How ‘Stretch Armstrong’ Evolved from Novelty Toy to a Novel Superhero Series

     February 2, 2018

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Spoilers ahead if you haven’t already watched the first season of Stretch Armstrong and The Flex Fighters on Netflix.

This March, fans everywhere will be marking the 10th anniversary of the debut of The Spectacular Spider-Man, widely believed to be the best animated Spider-Man series ever made. In celebration of that fact, I was able to chat with the show’s Supervising Producer/Supervising Director/Series Developer Victor Cook about the series’ legacy and how his experience developing it has influenced other projects in his career.

Before The Spectacular Spider-Man, Cook was a storyboard artist for beloved 80s and 90s animated series like The Smurfs, Darkwing Duck and Gargoyles before moving on to produce and direct Disney series like 101 Dalmatians and Lilo & Stitch, alongside directing action-focused animated projects like Hellboy and, in 2010, Dante’s Inferno. Since Spider-Man, Cook has directed and produced Scooby-Doo Mystery Incorporated as well as a number of Scooby-Doo! video shorts and series, making his filmography quite the diverse and eclectic one. His new Netflix series Stretch Armstrong and The Flex Fighters, a unique reimagining of a novelty brand, is but the latest of his creations. To find out how his experience bringing those many projects to life have influenced Stretch Armstrong, see what Cook had to say below:

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Image via Marvel Animation

Now that we’re coming up on the 10th anniversary of The Spectacular Spider-Man‘s debut, how did the experience of making that show compare to creating Stretch Armstrong and the Flex Fighters?

Vic Cook: Wow, did 10 years really just flash by like that?

The main difference making The Spectacular Spider-Man over a decade ago, was that when Greg Weisman and I developed our take, Spidey was already a long time iconic character with a rich history, decades of story in comics, animation and the Sam Raimi directed movies. We had a lot of eras from many media to choose from to modify and conflate to an interpretation we wanted to do. At that time, none of the animated series had ever taken place during Peter’s high school years and the movies quickly had Peter graduate to College. So we decided to do an updated, modern version of the early Lee/Ditko years and explore Peter as a high school student just after he became Spider-Man.

We wanted Peter Parker’s personal troubles to be as important as Spider-Man’s challenges. We included other characters created long after those early Ditko Lee years, such as Gwen Stacy and Venom for example. We changed ethnicities of many characters, to reflect modern Manhattan and in story, tied together the existence of Spider-Man as the reason why super villains are being created. We brought early Ditko visuals to the screen for the first time,  webs under the arms, Spidey spotlight, symbolic half-Spidey mask over Peter’s face, squiggly lines over the head for Spidey sense and symbolic Spidey webs in the sky at the end of episodes. Visually, Sean Galloway’s designs were more stylized and simplified rather than comic book illustration style, the animation was more squash and stretch rather than “realistic.” Villains and costumes were stylized takes on the classic designs.

Other than the name and the abilIty to stretch, Stretch Armstrong and The Flex Fighters was not based on pre-existing storylines.  There weren’t any. We were able to create our own lore.

The Flex Fighters are brand new, and other than Stretch Monster, our rogues gallery never existed before, the look and costumes were free to be completely original. “Incredibly fun” is what both shows have in common as well as great casts and crews!

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Image via Netflix, Hasbro

How did the opportunity to adapt Hasbro’s “Stretch Armstrong” brand come about?

Cook: Hasbro owns the property and has been wanting to bring it back in a modern way since before I came aboard.

How did you join the project and how did it find its way to Netflix?

Cook: Hasbro Studios asked me to come aboard as Executive Producer and Supervising Director and help develop “Stretch Armstrong” into an animated series. I had nostalgic memories of the original Stretch as an iconic toy, but not as an iconic character, so I became very intrigued when told this would be an opportunity to create something different. This was going to be an opportunity to reimagine Stretch as a modern original character in a brand new super hero universe. The only elements that needed to be kept was the name Stretch Armstrong and the ability to stretch. I was hooked.

What got me equally excited was the opportunity to reinterpret the stretching powers. Thinking of Stretch as a human bungee cord that has to snap back to normal became the key to choreographing Stretch! Head Writers and my fellow Executive Producers Kevin Burke and Chris “Doc” Wyatt were brought in and we got to work creating a new superhero universe. We pitched it to Netflix and here we are.

How did your experience on shows as varied as 101 Dalmatians to The Spectacular Spider-Man to Scooby-Doo help to shape Stretch Armstrong and The Flex Fighters and make it stand apart from the crowd?

Cook: I couldn’t have planned my career this way in advance, but I have been fortunate to have alternated between toony and action shows as a Director and Producer. Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, Hellboy Animated and Mickey Mouse Club House are some of the shows I directed before I went on to the Spectacular Spider-Man. Working on different styles and genres inspired me to combine some of those elements into Stretch Armstrong and the Flex Fighters. For example, the line art art of our backgrounds is very much action adventure style, with realistic perspective, but we painted it in a colorful and stylized way rather than realistic rendered.

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