We are going to let you in on a little secret… Amphibia is really that good, so when we got the opportunity to watch the show and talk to Matt Braly, the creator and executive producer we were hyped. What was different this time around was that my daughter, who also watched and loved the show, got more involved in the process and actually put together some great questions for Matt. Her questions about Amphibia were far better thought out than mine,so you are in for a treat. We know you came her for some great info on the upcoming show and there is a lot of information below. We tried to condense where it was possible, but Matt is so interesting to speak with you get most of what was said word for word.
Created and executive produced by Annie Award-winner Matt Braly (“Gravity Falls”), the series is inspired by his heritage, family and childhood trips to Bangkok, Thailand.
After some quick introductions, where I may or may not have totally poured out my love for many of the shows Matt worked on, I tell him how much we enjoyed watching the first episode of Amphibia. After that, we start to get into some really fun questions about the show.
The backgrounds of the show are stunning and full of all sorts of life. They are one of the first things we noticed while watching the show. We ask Matt if there was anything special that went on to give the background more depth and was that something that they were thinking about doing early on.
Matt Braly: Our art director, Ian Worrel, you know his work, he was also the art director for Gravity Falls, the man is a straight genius, no joke. So when I approached him to work on this show, the man loves drawing rocks and trees, he loves nature, he loves hiking and always has a little sketch book with him where he does these amazing little watercolors. That was why he was such a great amazing fit for this project because, as you know this “frog world” it really had to feel kind of like “crunchy”, overgrown, natural. He spent some time doing a lot of tests, exploring the visuals of the world and ultimately landed on something that was inspired not only by nature, but also by 80s fantasy films. We watched a lot of things like The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, Rankin/Bass The Hobbit and drew inspiration from how they made those worlds feel so exotic and unique. I couldn’t be happier with how the show looks in terms of background, they are absolutely drop dead gorgeous.
We then get some time to talk about 80s cartoons and I comment on how a lot of newer shows have a larger story line than cartoon from the 80s. This leads up to a question where I ask Matt if he has the whole Amphibia story already in his head and wrapped up at some point as a full story that ends.
Matt Braly: I love this question and I can already tell this is going to be the best interview yet. So basically it is a little of column A and a little of column B, I do have the story in my head. All kind of three seasons as I envision of this show, beginning, middle and end. I also have plenty of PDFs, Google Docs that are constantly being updated of how I think it should go. Here is the thing, and this is something I did not know until I was doing it, because I absolutely wanted to J.K. Rowling it, have it all planned out, all my ducks in a row. It becomes a different animal when you start to do it and I am happy to say the entire first season, it was planned, but I had to develop a flexibility with my original plan. (Matt also credits his team with help here) Sometimes you will have a story point in your head, where this has to happen, but then by the time you get there you realize that the characters that you built, they would never decide to do that. So it is this amazing exercise of, yes it is planned and there is an outline, I generally have a good feeling of what should happen for the entire story. When you get down in it and start to execute, it is good to be open and flexible to the amazing talent around you.
I get to interject here that sometimes the characters lead you where you didn’t think you were even going to go. Brenda Song is a huge favorite in our house, so we ask Matt how much he was involved in the decision to bring her on board as the voice of Anne.
Matt Braly: I also love this question because little weird thing, between you and me, I have never seen an episode of The Suite Life. (We joke about how while I am older than Matt I have seen every episode of the show, and Matt lands a joke of his own here) We auditioned hundreds of actresses for Anne and ultimately when Brenda came in and just read of few of Anne’s lines for the very first audition I felt like she was the character, she embodied the character. She had this great kind of warmth to her, this confidence, yet there was a little bit of vulnerability deep inside, that I really loved. So for me, ever since Brenda read she has always been the voice in my head, that actually is untethered to her legacy as Disney Channel royalty. That was kind of a happy accident at the end.
We then let Matt know that the next question is coming from our nine year old who made sure I was going to ask this question during the interview. After she finished watching the episode the first thing that came to her mind was that she wanted to ask Matt if Anne was always going to have leaves and twigs in her hair.
Matt Braly: (Matt has a hearty laugh at hearing the question) The answer is “yes.” (He again comments on loving the questions) The reason that Anne will always have leaves and twigs in her hair and also a missing shoe, is because I wanted her character design to reflect the idea that she is out of her depth and a little bit disoriented. So the idea that those leaves and those sticks are never coming out of her hair is tied into the fact that Anne is way in over her head in this crazy world. (I tell Matt that I didn’t think there was that much thought put into something like that and that I respect him even more with that answer) There is a little bit of magic when you saw the early sketches of Anne and she had these leaves in her hair and a missing shoe and a shell-shocked expression. You were like, there is a girl who got sent to another world.
We then put Matt on the spot and ask him his favorite animated DIsney show, besides anything he has worked on. He takes a minute before his emphatic answer.
Matt Braly: Gargoyles in terms of the overarching plot and the voice talent. (we both agree it was a wonderful show and we ask if he had any influence on him) All the things I watched when I was a kid definitely had influence, that goes for the Batman animated series, Pokémon, Gargoyles. It’s so funny because our show is a comedy adventure and I don’t think I watched that many animated comedies growing up. So I think that is why people of my generation tend to drift towards serialized overarching stories, because we grew up loving that stuff. (We have some chat here talking about older shows and then Matt talks a bit about one of our favorites) Gravity Falls was a revelation to me when I worked on it, because it is like a new genre, a sitcom adventure. It’s got the trapping of a traditional sitcom, but the characters are in moral peril at the end. (I talk about DuckTales and Gravity Falls as our favorite of all time here) I learned more on Gravity Falls than I learned anywhere else, working with Alex, he is an amazing mentor. (I tell Matt how we look to Amphibia to have the same rewatchability as Gravity Falls)
This leads perfectly into our next question. We ask if there are things that are hidden in Amphibia that are clues that you may find watching a few times.
Matt Braly: Specifically the treasure hunting vib was Gravity Falls‘ thing. I respect it and honor it where it is and how they did it. For our show, there is plenty to rediscover on multiple viewings, we have hidden jokes in the background, we have characters that pay off between episodes, we have moments that payoff between episodes, and there is, as you know, an overarching mystery and lore. In terms of the whole scavenger hunt vib, I thought it was best to let that be part of Gravity Falls‘ legacy and not try to imitate it.
Next we tell Matt how we love licensed toys, and we ask him if he could have a toy from Amphibia what would it be.
Matt Braly: Here is the answer and it may be a surprise, I have no idea. I really want an Anne action figure that has a tennis rqquet and a sword. To me it is important that Anne pop as a character, that little girls and boys, look at Anne and think, “I want to be like her.” That’s why to me Anne merchandise is what I am going to be looking for. (I proceed to tell Matt, my daughter answered she wanted a Polly toy as she loves the character)
Many thanks to Disney and Matt Braly (who gave a special thank you to my daughter for the questions), who was so much fun to talk to, for making this happen. It has been a highlight of our summer so far, and remember Amphibia premieres on June 17, 2019, on Disney Channel so make sure to tune in.