Ambphibia Dreams Of Being a Big hearted, 80s Inspired Action Adventure Comedy That We Didn't Know We Desperately Needed
By Ezekiel McAdams
June 13 2019
Disney Channel's upcoming animated series, Amphibia, which premieres June 17, is a gooey, big hearted, action adventure comedy set in a world of frogs that we didn't know we needed until now.
Creator Matt Braly, a graduate of CalArts, is best known for his work on Disney Channel's Gravity Falls where he served as storyboard artist, then director, eventually winning an Annie Award in Outstanding Achievement in Directing for his work on the series in 2016, but it was his childhood memories of Bangkok and frogs that inspired his new project Amphibia which has been ruminating inside his brain, for the last several years. "I drew a lot of inspiration from my childhood trips to Bangkok, where my mom, every summer, who was Thai, would take me home to meet that side of the family, and as a kid, it was like being transported to another world." Braly said.
Amphibia centers around Anne Boonchuy, a thirteen year old, Thai American girl, who gets catapulted to the magical world populated by frogs, where after being stranded has to navigate strange terrains and kooky characters in a journey to find her best self. "Anne, as a character is loosely based off my grandmother. My grandmother was this strong and independent woman, and was one of the first women in Thailand, to get a PHD in Chemistry, when she was a child, there was a photo, she had this wild child hair and stubborn look on her face, and I based Anne's hair off that photo and her personality, is me imagining, what she would have been like at Anne's age"
Bringing Anne to life is actor Brenda Song who Braly said was a dream come true. "We auditioned countless actresses Brenda, the minute she read some of her lines, she embodied the character to me. She had this effortless charm to her, some confidence but also some vulnerability. She's so funny. Brenda's a natural comedian."
Braly attributes the choice of frogs as somewhat subconscious, his father had massive frog collection in the house but also purposeful, as Braly, chose frogs because of the significant changes they go through from tad pool to full grown adult as symbolic to the change that Anne goes throughout the series.
The series which has already been renewed for a second season ahead of its premiere is both a huge relief to Braly as well as confidence from the Studio to allow him to continue his vision for this world. "We're gearing up for full production, it can be overwhelming and there's this combined excitement for the premiere that's impending, all these things are a lot to juggle but ultimately I'm so grateful to continue this great story we have planned for these characters"
Representation was also very important to Braly, while it was not the singular focus of the series, it was an opportunity that he could not ignore. "There wasn't anyone like me on screen, but when it came to South East Asian representation it was pretty barren. I used to watch Mortal Kombat all the time and it was set in Thailand, and I was desperate as a kid to see someone like me on screen. There's these little moments, where Anne's heritage does come through in flashbacks, there's a scene where Anne's mom yells back at her in Thai. Though the show is not expressly about Anne being Thai, Anne being Thai is very much a part of the show."
Visually, Braly, and his art team, including his art director, and, good friend, Ian Worrel, drew from 80's fantasy films such as The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth and Rankin Bass's 1977 animated version of The Hobbit as well as Braly's love of Japanese role playing games as their aesthetic to pay homage to his childhood. Braly chose to go with hand drawn animation going with three South Korean studios, Searom, SMIP (Sunmin Image Pictures) and Rough Draft Korea "It would have felt strange to me if the animation was incredibly polished. It helped connect the show to Disney's hand drawn roots." Braly said
While Braly set the tone as an action adventure comedy, his biggest goal was to have the show focus on change and the heart between the frog family, Anne, eventually will call as her own. The family includes Sprig Plantar, his younger sister Polly, a young polloyway and grandfather, Hop Pop, a cantankerous old Bilbo Baggins type frog. "All these characters bring something specific out of Anne. Sprig specifically. The core relationship is Anne and Spig. Sprig will be the catalyst for Anne's change. He is the friend, she never knew she needed. He's kind and supportive and love life. It might her first true friendship" Braly said.
World building was very important to Braly, who wanted the world to feel lived in and its own character. Set in the town of Wartwood, where the residents ride giant snails, use hallowed out trees as homes, use a type of underwater freeway and where dangerous, dragon type creatures, are reminiscent of hares. "Amphibia is a Medieval, crunchy, gritty, place. They don't have electricity, they live harmoniously with nature. For example, the light sources, are bio luminescent mushrooms. There's a little bit of an environmental bend to this world"
A fantastic world is nothing without equally compelling characters, and Braly says that Amphibia has that in abundance. From Wartwood's corrupt mayor, Mayor Toadstool to One-eyed Wally, the accordion playing town vagrant, Mrs. Croaker, who Braly likened to a cat lady trope but with spiders and a vast assortment of a rogues gallery throughout the season.
In bringing those characters to life, Braly was delighted to assemble a wonderful cast of actors to inhabit all of those personalities, including Stephen Root (Mayor Toadstool), Jack McBrayer (Toadie), Tony Hale (Apothecary Gary) and even former figure skater, Tara Lipinski, as a talent judge.
This show is a passion project for Braly who has immersed himself in this world and is hoping viewers will come along for the ride and stick around. "The show is about change, it's about finding your best self in a unfamiliar environment" Braly said.
Amphibia premieres June 17 on the Disney Channel, where after the premiere, will air daily throughout the summer.
"Please enjoy the idea, that Anne, over the course of the season, grows closer and closer to these characters and this world. You really feel a progression if you watch the episodes in order. This show is about finding yourself in a strange environment and I truly believe that at the end of the first season, Anne has achieved just that."