Dreamworks Animation Madagascar: A Little Wild premieres today (September 7) on Hulu and Peacock. Alex, Marty, Gloria, and Melman return as kids for all-new adventures in the Central Park Zoo.
Inspired by the blockbuster franchise Madagascar, Dreamworks Animation Madagascar: A Little Wild reunites the fun-loving Zoo Crew—Alex, Marty, Melman, and Gloria—as they navigate the Central Park Zoo and the big city.
Last week I had the pleasure of attending a virtual roundtable press day to interview Executive Producers Johanna Stein and Co-Executive Producer Dana Starfield in support of Dreamworks Animation Madagascar: A Little Wild.
One of the unique things about pandemic life is the ability to take our virtual interviews from almost anywhere. I spent much of my week last week outdoors in the Adirondack Park with my family in Lake Placid, NY. That meant my interview was taken in my car in a parking lot, so my Zoom background was space. Johanna commented on my background and how I was interviewing from the moon. There are worse places to be.
On Story Development and Themes
I asked Executive Producers Johanna Stein and Co-Executive Producer Dana Starfield about how they developed the stories they write each episode, whether they think about the lessons and morals of each episode or the adventures the Zoo Crew are going to go on.
Stein said there were themes they talk about, so it can be either story ideas or themes. They have concepts and ideas they include and lots of shows to be made.
“We have a lot of episodes to make, so it's not as though we have, ‘These are the themes we want to hit and we have to nail them all',” Stein said. “We do talk a lot about concept ideas—not so much educational—but more themes.”
Stein elaborated, “What are important themes to us as humans? Not even as parents? Yes. As people who were children? Yes. But as humans. What's an important idea. The idea of acceptance or tenacity or boundaries. What are the important key concepts? We talk about characters and their specific characteristics. How can we lean into Melman's caution? What's a fun way to explore that idea? We also talk about the city of New York and what our experiences in New York, 'cause it's such a great playground.”
“I think something that's actually worked really nicely for us is going around and saying like, ‘This happened to me as a kid, and I'll never forget it and it's traumatized me,' or something that really stood out with us, and we say, ‘Okay, what is the version of that in our story'?” Starfield said.
“Is it, ‘My birthday party got canceled because of the weather.' Well, how does that come out in the story? ‘I went for an audition, and I didn't see anyone who looked like me.' Things like that. How does that manifest itself within our world?” explained Starfield.
“And I think that that's worked really nice because you have these stories that feel very, very real because they are real, that are based in these sort of kid-like feelings but that have this sort of broader social, emotional, and societal sort of challenges to them that lead naturally to the stories. So that's been a really nice way of manifesting some of the stories for us. Even though we are not four animals living in a habitat in the Central Park Zoo, we really do look for those analogs.”
“We make sure that any story has a very kid relatable analog. This is a metaphor for us. Dana was saying, ‘I know what it feels like to get in an argument with my friend. I know exactly what that feels like!' So we're very mindful of as fun and authentic as this story may be. If a kid can't relate to that feeling—if a person can't relate to that feeling—it's not working. So that's our guiding principle,” Stein said.
Expanding the Zoo Crew Universe?
What Animal Would You Add to the Zoo Crew and What Characteristics Would it Have?
“Well, we've sort of gotten our dream. We are growing the universe,” Stein said hesitantly. “So I guess the answer is, ‘We're doing a lot of exciting ones, and because we placed this in our rescue habitat, we've got this kind of ragtag group who are coming in and out from different scenarios and kind of gives a fun aspect.”
“We have talked about different kinds of animals, different sizes to represent the diversity in the animal world because that helps us represent the diversity in the real world. So we have leaned into that idea. So you will be seeing—we'll always have our core four, but they're gonna mix them, our friends…I don't want to give away too much.”
About Dreamworks Animation Madagascar: A Little Wild
Filled with new, original music and dance-worthy songs, the lovable foursome Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, Melman the Giraffe, and Gloria the Hippo steal the show in Dreamworks Animation Madagascar: A Little Wild.
It's an adorable new series filled with fun moments for children yet entertaining enough to hold the interest of parents to watch with them. Even my teens all watched and giggled while my young nephews were enamored with the adventures the Zoo Crew took in the first four episodes we watched before the interview.
Pickles and Dave also sign, which is brilliant. We love the inclusivity of adding ASL to the show. It's powerful yet subtly implemented, an important aspect; we wish more shows would include things like this.
Madagascar: A Little Wild captures the iconic personalities of the four dynamos while showcasing the team as kids residing in their rescue habitat at the Central Park Zoo. They may be small, but like everybody who lands in New York City, the zoo crew has big dreams, and Madagascar: A Little Wild will follow all of their adventures.
From executive producer Johanna Stein (Kung Fu Panda: The Paws of Destiny) and co-executive producer Dana Starfield (Monster High: Welcome to Monster High), Madagascar: A Little Wild features the voices of Tucker Chandler (I Lost My Body) as “Alex,” Amir O’Neil (Mann and Wife) as “Marty,” Shaylin Becton (Fast & Furious: Spy Racers) as “Gloria,” Luke Lowe (Big City Greens) as “Melman,” Jasmine Gatewood (Animal Kingdom) as “Kate” and Eric Petersen (Kirstie) as “Ant’Ney.”
About Johanna Stein
Johanna Stein is an award-winning writer-producer-director-actor whose work has been seen on Amazon, Netflix, Comedy Central, The Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, PBS, BBC, and all over the world. Though her background is in comedy, Johanna has also written about parenting, with columns like this one in the NY Times. Johanna’s bestselling book, “How Not to Calm a Child on a Plane”—a humor book about being a parent—was optioned by Will Arnett as a television pilot for CBS; and her viral video short, “Momhead” was featured in international media including The Today Show, The Doctors, and CNN, and adapted into “JojoHead” for the CW, the first-ever scripted series featured on Instagram’s “Stories.”.
About Dana Starfield
Dana got her start as assistant to Working Title co-chairmen Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner. She attended UCLA’s Professional Program in Screenwriting, and shortly thereafter landed her first studio job, writing Disney’s Beverly Hills Chihuahua 3. She went on to write on several other projects at Disney, including an original musical feature called The Three Mariachis, freelancing on Sofia the First for Disney Channel, helping develop Descendants: Wicked World, and writing an original movie set in the world of K-Pop music for Disney Channel Original Movies.
Dana has since written the feature Welcome to Monster High for Mattel, has written for several series, including Hasbro’s Hanazuki, HBO Kids’ Esme & Roy, and Mattel’s Barbie, and is now the co-executive producer of Madagascar: A Little Wild for Dreamworks Animation.