Marvel has been dominating pop culture for 15 years, but it arguably wouldn’t be as strong a brand if it didn’t have its animation slate. Cartoons like X-Men and Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes have helped define Marvel in the eyes of viewers. But for the last several years, many Marvel cartoons have focused on established or then-upcoming MCU heavy hitters in an effort to remind young audiences of their favourite cinematic superheroes through shows like Marvel’s Spider-Man and What If…?.
Moon Girl & Devil Dinosaur, which premieres February 10, breaks away from the trend of the more recent animated Marvel outings. It’s the first “original” Marvel cartoon in years, in the sense that it isn’t releasing ahead of any cinematic plans for the title characters (at least, that we currently know of) and is allowed to stand as its own thing. Not that it ultimately matters: on its own terms, the new Marvel cartoon is really good and a nice burst of fresh air for Marvel’s animation slate. With a striking art style and a delightfully fun energy, the show has the potential to hit it off with audiences and introduce them to a new hero that really thrives in the specific realm of animation.
Based on the comics of the same name by Amy Reeder, Brandon Montclare, and Natacha Bustos, Moon Girl & Devil Dinosaur focuses on New York teen Lunella Lafayette. Billed as the smartest person in the world, Lunella takes it upon herself to come up with a solution for a series of power blackouts affecting her neighbourhood, and family in particular, and accidentally opens up a portal that brings a giant red T.Rex to the modern day. After bonding with the T.Rex, named Devil, Lunella opts to use the dino to become a superhero dynamic duo and fight crime.
Ahead of the show’s premiere, Gizmodo talked with executive producer Steve Loter and supervising producer Rodney Clouden, along with cast members Diamond White (Lunella/Moon Girl), Fred Tatasciore (Devil Dinosaur), Gary Anthony Williams (Pops Lafayette), and Libe Barer (Casey).
Justin Carter, Gizmodo: Diamond, how did your assumptions about Lunella when you first got the role compare to actually voicing her throughout the first season?
Diamond White: At first, I thought that Lunella would be like a lot of superheroes, all-powerful and undefeatable. But after seeing that she was just a 13-year-old girl who’s insecure about things in life just like everyone else, I found her endearing. That’s ultimately what drew me to the character — even with her genius and Devil, she’s still relatable and real.
Gizmodo: Fred, you’ve played so many Marvel characters throughout the years, such as the Hulk and Beast. What was the process like for bringing Devil to life, since he doesn’t communicate like everyone else?
Tatasciore: It’s been a fun, artistic challenge, because it’s all about sounds and spirit. I have a sense of what the line is, we come in with the traditional dinosaur sounds, and try to soften him up without going too far. That way, he ends up having an emotional language with Lunella. It’s been fun to do “Lunella, I’m really worried about you!” to [dinosaur growls] and being able to bring some emotion to that tone. It’s been a really fun marriage for me, doing it this way.
Gizmodo: Diamond and Fred, what was it like forming the dynamic between the two, particularly since a lot of it is based on visuals or Lunella having to interpret Devil’s grunts or growls?
Tatasciore: The relationship between Lunella and Devil has been built on huge trust. He’s dedicated to her because he loved that she was able to interpret his grunts and growls so easily. That was love, and it’s why he’s so loyal to her as a family member. That, and hot dogs.
White: Definitely hot dogs. [laughs]
Gizmodo: Gary, you’ve been around the voice acting block for years, but I think the characters you’re best known for have been pretty larger than life. Does Pops feel more grounded than those previous roles you’ve done?
Gary Anthony Williams: Pops definitely does, but what I love about him is the whole [Lafayette] family connection. Compared to some of the roles I’ve done, where it’s just some weirdo character, it’s been fun to embrace that whole family’s love and acceptance. He has his wild times, believe me, but when it comes to it, his core of loving and caring for his family is great.
Gizmodo: Casey is Lunella’s best friend and created specifically for the show. For their relationship, Libe, what did you two draw on to make their friendship feel authentic, or was it something that just clicked for you both right away?
Libe Barer: From the beginning, the creators wanted to make Casey and Lunella’s friendship feel as real and authentic as possible, so they had Diamond and I record together. They wanted us to play and riff off each other. And they also wanted it to feel messy, like a sort of “PEN15 for cartoons” relationship, which I very much had in middle school.
So when Diamond and I got in the booth together, it felt really special. Sometimes, we’d stumble over things, and those real awkward 13-year-old moments came out. And also, Diamond and I just get along, so it was fun! There’s a lot of friendship in love there for both us and Lunella and Casey.
Gizmodo: Lunella is a character who’s pretty young, which means she relies on her friends and family more than if she were an adult superhero. What has it been like for you both to play these two key members of her inner circle, and what was it about your characters that you were really able to work with?
Williams: For Pops, I got a lot out of the family connection. I come from a huge family; I have six sisters, two brothers, and cousins are family, to me. So the show really making this about family, which then becomes community? It’s what drew me to Pops, there’s true love in the Lafayette family.
Barer: It’s the same thing for me. I have a big Mexican and Jewish family, and that’s so important to both sides of my culture. And I also think that another important family is your chosen family. People talk about that being more of a thing as you get older, but I think that as kids, you make some of those key friend-family connections. I know it was like that for me growing up, where some of my real life best friends are still my some of my best friends from high school. They’re truly friend-family to me, and I loved getting to create that friend-family dynamic with Lunella and Casey.
Gizmodo: For Rodney and Steve, the Marvel cartoons that came before Moon Girl were all pretty connected right from the start, but this show exists in its own world. There are Avengers, but it’s not clear who those Avengers even are. Was having that freedom something you envisioned from the start, and how did that affected the villains and characters you were allowed to use?
Rodney Clouden: We’re really getting the latitude to make these characters our own, in terms of bringing it to our style, and making them a little bit more funky. It makes it a lot more fun, and Marvel’s been a great partner in terms of letting us play around with their legacy.
Steve Loter: Marvel’s been an amazing collaborator on the series, and we’re all fans of the MCU. We consider Moon Girl to be “complementary” to that universe — you’ll see characters from the films appear. But you’ll also see a lot of deep cuts, characters from the comics who’ve never made it to film, TV, or any other medium before. It’s been great to be able to bring all these kinds of characters to life.
We start out in the first few episodes establishing Lunella Lafayette and her world, and making her the central part of it. But as the series goes on, we bring in more Marvel elements to enhance the story.
Gizmodo: Steve, you’ve been in the animation industry for years and worked on shows like American Dragon and Kim Possible. What did you bring over from your time on those shows over to Moon Girl?
Loter: I’ve worked on a lot of shows, but something that’s been consistent is my love of music. I’m a music collector and a music nerd in my free time. So to be able to do a show where the music’s so infused in the visuals, and the action, and the writing is just so special to me. I feel like animators are all music video directors at heart, so for me the music feels unique in this show compared to other things that I’ve done in the past.
Gizmodo: Lunella’s coming to the wider world as Marvel’s put a spotlight on Black characters, particularly those in the STEM field like Shuri and Riri Williams. How do you think Lunella adds to that larger legacy?
Clouden: With this show, Lunella’s appearance creates more visibility and inclusivity in terms of seeing Black girls in the science field and STEM. You don’t always get to see that, so providing a character like her who can inspire young Black children is important to see.
Loter: Lunella Lafayette is the first African American teen superhero in the Marvel universe who’s been in animated form like this. It’s a really important moment, and we’re just hoping that the audience loves her as much as we do.
Moon Girl & Devil Dinosaur premieres February 10 on Disney Channel, followed by its arrival on Disney+ beginning February 15.
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