Chris Nee knows what kids want, and, as you can see in her new Netflix show, Ridley Jones, she also has a pretty good idea of what they need from their entertainment, too. This isn’t surprising information considering her background. Prior to helping Ridley Jones get to the small screen, Nee created two other classic kids cartoons: Doc McStuffins and Vampirina and took home Peabody, NAACP, Humanitas, and Emmy awards for those shows.
While the newest hero, Ridley Jones shares some traits of Doc and Vampirina, she’s absolutely her own person. Living inside a treehouse inside a museum, Ridley learns important lessons about inclusivity, working together, and the importance of community. Oh, did we mention that the soundtrack slaps? Because it does. Fatherly had the chance to talk to Chris about the new show, what makes good children’s entertainment, and all those earworms that have your preschooler tapping their proverbial toes.
What’s different about creating a set of kids’ characters for Netflix versus for Disney? I.E. What was different about the creation of Ridley Jones versus Doc McStuffins?
The real difference is me, and everything I know now that I didn’t know then. Ridley takes advantage of the things I learned by making Doc and Vamp. Netflix has been incredibly supportive of my vision.
Speaking of Doc, the show is over, but for some kids, it’s brand new. (My 4-year-old is in love.) So, how do you think about that when creating something new? Do you think: Hey what will kids be thinking about this show in like 10 years? In 20?
If you’re focused on legacy or ratings or reception you’re watching the wrong thing. Your goal is to make a great show, one you’ll be proud of. The reception of it is a whole other thing. Also for animation, because it takes so long, we almost never do topical stuff. It’s one of the reasons the material crosses boundaries easily and lasts a lifetime.
With that in mind, how does the creation of a non-binary character make Ridley Jones different than Doc McStuffins?
Fred was the right character for the right story.
What makes a good kids’ show? It seems like the easy answer is “good characters.” But it’s more than that, right?
A good kids’ show comes from a million right decisions making up a whole. And it’s about channeling a lot of talented people’s energies. It’s good characters, good writers, good actors, good songs, great animation. And at the core there always needs to be something that touches the wish-fulfillment of a kid.
Should we be expecting some earworm songs from Ridley Jones?
I love music. It’s a great play space for me personally. For this series, it does have a Frozen-level soundtrack. I worked with the extraordinary composers Chris Dimond and Michael Kooman again. They were brought through the journey of the show versus only being brought on to compose a song for a one-off episode. Because of this they really got to know the characters in Ridley Jones. They were on their own to create the music and they nailed every song–the series has broadway-esque music.
What’s the most important lesson kids can get from their cartoons?
From Ridley Jones I want the main takeaway to be that it takes a village and we are stronger together. You will see episodes where Ridley believes she can do something by herself, but she can’t. She is never as good as she could be when she works by herself. There’s also a lesson in how we look at people. Kids can learn how to take care of the community that lives right outside our door.
Ridley Jones streams on Netflix. Chris Nee’s next kids’ show is Ada Twist, which hits Netflix on September 28.