Disney Channel and Disney Junior gave a preview at the Television Critics Association (TCA) Summer Press Tour of three new animated programs, each of which showcases the organization’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. Titled “Diversity in Children’s Animation,” representatives from The Ghost and Molly McGee, Marvel’s Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, and the Disney Junior short form series Rise Up, Sing Out talked about the important work they’re doing to increase the visibility of characters from different backgrounds and cultures.
Premiering October 1st, this new Disney Channel animated series follows a tween girl named Molly who just so happens to be bound to a grumpy ghost named Scratch thanks to a curse that backfired. “There's actually a whole episode about Molly being biracial and not quite having as much connection to her Thai roots as she wishes that she had,” actress Ashly Burch revealed, a trait that she shares with the character she voices. “It was so meaningful to me because I'm a ‘white-passing,’ biracial woman who often feels like I'm not Thai enough or doesn’t know quite what that means. And that episode is written by two Asian women who can really speak to that experience.
While there aren’t currently plans for a toy line based on the series, Ashly also shared her personal perspective on why it would be meaningful for toys of Molly to exist. “I played with an Esmerelda doll because it was the closest I could get. Basically. I was like, you know, she's brown, kind of works. But then if a toy comes out of any of these characters, then you get to hold a toy and play with a toy that looks like you and is your culture.”
Set to premiere in 2022, Marvel’s Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur is based on a comic series about a 13-year-old super-genius named Lunella Lafayette who accidentally brings a 10-ton T-Rex to present-day New York City, naming him Devil Dinosaur. “I’m somebody who'd collected comic books, both DC and Marvel, and I used to read Moon-Boy and Devil Dinosaur, which is the original book created by Jack Kirby way back in the day,” explained legendary actor Laurence Fishburne, who serves as executive producer on the show. “When they updated it, I went to meet with Louis D’Esposito and the other cats over at Marvel, and we were trying to figure out a way for me to sort of enter into their world. And they showed me that book and they said, ‘What about this?”’ I was like, “‘Yeah, okay, we know what to do with that.’”
“You can't be what you can't see,” Fishburne added, referring to the importance of having characters that kids can connect with in mainstream media. “As a child, it's very important for you to be able to see examples of what you want to be, and to have the opportunity to do that here, to be able to create that for yourself.” With Disney Channel’s huge audience and Marvel’s gigantic fanbase, there seems to be infinite possibilities with this series. “Our animation team has been working really hard on trying to create a look that is kind of fresh and something that is going to catch the eye of the viewer.”
This musical Disney Junior animated short series teaches preschoolers important concepts around race, racism, and social justice designed to inspire and empower young minds. Debuting later this year, Rise Up, Sing Out features music from Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter, who also executive produce the series. The Conscious Kid, an organization dedicated to equity and promoting healthy racial identity development in youth, is working with the creators on a companion guide for parents as well.
I didn't see anyone who looked like me or who came from places that looked like where I was from in animation,” Tariq Trotter explained. “I'm sure that's had some effect on me. It definitely has helped to shape my worldview. Just the opportunity to speak to our youngest audience when they're in this most impressionable stage is super important. I think that representation across the board is super important.” The diversity isn’t exclusive to the content appearing on screen, either. “Part of what appealed to us about this relationship was how diverse everyone in the room was when we all sort of got together” “Black Thought” added. “I think they make it a priority here at the studio.”
Alex joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and has been a lifelong Disney fan. His main beats for LP are Disney-branded movies, TV shows, books, music and toys. He recently became a member of the Television Critics Association (TCA).