The creative team behind Disney Channel’s new movie discuss transforming the popular toon to a live-action heroine.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost 17 years since Bob Schooley and Mark McCorkle’s hugely popular and influential animated series Kim Possible debuted on Disney Channel. This month, the dynamic heroine is back — not in animated form, but in a live-action movie premiering on Disney Channel Friday, Feb. 15 at 9 p.m. Newcomer Sadie Stanley as the memorable Miss Possible, along with Sean Giambrone (The Goldbergs) as her best friend Ron Stoppable. And yes, there’s even a CG-animated version of Rufus, the naked mole rat in the mix (voiced once again by Simpsons star Nancy Cartwright).
The new Kim Possible movie also stars Todd Stashwick and Taylor Ortega as evil villain duo Drakken and Shego, Ciara Wilson as new student Athena, Alyson Hannigan as Kim’s mom, Connie Ray as Kim’s grandma, Isaac Ryan Brown as tech genius Wade, and Erika Tham as Kim’s frenemy Bonnie Rockwaller. Fans can also look forward to cameos by Christy Romano and Patton Oswalt.
We caught up with animation icons Schooley and McCorkle (Big Hero 6: The Series, The Penguins of Madagascar) who co-wrote the movie, co-directors and co-producers Adam B. Stein and Zach Lipovsky, and writer Josh Cagan (The Duff) to get the scoop on the hot new pic:
Animation Magazine: So, let’s start from the beginning. When did this idea for a new live-action version of Kim Possible gather steam?
Mark McCorkle: We got a call about two years ago from Disney Channel’s Adam Bonnett (exec VP of original programming). He said we feel like the time is right to reintroduce this to a new generation. It was one of those things that people keep asking us through the years on Twitter or via email. They say, we’d love to see Kim come back, and this was a wonderful opportunity to have these popular characters come back for a new generation. A lot of thought went into how to make this a strong live-action interpretation. As you know, over the years, some live action adaptations go fabulously and some don’t. As more people became involved, we were relieved because everyone involved came in with affection, respect and love for Kim, Ron and the whole world of Kim Possible.
Of course, die-hard purists of the show will probably question the fact that a live-action version was necessary.
Mark McCorkle: To your point, yes, of course people who were the original fans of the show would love to go back in time and continue what was there. But as Bob likes to say, he would also like to go back in time and be 15 years younger, but that’s not going to happen! When our co-producers and co-directors Zach and Adam made their pitch it became clear that the current team had to be empowered to realize their own vision, while being inspired by what went on before. You want the new team put their own creative stamp on the movie.
Bob Schooley: I think we live in a time when the public knows that there will be multiple interpretation of the same comic-book and animated characters, just as we’ve seen with the popularity of the new Spider-Man movie. I think we made peace that this movie will be a different thing from the show, although it definitely aimed at the Disney Channel audience.
Mark McCorkle: Back in the day, Kim Possible was a show that kids watched, but we also heard from parents who told us they enjoyed watching it with their children. The TV buzz phrase of “co-viewing” wasn’t coined yet, but it was one of the first shows that fit that bill. I think that is the goal with the new live-action interpretation of Kim … and hopefully, it’s something that the whole family can enjoy together.
To us, the characters were very strong and fairly timeless. Of course, the technology we depicted on the show needed to be updated. Back then, the idea that Kim had this gadget in the palm of her hand, this communicator/video screen that she could talk to, didn’t exist in the real world. We should have got a piece of that invention. Bob and I wouldn’t be doing interviews, we’d be sitting on an island somewhere.
What’s weird is that the Communicator was invented long before everyone had a smartphone. It was a challenge for our co-directors Adam and Zach in terms of to visually bring this to life. I think they made some very smart creative choices to keep the element of spy tech gadgetry current. What makes Kim work then and work now and will probably work 20 years from now are the characters. That notion of a friendship where the two friends are really different, with strengths and differences. But when they come together they compliment each other. Those themes don’t get old because they’re timeless and universal.
One of the most popular elements of the show was Rufus, the naked mole rat. Obviously, recreating that character posed a few challenges in the live-action movie!
Bob Schooley: What amused us was that when we were doing the series, there was an episode where they were doing a live-action movie of Kim and the episode was called “The Mole Rat will be CGI.” Well that came to be 15 years later. At one point, the directors did ponder using a real mole rat, but we said “Wait, this is neither going to be good for the mole rat nor the audience!”
How do you feel about all the new live-action versions of classic animated Disney properties that are being done for the big screen?
Bob Schooley: You know I went to see Mary Poppins Returns at the El Capitan theater in Hollywood. When the new Lion King trailer came on, it reminded me of when they released the trailer for the rebooted Star Wars. The audience is just there for it. I think it’s going to be huge.
Mark McCorkle: To me, the thing is these things are giving each creator or the team the freedom to do their own thing. The Beauty and the Beast live-action movie was its own thing. The new Dumbo is something else, Tim Burton’s vision. They are taking these strong characters and stories, but they’re letting each team do what they think is right for the property. I think that’s the best way
Bob Schooley: For me, it is the equivalent of how in the old pre-video days, the Disney thing was to re-release their animated movies every seven years. But now that every kid owns them, the question is how do you re-invent them… So, I think this is an interesting way to kind of do the same thing and give a fresh life to the property.
Josh, Zack and Adam, were you all fans of the original Kim Possible series before you were tapped to write and direct the feature?
Josh Cagan: The show dropped when I was in my early 30s, so it was a bit out of my demo, so to speak. But as a longtime animation nerd, I was very aware of it, and watched a bunch of episodes. I always dug it! It’s a zippy, fun show, with a heaping helping of mid-century modern cool, and early-aughts snark. The action was exciting, and the emotional and character moments had real weight. Like the best shows for young audiences, it didn’t talk down, instead it always assumed you could keep up.
Zach Lipovsky: We weren’t as familiar with the show when we first go the gig. I knew I had a lot of episodes to watch. But the immersion was incredibly exciting and we became super-fans of the original series and excited about getting to work with Bob and Mark, the original showrunners, on the script. It was such a great experience and a real privilege to become a super-fan of something and then get together with the original creators. A great privilege.
Adam Stein: It was cool to come to the movie with that perspective. First of all, we got to binge the show again and again right as we were delving into making it, so we were really familiar with the references and the Easter eggs that we could put in the movie for the fans. To the point where we had Christy Romano on the set and some of the original Kim Possible team, we would reference something and they’d be like, “Oh, I forgot about that…” The other piece of it was for new viewers, for the new generation of kids, what we are hoping to get into Kim Possible. We could ask, what do people need to know about Kim Possible when they first start the experience? What is that newbie experience like to get into that world?”
Did you go back to the actual series to make sure you weren’t repeating any old storylines?
Josh Cagan: I watched a bunch of episodes to refresh myself on how the characters related to each other, get a sense of how they sounded, that sort of thing. And I’m pretty sure Zach and Adam directly downloaded every second of KP-related content into their brains, Matrix-style. But none of us particularly sweated any overlap with the series, it’s all fruit of the same tree.
Why do think this show became so popular among fans?
Bob Schooley: I think part of it is the Kim and Ron relationship. People are still talking about it. For a cartoon, those characters read as real to people. And the slow burn of that relationship from a friendship to a romance in the end really engaged people’s imagination. I think we can also take credit for some of the humor in the show … there are jokes in there that kids might not have got the first time around, so they go back and watch and enjoy it again and endures that way again as well.
Josh Cagan: At the time, there wasn’t really a character like Kim in the Western animation space, to the best of my knowledge. Like, first and foremost, she was a high-school girl action hero, and while Buffy the Vampire Slayer was exploring that at the time as a live-action series, and anime had been doing it forever, Western animation had yet to catch up. The younger kids had Powerpuff Girls, which was equally wonderful, zippy, girl-fronted, and mid-century mod, but Kim Possible was a little more mature. But it can’t be stressed enough, girls wanted to see an awesome girl be awesome, and smart, and kick, and punch, and run from explosions, and save the world. And they still do.
Zach Lipovsky: That show was so ahead of its time more than a decade ago, and some parts of it are a little bit aged, and so it was great to watch it in today’s era and a few things would pop out — oh, those are things that we can adapt to modern day. The main one was the Communicator. When the show first came out, she basically had an iPhone, which was crazy… Oh wow, she can video chat on a phone! A few years later, she has a watch. So we looked at a bunch of technologies and invented our own version of the Communicator which is based on Augmented Reality. She has a pendant that she always wears, in her mission suit it’s built in. That’s the “10 years from now” vision, which is what the Communicator was for kids watching a decade ago.
What were some of the challenges in bringing the animated show to the world of live action?
Adam Stein: There is a feeling of epic action that we wanted to capture in live action. In the show, they have whole episodes where they have her being chased on a train which is careening to disaster. They have episodes of armies of invading robots. In animation, all of that stuff is equally expensive, and with live action we had to figure out how to create that epic scale on a budget, because everything you put on the screen in live action has a price tag.
The aesthetic of the original show was very specific. It captured this retro-futuristic style … the mid-century modern architecture that was featured in the show — we found some interviews with the show’s production designer and they were inspired by the color palettes of the retro Disneyland posters, so we looked at those as well. There are elements of Googie architecture as well throughout the show. We tried to incorporate that in the live-action movie as well. More casual fans may not realize that, but it creates a uniquely cohesive world.
OK, so what is going on with Rufus?
Adam Stein: In the original series, there is an episode which is called “The Mole Rat Will Be CGI,” which is about some Hollywood producers coming to Middleton to make a movie about Kim, and they are going to hire actors to play Kim and Ron and the mole rat will be CGI. So, it’s funny that we explored different options for Rufus, including using puppets and real animals. But the only way to capture his expressiveness was through CGI. We really worked hard with the animators to make him feel real, because we didn’t want a Roger Rabbit situation going on where the world is live-action and then you have this cartoon character. We wanted Rufus to be part of their world and grounded, even though he is expressive, cute and fun.
Zach Lipovsky: Overall, we had over 800 vfx shots in the movie. Pixomondo was the vfx house that worked on Rufus. Now, that was quite a challenge because he’s a naked mole rat and in real life, they are pretty disgusting creatures. It’s hilarious to have one of the grossest animals be the show’s comedic relief. In the animated version, he is very stylized and cute, but we couldn’t do that in real life. The Pixomondo vfx artists had to find the balance between cute and real, and that took many months to develop. Rufus was all the kids’ favorite part of the movie, even though we hadn’t even created him while we were shooting the scenes.
What do you hope audiences will take away from the new movie?
Adam Stein: We fell in love with Kim Possible and her world and hope that a new generation of fans are created by this movie and are inspired by her and her friends. Personally, we are such fans of the original, we hope that other fans of the original will also see the movie and feel like we captured the essence of what made it so special.
Kim Possible, the live-action Disney Channel Original Movie, will premiere Friday, February 15 at 8 p.m. on Disney Channel and DisneyNOW.