Voice from the Top
DreamWorks brings a singular voice to All Hail King Julien, its new Netflix series spun out of the hit Madagascar movies. By Tom McLean.
It’s good to be the king, and it’s ever better to be King Julien, as viewers of DreamWorks Animation’s new series All Hail King Julien found out when the show debuted Dec. 19 exclusively on Netflix.
The series is the second to branch off from the studio’s trilogy of Madagascar movies — the first was The Penguins of Madagascar, which recently spun back to the movie screen — and follows the adventures of the dancecrazed leader of the lemurs.
Executive producer Mitch Watson, who came to the series from such Warner Bros. hits as Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated and Beware the Batman, says DreamWorks already had ideas in mind for the show when he came aboard.
“The main thing they wanted is that connective tissue with the movie,” says Watson, who runs the show with executive producer Bret Haaland. “They didn’t want it to be something that went in a totally different direction, like King Julien in Outer Space.”
That led to the idea of a prequel series, with Julien unexpectedly becoming king of the lemurs in the first episode.
The series features the voices of Henry Winkler as Julien’s regal predecessor, Uncle King Julien; Danny Jacobs as King Julien; Andy Richter as Mort; Kevin Michael Richardson as Maurice; and India de Beaufort as Clover, the king’s special-ops expert.
The chance to play with Julien himself was the key selling point for Watson. “What is it like for this guy, who is essentially like Dudley Moore in Arthur, or Sgt. Bilko, or Peter O’Toole from My Favorite Year?” he says. “He’s one of these myopic characters, who is not malicious in any way but he pretty much just sees what’s right in front of him and he’s very much id. If something interests him, he goes for it 100 percent and it usually just creates problems. So most of the episodes function in that sense, of Julien becoming excited about something or Julien wanting to get involved in something and it leads to horrible mishaps.”
Not the Straight Man
Julien also is — unusually for the lead in a TV comedy series — the funniest character on the show, giving the production room to build up a cast to react against him. Maurice and Mort carried over from the movie and were given expanded roles and backstory.
But the big new addition is Clover, Julien’s overzealous head of security. The impetus for the character came from DreamWorks Television Margie Cohn, who wanted a female character in the show.
Watson says they decided to play against type a bit with Clover. “Traditionally those characters are kind of a wet blanket or they can be a character that’s like, ‘No, Julien, you can’t do that!’” he says. “So we decided we’re going to go in the opposite direction of that and we’re going to create a character that in her own way is as nuts as Julien is, just nuts in a sort of different way.”
Inspired by the crazy vibe of actress Melissa McCarthy, the character went through many iterations before finding one that works, says Watson, with the key moment coming when actress de Beaufort took on the role. “The moment that British accent was married to the character of Clover, we had it,” says Watson. “She became like a crazier version of Emma Peel, and it suddenly worked.”
With the cast set, Watson says the decided to borrow a page from the Madagascar movies and inject a bit of social satire into the mix, and build up a cast of secondary characters to play with.
“Now we little microcosm of society — we don’t want Gilligan’s Island, but we want them to experience thing that happen to people in the real world so there’s some familiarity there,” says Watson.
Playing with Variants
Animation wise, there were limits to the production schedule and budget as to how many unique lemurs they could create. Watson says many of the lemurs are variations on the main model, but are easily differentiated by characterization and performance. “We were fortunate enough to get some great voice talent in there,” he says.
The show also makes extensive use of music. The show has two music executives working on it who are tasked with tracking down at least one original dance or hip hop track for each episode. Watson says sometimes the songs are written into the script; other times they are reviewed at the animatics stage to find a place that fits.
Airing on Netflix has been a good experience for Watson. While the production schedule is faster for Netflix than for TV — Watson came on the show just over a year before it premiered — there’s a lot of creative freedom with plans in place for second and third seasons of the show.
“We’re not dealing with a large volume of notes, which can get a little confusing and you can lose sight of the show,” he says. “In this case the vision is coming from the higher ups at DreamWorks TV.”
There’s nothing quite like real life to inspire creative endeavors — even ones as fantastic as Miles from Tomorrowland, a new Disney Junior animated series debuting in February from creator Sascha Paladino.
“The idea for Miles from Tomorrowland came when I first became a parent,” says Paladino. “Before then, I had a really exciting, fun life with my wife. We traveled a lot and went on a lot of adventures, and when I found out I was going to be a dad — not only that, but to twins — I kind of had this thought, ‘I’m never going to have another adventure again.’”
But Paladino then turned the thought around and wondered: “What’s the greatest adventure you could go on as a family?” His answer: Into outer space. That led to thoughts of a show about a family in outer space as told from a kid’s perspective — the very premise of Miles from Tomorrowland.
“That’s what felt different: the idea of being a kid in outer space and what it would mean to be with your family on this great adventure,” he say. “I pitched the idea shen my boys were 3 months old, and — as a side note — the show will premiere when they’re 5 years old, which is pretty amazing and indicative of how it works.”
Timing is Everything
The pitch came at the right time: Disney was looking for a show about a family and kicked the show into development. And it was during that time that real life stepped in and offered some inspiration when Paladino moved with his family to Ireland to work on Disney’s Henry Hugglemonster series at Brown Bag Studios in Dublin.
“Moving to Europe would have been amazing, but moving to Europe with two little kids was off-the-charts amazing and made it that much more special,” says Paladino. “And that was just by chance, but it infused Miles with the sense that your adventures are even more special when your family is included.”
The final series, produced by Wild Canary in Burbank with animation by DQ Entertainment in India, follows the adventures of Miles Castillo, a boy who lives and works in outer space with his family. His parents — ship captain Phoebe and inventor Leo — work for the Tomorrowland Transit Authority and are charged with connecting the universe physically