Spidey and His Amazing Friends EP Discusses Adapting Spider-Man's Web-Slinging Adventures for Preschoolers
Brandon Zachary
Spidey and his Amazing Friends 1
Spidey and his Amazing Friends 1
Since Spider-Man debuted in 1962, he's proven to be one of Marvel's most popular superheroes. Adapted into numerous forms over the years, Spider-Man has been reimagined for a wide range of fans. Now, Spider-Man is slinging webs for a pre-school audience in Disney Junior's Marvel's Spidey and His Amazing Friends. Ahead of the show's Aug. 6 premiere, Executive Producer Harrison Wilcox discussed the show's characters, the versatility of Spider-Man, and the importance of crafting engaging characters for younger audiences.
Previously, Wilcox has served as a major creative on numerous Marvel animated projects, including Ultimate Spider-Man, Hulk: Agents of S.M.A.S.H, and Guardians of the Galaxy. "It's funny because I started out as a Marvel fan watching animated series," Wilcox shared. "I watched the '90s X-Men, the '90s Spider-Man, that sort of thing, and that was my entry point into Marvel. I was writing comics for Marvel when they offered me the job to come onboard for animation, and I took that as an opportunity to bring in the next generation of fans."
Spidey and his Amazing Friends 4
Spidey and his Amazing Friends 4
Spidey and His Amazing Friends is the first Marvel production designed for Disney Junior -- which caters to younger audiences. Wilcox discussed the show's greater significance for him, stating, "I have preschooler-aged kids of my own. So I thought,  man, this is just the perfect opportunity to bring in the next youngest version of Marvel fans. And so, I have both aspects of I want to make this for my kids, I want this to be a show that my kids want to watch, and I also, as a lifelong fan, want it to be a show that I want to watch with my kids, too."
Making Disney Junior's first Marvel production centered around Spider-Man was an obvious decision for Wilcox. "Spidey is the original kid superhero," he said. "He was a perfect fit for this storytelling. If you look way back in the comics, those stories were about fun adventure and a sense of wonder, and that's what we have been able to do on this series." The series embraces a CG-art design/style, which Wilcox reveals was actually a benefit. "CG allows a lot more dynamic camera work," he said. "When you have either characters that are jumping and spinning and swinging, and doing all those things, and you have those guest star Avengers along for the ride, too, and the villains, you can have some really fantastic camera work and visual storytelling going on that you just can't do with 2D animation."
One of the most exciting elements of Spidey and His Amazing Friends is that the show doesn't just focus on Peter Parker. Instead, the young version of Spider-Man will be joined by his fellow heroes Miles Morales and Gwen Stacy, with the trio developing a unique rapport as friends. Speaking about the process of making each of them stand out on their own, Wilcox explained, "They are a superhero team and they all have the shared skills as Spider Heroes, but they also have unique skills, too, as individuals. Miles is a bit younger. He's an artist, and we reflect that in the casting. Jakari Fraser who does the voice of Miles is a little bit younger than Ben Valic and Lily Sanfelippo."
"Gwen is the detective and the musician, and Peter is the scientist, and that's something that helped us in the writer's room to find them as individuals," he added. "Miles is the art major, Gwen is the history major, with detective stuff, and the music history and Peter is the science major. One's always looking in the past, detective-wise, what happened. One is looking at the future, Peter sort of picking up the boy of tomorrow with his science stuff."
Wilcox continued, "And Miles, as the youngest, just living and enjoying the moment that they are in together right now. That was the approach that we took. How do we make these kids feel like well-rounded individuals in their own right? I think, especially for a young audience, not getting caught up in the overly complex backstories... We simplify all that for the viewers on the screen, for kids, but that is what we did in the writer's room for ourselves to make sure we were being true to those characters in the stories we were coming up with."
The series will also feature other Marvel heroes like their friends Black Panther, Ms. Marvel, and the Hulk, as well as some major villains, which include Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus. Reflecting on how they chose which characters to utilize, Wilcox admitted, "It's hard. Because there are so many characters to choose from, Avengers heroes and Spider-Man villains. But for both of those, we looked at what gives us the most storytelling opportunities, and that's having characters with different personalities, motivations, and powers, just for the physicality of the action."
"We tried to pick characters that work that way and give us the most storytelling opportunities," he added. "[Hulk's] the lovable, fun one. Black Panther can be a little serious and he has a lot of responsibility that relates to our themes. And Ms. Marvel, she's the closest in age to our core three, and she's just the most fun character we have in on the action.. with the villains, we wanted the ones that have distinct motivations and powers as well."
Spidey and his Amazing Friends 2
Spidey and his Amazing Friends 2
"We wanted them to be relatable to our heroes. We wanted Doc Ock to be someone who's trying to rule the city. We wanted Rhino to be a character that likes to take things that don't belong to him. And Goblin likes to ruin other people's fun. And those themed things that our kids, our audiences would probably understand and maybe even encounter themselves on the playground. We wanted to understand and have them be able to see how to respond appropriately to that sort of bad behavior."
After spending quite some time on Marvel characters across various adaptations, Wilcox discussed why Marvel's characters have proven so enduring and adaptable. "I think that they always come from a place that's relatable," he shared. "There's a character for everyone. Every comic book fan has a favorite Marvel character and can tell you for a long time why that's their favorite character. Mine was Iceman because he's someone who has this great potential but doesn't seem to be able to live up to it, and that related to me when I was younger and having trouble in school. Everyone has a character that makes sense to them."
"Marvel also has this very dynamic world," Wilcox added. "It always feels like all these characters live in a real-world that reflects our world. And I think that just, for some reason, has always resonated with audiences... We always bring it back on this series to the friendly neighborhood. What does this mean to our characters, to their families, and to the neighborhood they live in? If we're telling a story about Goblin creating a device that changes the weather, it makes it snow in the summer, what does that mean for [the] flowers that Peter is trying to take care of? We always bring it back to something that is relatable to our audience and the families of our audience."
Check out a clip of the upcoming Marvel series below.
Spidey and His Amazing Friends premieres Friday, Aug. 6 with a simulcast on Disney Channel and Disney Junior at 9 a.m. EDT/PDT.