Collider Kids: ‘Fancy Nancy’ Head Writer Krista Tucker on the New Disney Junior Adaptation

     July 12, 2018

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Get ready to get fancy! Disney Junior’s all-new animated series Fancy Nancy brings the bestselling children’s books to life in fantastic fashion, starting this Friday. Geared towards kids ages 2-7, each episode is comprised of two 11-minute humorous and heartfelt stories that showcase themes of self-expression, originality and love of family. And in advance of the show’s debut, we had a chance to chat with show developer and head writer Krista Tucker (Sheriff Callie’s Wild West) about how the best-selling book series became Disney’s newest animated series.

If you’re not familiar with the books from author Jane O’Connor and illustrator Robin Preiss Glasser, Nancy uses ingenuity and resourcefulness to exemplify that even if life doesn’t always go as planned, it’s important to make the most of each day and encourage others to do the same. Music also plays an important role in the series, with almost every episode featuring new original songs showcasing a variety of musical styles ranging from pop and jazz to big band, classical and swing. We talked about the musical component to the show in addition to the fantastic cast assembled to take on both parental and child character roles, and just how exciting it was to see Fancy Nancy come together and earn an early Season 2 renewal.

Before we get to the interview, be sure to check out our exclusive clip from the premiere of Fancy Nancy:

For folks who maybe aren’t familiar with Fancy Nancy, either the books or the animated series, what’s your one-sentence explainer or pitch?

Krista Tucker: Fancy Nancy is about a young girl who wants to live in a fancy world even though everything around her has been tragically plain.

How did this opportunity to adapt this particular book series for Disney Junior come about for you?

Tucker: Well, I’ve luckily, gratefully been working for Disney for about 10 years as a staff writer on various shows and then I was, had been a story editor on another show. So they were familiar with my work. I just got a call one day from one of our executives, who asked me to do a take, which is just doing a two to three pages quick. What would my take be? How would I go about developing that? I just did it and luckily they liked it. So that’s how it happened, that’s how it started.

Is the title something you were familiar with before, or did you kinda have to dig in and do a little bit more research before you presented your take on it?

Tucker: I had to dig in. I have a boy, I have a 14 year old. I have nieces so I had, so when shopping for birthday presents and books I’d seen Fancy Nancy, but I wasn’t that familiar. So I did have to do my homework on this one, for sure.

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Image via Disney Junior

What were your first impressions? What really stood out about this series and the illustrations, and the storytelling? What was it that made you say like, “Oh, okay, I’ve got something here”?

Tucker: What I really connected to was Nancy’s character. I kept asking myself, you know, who is the kind of girl, child or adult, any person, who would show up in the world in this way? This fancy, this much? What is that about her? Who is this person? That made me very curious to figure out who she was, who is this little girl?

So I just had a natural curiosity and affection for her because I liked how bold she was in the books, how she just goes into the world as just who she is, unapologetically. That was somebody that I thought would be fun to write for.

Is that something that you think was kind of why your take was kind of chosen? Was it just like the strength of character? Then converse to that, how much did your pitch kind of change during the actual development of the show?

Tucker: You know, strangely it really didn’t change. I can say, I was lucky and I think obviously having the history of the books behind my take to support kind of the freshness that I was bringing to the property, it really didn’t change much at all from my take. I was lucky.

Speaking of the books, is this more of a modern take on those stories, or is it kind of timeless storytelling?

Tucker: It’s kind of timeless storytelling. Our world is a very safe world where in Nancy’s neighborhood the kids can still walk to their neighbor’s house. They can ride their bikes around. Our stories are classic stories with themes that people can emotionally hook into and connect to no matter if it was now or 20 years from now or 20 years ago. I think these are universal, heartfelt messages that are timeless.

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Image via Disney Junior

Sticking with the books for a little bit, were the author and illustrator involved in the adaptation at all? 

Tucker: Well, once Disney had the rights to the book and I came on to develop it, Jane and Robin, the illustrator and author, gave us their blessing. They’ve been wonderful supporters this whole time, and of course we want to make them happy and we talk to them. We check in with them from time to time. But they’ve really trusted Disney. They’ve really trusted us, and it’s been a wonderful friendship that’s evolved from it.

Did they have any notes or make any suggestions, or just kind of give you their blessing?

Tucker: No, they really just gave us their blessing. From time to time, for example, if we were thinking of creating a new character … I remember emailing Jane and asking her what she thought, but you know, that was really it. I mean, they’ve really just given us their blessing, which has been wonderful. I think, you know, they worked on this property for a long time so they are ready to have it be broadened and share it.

What would you say, in the adaptation development process, was the biggest challenge you faced? What was the biggest reward or happy moment when you got to see things finally take shape?

Tucker: Biggest challenge … you know, it’s tricky because this is, for me, personally, truly been a labor of love. I love this character and this show so much that it’s … a challenge? I guess the challenge but in a wonderful way has been really distilling and really honoring the authenticity of kids and their emotional realities.

Really wanting to do that justice, and making not only Nancy’s journey, but her friends’ and her parents’, really making that as emotionally authentic and real as possible. I love writing jokes, I have an amazing team of writers who love writing jokes. But sometimes if you’re a writer, you sometimes wanna put in some jokes just ’cause they’re funny and that might detract from the story.

I guess what I’m trying to say is honoring the emotional authenticity has been a wonderful challenge, and the joy has been seeing that being realized, and that that means we’ve done it, and something I’m so proud of.

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Image via Disney Junior

Since you’ve written for children’s programming for a while now, what are some particular challenges of writing in that space?

Tucker: I think it’s remembering the innocence that our audience in coming … to, like remember who our audience is, and that they don’t have the life experience that I have as an adult woman. So we want to … we wanna really play with that wonderment that they have and the open eyed innocence and those questions and the discovery. We really want to nurture, that, and we want to honor that and that that’s something that’s such a magical, wonderful part of being a kid.

That can be challenging, because I’m an adult so I have to continually bring myself, as writers we have to continually remember what that was like to be a kid and a lot of us have our own kids so it’s a little bit easier in that regard. I’d say that’s the more challenging. Of course there are also limits with language and you have to kinda be careful sometimes of what scenes you’re working with, but I don’t know. I’d say honoring that space is most important.

I’m a parent, and to me that is a massive responsibility and I don’t take that lightly. I know that everyone here at Disney feels the same way. We know that we have little eyeballs watching us and that’s something that we really take seriously.

That’s another reason why Nancy is such a wonderful character to put out in the world, because she exemplifies someone who is just being who … she’s 100% an original. She’s unique. So it’s really showing this young audience that it’s wonderful to just be who you are, and be comfortable being who you are. That is enough, that’s more than enough for the world.

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Image via Disney Junior

Speaking of those characters, can you just talk about the fantastic cast that’s been assembled for this show?

Tucker: Sure, well we are blessed to have just the perfect cast. We’re so excited about our cast. Fancy Nancy’s really a family comedy with a lot of emotional realities. So we need actors who can really bring both. Voicing our mom is Alyson Hannigan. She’s doing a phenomenal job. She has two young girls of her own, so she has lots of experience playing Nancy and JoJo’s mom. Rob Riggle is our dad, and he’s also doing a wonderful job.

You know, our parents embody the style of “ask, don’t tell” parenting. So they’re not just telling their kids what to do all the time, they’re playing with them. They’re letting them discover on their own, their own answers. They’re guiding them, of course, but they’re really encouraging them to be their own thinkers. So I think that Alyson and Rob are doing a wonderful job voicing the characters who give the parents just that wonderful playful, yet supportive nurturing quality.

Mia Sinclair Jenness voices Nancy, and this girl is just like an absolute gold mine talent. I don’t even know how to say it. She’s just, you know, you can’t really teach comedy. She’s so young, and she just nails it every time. She’s knocking it out of the park. We’re thrilled to have her. She’s a wonderful singer.

We have Christine Baranski playing Mrs. Divine, who actually that’s not a guest star, she’s a regular. She’s phenomenal. I mean, Christine Baranski is … you don’t get better than her. Then we have George Wendt playing grandpa, and he just brings a lot, a really great, loving, fun, tender grandpa quality.

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Image via Disney Junior

You mentioned that your lead is musically talented as well. Are there musical numbers in this show?

Tucker: Yes, every episode will have one, so our episodes consist of two 11-minute stories in one episode. One of the 11 has a song. We explore a broad range of musical styles in this show. Nancy is very imaginative. In one, she’ll maybe be doing a big Broadway kind of number, and in another she’ll be doing more a jazzy tune or a bluesy tune. So she really travels a wide range musically.

Mia can completely handle it. She’s been on Broadway, and she’s, I think was the youngest cast member … youngest actress ever to be cast in that lead role of Les Mis, so she’s got a lot of experience singing, and it shows.

Is that something that you and your team had a chance to write the songs for, or did you bring in lyricists for the show?

Tucker: So the writers do a pass at the lyrics in the script, because the song is really a part of our narrative story. So you know, we need that to continue. Then we have an amazing composer, Matthew Tishler who composes the music and brings it all together.

I know that this show already has a second season order before the first episode even premieres. So I’m curious, does that take some of the pressure off of you and the creative team, or does it actually add a little more pressure because now you have a few more expectations that are kinda baked in?

Tucker: You know, that’s a great question. I think if I’m being honest, it adds pressure. Because you know, the people on this amazing crew, we’re not just here to have a job. We’re not just concerned about having a job guaranteed for another season. We wanna really deliver. We know that with Fancy Nancy we feel we have something really special here. So I do feel like for all of us it just raises the stakes for us to do our very, very best.

Because we know there’s high expectations, but I feel like we’re gonna meet them, I feel like we really have a wonderful show here that audiences are gonna love.

What are you hoping that kids and families get out of watching Fancy Nancy, either if they’re just watching by themselves as kids or if they’re watching together as a family group?

Tucker: I hope that they first and foremost laugh and enjoy themselves and I hope that they see a little bit of themselves in Nancy. I think there’s a little bit of fanciness in all of us, and our definition of fancy is really just being who you are. So I really hope that audiences are inspired to go out into the world and be who they are. Whatever, however they express themselves is wonderful. But I hope it’ll help them wanna celebrate that part of themselves.

Fancy Nancy debuts Friday, July 13th at 11am EDT/PDT on Disney Junior, DisneyNOW and Disney Junior VOD.

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Image via Disney Junior

Joining the previously announced lead voice cast – Alyson Hannigan and Rob Riggle as Nancy’s parents, Claire and Doug; Mia Sinclair Jenness as Nancy and Spencer Moss as sister JoJo – the recurring guest voice cast for season one includes Tony Award-winner Christine Baranski as Mrs. Devine; George Wendt as Grandpa Clancy; Kal Penn as Mr. Singh; Dana Heath as Nancy’s best friend Bree; Tatyana Ali as Bree’s mom, Mrs. James; Ian Chen as Nancy’s cousin Jonathan; Chi McBride  as mailman Gus; Malachi Barton as Nancy’s friend Lionel and Madison Pettis as Brigitte.

Fancy Nancy is executive produced and directed by Emmy Award-nominated Jamie Mitchell (Disney Junior’s Sofia the First) and developed and story edited by Krista Tucker (Disney Junior’s Sheriff Callie’s Wild West). Matthew Tishler serves as songwriter (Austin & Ally, Teen Beach 2) and TJ Hill is composer. The series is a production of Disney Television Animation.

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