. Gravity Falls was a very special experience for me; I think I learned more on that show than I did in four years of art school. I fell in love with the 11-minute format during my brief time on Steven Universe, and the way the show balanced serialized and episodic story-telling was incredibly inspiring.
What inspired the visuals, characters, and world design of Amphibia?
Braly: Visually, the team and I looked at classic 80s fantasy films (specifically The Dark Crystal and The Hobbit) for a lot of our reference. It was important to us that the world feel crunchy and earthy to better contrast Anne’s previous life and her new one. In terms of designing a frog world, we turned to nature for a lot of inspiration, such as using bioluminescent mushrooms to light the frogs’ homes.
Why is Brenda Song the perfect person to bring Anne to life?
Braly: I was immediately blown away by Brenda’s audition. She perfectly embodied the character that I saw in my head and delivered a rich, nuanced performance. A natural comedian, Brenda has helped create some unscripted laugh-out-loud moments in the recording booth. Not only that, but she’s also part Thai, which helps make Anne feel more genuine.
What can you tell us about your other lead cast members — Justin Felbinger, Amanda Leighton, and the legendary Bill Farmer—and the characters they play?
Braly: Justin Felbinger, who voices Sprig, gives a youthful and optimistic quality that plays well with Brenda’s character, Anne. The whole show is about these two characters bringing out the best in each other and Justin’s performance is key to this feeling. Amanda Leighton voices Polly, Sprig’s little tadpole sister, and imbues the character with an explosive and unpredictable edge. Bill Farmer absolutely kills it as the cantankerous and overprotective Hop Pop. Working with Bill has been an absolute gift, and he has given Hop Pop that wonderful “crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside” feeling.
And how about that impressive guest cast! Was there anyone you were particularly surprised to see on the call list?
Braly: I think I’m still in shock that Stephen Root is on our show, voicing the greedy Mayor Toadstool. Stephen’s reads often have us in stitches.
Congratulations on the Season 2 order before the premiere! How does that change your approach to the storytelling, if at all?
Braly: Amphibia is mostly an episodic show but it does have an overall narrative, similar to Gravity Falls and Steven Universe. There’s some really exciting paradigm shifts happening in season two that will involve doing things storytelling-wise that I’ve never done before. I can’t wait for you to see it.
Amphibia also has a series of web shorts and an RPG coming out later this summer; what was it like to get to tell more of the story in different mediums?
Braly: The shorts were a fun warm-up for season two and have some really great gags in them. What’s nice about shorts is that you get to try ideas that wouldn’t work in a full episode but might be great for something much briefer. The game was a delight to collaborate on, and I’m especially proud of the snappy dialogue provided by one of our staff writers, Adam Colás. We treated the game as if it’s a “lost episode,” and it’s entirely self-contained but could easily have been a season one story.
What’s up next for you?
Braly: I’m going to happily explore this world and these characters for as long as I can. This is an incredibly exciting time to be in animation, and feel like stories and shows that wouldn’t have been made five years ago are finally getting produced. I’d love to branch out to different genres and formats in the future!
Amphibia premieres this Monday, June 17th, and new episodes will air daily through Thursday, June 20th.