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.

Animation Magazine - - Tv -

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

Kiss­ing ba­bies is a sure way to win fol­low­ers for the star of

Sascha Pal­adino

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