Marvel Animation’s new TV franchise Marvel Rising is bringing a whole new generation of superheroes to the small screen. Years in the making, the rollout recently began with a prequel web series Marvel Rising: Initiation, which focused on Gwen Stacy’s Ghost Spider and introduced fans everywhere to the show’s version of Squirrel Girl, Ms. Marvel, Quake and Patriot. Soon, those fans will get to continue the adventure with their new favorite heroes as the special TV event movie Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors hits the air later this month.
In anticipation of its debut, I had a chance to chat with executive producer Cort Lane, who has been behind the studio’s animated efforts for the last decade. This new project is something different, fresh, and unique that should find fans of all kinds across the board. It’s energetic, buoyed both by the excellent action on screen and the studio’s new approach to integrating music. The casting is spot-on; both familiar voices and fresh faces bring original performances to their animated counterparts. I spoke with Lane about all of this and more in anticipation for the Disney Channel / Disney XD event coming Sunday, September 30th at 10pm.
One note before the interview itself: Though Ghost Spider featured in the prequel series, Marvel Rising: Initiation, mum’s the word on whether or not the popular character will make a return on the animated series or perhaps another Marvel property; the same goes for Captain Marvel and whether or not fans will get to see her return in animated form for this show or after.
What was the response to Marvel Rising: Initiation like, leading into Secret Warriors?
Cort Lane: It was really good! We know that it resonated with the target audience, which is girls, and hopefully a lot of boys; we want them to enjoy watching it, too.As somebody who’s been at Marvel for 10 years, even from adult fans, the positive reaction on the animation and the storytelling was really wonderful. It was just really positive reaction all around.
Squirrel Girl, Ghost Spider, and Ms. Marvel are such popular characters, and I know that’s very recent, but the enthusiasm about getting to see them animated and have really rich storytelling with them was also fantastic.
Did you have to switch gears at all to tailor the show for a different demographic or was it “business as usual” with that focus in mind?
Lane: Yes and no; it’s a lot of our same team. We’re working with our amazing director Alfred Gimeno, we’re working with a writer who actually was our co-story editor on Guardians of the Galaxy for a long time, Mairghread Scott. We understood that, for this audience, we would need to deliver on great action and adventure, on great character moments that are signature of all Marvel stories, but to make sure that we dig into the areas that are most appealing to girls: Themes of friendship and how they connect with each other, themes about fathers and daughters, all that stuff is especially relevant to the demo.
So in terms of crafting the scripts, that’s where we really adjusted things. And they’re little things, too. With girls, they wanted to see really expressive faces, they wanted the hair to be prettier. There’s a sequence in the prequel where Gwen is playing the drums and her hair is shaking around … our director rotoscoped a young woman playing the drums so he could get it right so it could look like a girl playing the drums and it would be dynamic.
There are little things that we did, but I think most of it was in the scripting process. That duality in terms of their real lives and their superhero lives is something that girls really connect with, as well. And a lot of characters have that. Certainly Peter Parker’s the best example of that, but making sure we delivered on that was a focus, too.
For folks who are unfamiliar with this new generation of heroes, how would you sum up the show?
Lane: It’s a story of young people with amazing abilities who want to use them to make the world a better place, but they’re just figuring out their abilities and their place in the world. They’re the next generation of great Marvel heroes, so we get to watch their evolution, we get to see them screw up, we get to see them become these heroes over the course of their story.
What makes this the perfect time for Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors?
Lane: I think a lot of things. The Marvel feature films have done a fantastic job of bringing in female audiences so that close to half the box office is female. And then there’s been a lot of growth in the consumer products business with women and girls, too. There’s a lot of excitement, enthusiasm, and loyalty to Marvel, but not enough content for them outside the feature films, and some of the specific books featuring these characters. There was just this huge open door: You have this audience, they’re hungry for more, service them with something that’s even more tailored to them with the kind of stories they want to see, and it’s a great win for the audience.
How much crossover does the Marvel animated universe have with the live-action side of things?
Lane: Not a lot with the feature film group because what they do is so specific and different and long-lead, although I will say that there’s been a lot of positive support for the exposure that we’re giving to Captain Marvel, so that’s great.
On the live-action [TV] side, [there’s] actually a surprising amount of integration, some of which I cannot talk about because it’ll play out a little bit in live-action TV and Marvel Rising moving froward, but obviously we have Chloe Bennet playing Quake, we have [Milana Vayntrub], the actress who played Squirrel Girl in the pilot for New Warriors who did an amazing job here, so actually a lot of integration with the TV side.
This show has an eclectic cast of characters; how did you go about finding the perfect voices and performances for each character?
Lane: We set the net a little wider here outside of traditional voice actors, which we often do with stunt casting. In this case, we were very conscious of our core target here in girls and finding actors who they especially connect to on Disney Channel or Freeform where that made sense. In other cases, it was about finding that really great performance and delivering that character arc. But ideally, in every case, you’re doing both.
So, for example, Dove Cameron as Ghost Spider: She nails the part. She loves music so having her as a drummer and having her sing a theme song, but also in terms of the attitude and the voice of the character, she is just as spunky and delivers on that character’s personality. It was an interesting process and more involved than what we typically do.
Without giving too much away, what made this particular conflict a perfect first outing for the newly formed Secret Warriors team?
Lane: There was something really potent to the idea that Inhumans are treated with a certain amount of prejudice. [Spoiler: As with so many properties, including the X-Men and mutants, there’s an emotional resonance that young people have with that kind of storyline. The idea that young people are being pitted against each other by the Kree within this storyline sort of created conflict within the characters and created an opportunity to save the day in a way where they’re interacting with other young characters and representing the young people of our world who are standing up and making their voices heard and saving each other.]
That’s actually very relevant in terms of how young people today are speaking out on issues. That certainly wasn’t planned. I think a lot of that has come up in our culture just in the last several months; we’ve been working on this program for a few years.
Can you talk about the use of original music tracks in Secret Warriors, rather than just background soundtrack, and how that changed the flavor of the show?
Lane: That was new for us, other than occasional clips in Guardians. It’s a big creative challenge because sequences need to work in terms of dialogue and action, while still having the song work. There are five places where we use three really incredible pop songs. We understand that pop music is a key to connecting with kids, particularly girls, and that we wanted to do something unique here that underscored the emotional resonances of the sequences and felt really empowering and representative of the arc of the characters. It was really challenging, but it pays off on such an amazing emotional level. I’m very happy with them. The emotional resonance of friendship, despite all the saving the world and huge stakes, that’s what girls want to see in this story, that’s the part that they connect to so strongly. The music underscores the emotional arcs.
What can you tease about Captain Marvel’s part to play in Secret Warriors in the future?
Lane: Let me just say, there are a lot of things I would love to tell you. I’m actually a huge Carol Danvers fan since I’ve been 10 years old, so being able to feature her in this way is really great. And Kim Raver who plays her was so enthusiastic about what this means for girls and being able to play a character who’s an aspirational mentor like this, it just meant so much to her.
Be sure to tune in to Disney Channel or Disney XD on September 30th at 10pm for the premiere of Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors.