CREATOR’S SPOTLIGHT: A Chat with the Producers of Disney Channel’s “Elena of Avalor” and “Milo Murphy’s Law” – Animation Scoop

CREATOR’S SPOTLIGHT: A Chat with the Producers of Disney Channel’s “Elena of Avalor” and “Milo Murphy’s Law”

Two of Disney Channel’s newest animated series, “Elena of Avalor” and “Milo Murphy’s Law”, recently picked-up Annie Awards nominations. I spoke with “Elena” creator/executive producer Craig Gerber and co-producer/story editor Silvia Olivas, along with “Milo” co-creator and EP Dan Povenmire, about the recognition and the success of their shows:

Jackson: How did you get the news of your Annie nomination?

Silvia Olivas: I got a Tweet. And then my husband started texting me. And I didn’t know (the nomination) was for “A Day To Remember” until I got into the office – and I said “Oh my god, that’s the first one I wrote”, so I was pretty excited about that.

"Elena of Avalor" creative team: Silvia Cardenas Olivas (Hear Writer/Story Editor) and Craig Gerber (Creator, EP)

“Elena of Avalor” creative team: Silvia Cardenas Olivas
(Hear Writer/Story Editor) and Craig Gerber (Creator, EP)

JM: “Sofia The First” has been huge for the last four years on Disney Channel. How did you decide you wanted to do this spin-off series that’s basically in the same universe?

Craig Gerber: I was working on “Sofia” and she comes into contact with all the classic Disney Princesses. I was writing scenes with Belle and Ariel and I was starting to think about the need for a Latina princess since there hadn’t been one. So we started thinking about how we could do one in “Sofia”, but then quickly realized it was a big enough idea for its own series. And since we already had this extended Disney universe I thought it would be cool to create this new princess and this new series in the same universe as “Sofia”.

JM: Have you ever used kids as focus groups for the stories you do?

SO: We do write storybooks for episodes. What we’ll do is write the outline and then turn it into a storybook even before we go to script. Then we go to schools and read the storybook to the kids and see what they like, what they didn’t understand, what resonated with them. A lot times they’ll say “I like her necklace, her belt, her shoes”. And we’re like “yes!”

CG: And we also have our own children, so that’s also a focus group. My boys always ask what story I was working on today, and so I’m forced to pitch them the story in a limited amount of time and I see how they react to it.


JM: The show has only been on for a few months and you already have a second season renewal. That must be a big sigh of relief after all the hard work.

CG: Absolutely. You definitely don’t want to be ‘one and done’ – especially when you have a big, giant story planned. With “Elena” we get to tell the story of this young woman who becomes Crown Princess because she’s not old enough to be Queen. We have a story that will last, hopefully, the length of the show, that goes from her being sworn in as a Crown Princess to her coronation – if she can make it there. So getting a second season was a big part in being able to tell that story.

JM: How important are the songs as far as enhancing your stories?

SO: Extremely important. We look at “Elena” as if every episode is a mini-feature. The music has to be like the songs in the Disney features. They have to push story and character. I’d never written a song in my life and when I began on the show Craig told me that I had to write the lyrics to songs for my episodes. So I had to do the “Day Of The Dead” song, which was crazy, because I wanted it to be so exciting and upbeat. He said, “A happy song about death – are you serious?” But we ended-up writing it together. He’s an Emmy Award-winner for music so it was great to work with him on my first song.

MILO MURPHY'S LAW  - Recording session featuring Dan Povenmire (creator/EP)

MILO MURPHY’S LAW – Recording session featuring Dan Povenmire (creator/EP)

Jackson: “Milo Murphy’s Law” has only been on the air for a couple of months, but you’ve already received an Annie Nomination for Storyboarding? How does that make you feel?

Dan Povenmire: Oh, that’s really great. To me, the Annies are a great thing because that’s your peers – the people who really know what goes into animation. The Emmys is a lot of times, “What’s my kid watching?” or “What do I like watching with my kid?” And the Annies – they look at it with a different criteria. And so that was a great thing to see, and I think it just helps you feel like, “OK – people are watching it, if people are noticing it enough to nominate it.”

JM: Was Weird Al Yankovic in your mind immediately – from the get-go – for Milo?

DP: He was not. I literally always thought of the voice being [“Fish Hooks” creator] Noah Jones’s voice because he has this very, sort of, super positive, optimistic spin on even the worst stuff that’s happening to him. And we auditioned…100-200 really good actors for this. And no matter what we did, they either sounded apologetic – like nervous about it – or they sounded polyana, like they were covering-up some deep inner sadness by saying this sort of thing. And…nobody really felt that way naturally. We thought about having Noah do the voice, but Disney was like, “Noah has his own show to run. We cannot spare him for two hours a week.”

Alex [Hirsch] on “Gravity Falls” had Weird Al in for a voice. And I saw a Twitter post that he had put up with him and Weird Al, and I was like, “Huh – Weird Al.” I’ve met him a couple of times over the years, and I was like, “I wonder what exactly does he sound like if I look at this picture?” And I looked up an interview with him and I looked at the picture, and I was like, “I think that will work” because Weird Al IS, naturally, just this super positive guy. He looks at the bright side of everything, and it doesn’t sound fake coming from him because that’s who he really is. And it’s a very, sort of, subtle performance that he gives but it was really really hard to get it from anybody else. With Al it was very easy…and [the voice] works with this 15-year-old boy.

I was so glad that Alex posted that little video because we’d probably still be looking. And now I just can’t imagine what the show would be like if we hadn’t gotten Al. Plus, we get to have Weird Al Yankovic sing our theme song. How cool is that? That’s really a Bucket List kind of thing.

Jackson Murphy

Jackson Murphy

Jackson Murphy is a movie critic and entertainment columnist. He is the creator of the website, and has made numerous appearances on television and radio.
Jackson Murphy
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