Skylanders Academy Showrunner Responds to Crash Getting a Voice, Talks Season 2, and More
Q&A: We speak with Eric Rogers about giving a voice to Crash and more.
The new Skylanders Academy Netflix showed debuted at the end of October, becoming the streaming site's first original show based on a video game. One of the biggest pieces of news around Season 1 is that Crash Bandicoot is in the show--and he talks. In the game series, Crash is historically mute, so this was a big event--and not everyone loved Crash's voice.
GameSpot recently had the opportunity to speak with Academy's showrunner, Futurama writing veteran Eric Rogers, who discussed giving the character a voice and a lot more.
Also in our interview, Rogers discusses the reaction to the show so far, plans for the already-confirmed Season 2, assembling the show's all-star voice lineup, and a lot more.
Our full interview with Rogers follows below. All 12 episodes of Skylanders Academy are available to stream right now on Netflix. Season 2 is slated to premiere in 2017.
One of the biggest reveals so far is that Crash is in the show and he talks. He's historically mute in the games, so how did you go about giving voice to the character?
It was a pretty simple approach of taking what we knew about Crash--which is mostly action-oriented from his game lore--and trying to apply that to what was best for his particular story and his short stay in the Skylanders universe. We wanted him to be fun and gung-ho and engage viewers in the same way he delighted players of the game. And he has an Australian accent because he is a bandicoot from the Wumpa Islands off of Australia.
I'm not sure if I have this right, but are you the one who voices him--what was that like?
Busted! I haven't divulged this info anywhere yet because, well, I didn't know if I could! But I guess the proverbial bandicoot is out of the bag now.
It was great fun voicing such an iconic character, but I never set out to be the one to play the role. My role as showrunner was always to write the best possible version of the character, along with my co-writer on that script, Brittany Flores. When it came time to record, I voiced Crash with a scratch track, thinking nothing further of the process. A short time after, my creative partners asked me to voice the role full-stop. I tried to talk them out of it! But it was very flattering that they valued my performance enough to really give it a go for the two episodes Crash appears in, so I dove in head-first and didn't look back.
I used to act in high school and college, so the performance side of it wasn't too daunting--I always know how I want my characters to sound when I'm writing them on the page--but the Aussie accent was the biggest challenge. And luckily, I've been married to an Australian for the past 16 years, so some of that Australian inflection and cadence seeped into my brain at some point. I know there's been a bit of backlash about the accent... but my hope is that Australia still lets me into their country despite any criticism anyone might have.
The reaction to his voice has been mixed. How much have you read into that?
I knew there'd be varied opinions on not only Crash speaking, but his accent as well. Luckily, I've been writing long enough to realize that not everyone is going to love everything you do. We had a great time bringing Crash to the screen, and appreciate that viewers who grew up playing the game and loved Crash were able to see the character with a new perspective!
Is there a reason why you didn't want to play up the fact that Crash was in the show before the season premiered in October?
I didn't want to distract from the series as a whole getting the attention we all want it to receive. It was never about me playing Crash, and I didn't want any of my own horn-tooting about his appearance to distract from the buzz around the entire series. And I thought there was enough pre-release hype about Crash appearing in the show anyway, so I didn't think I needed to add anything more to that.
I know Netflix doesn't get into specifics about viewership numbers, but how has the reception been to Academy so far, a few weeks since you debuted? What are some of the pieces of feedback you've received?
Everything I've heard thus far is that the Netflix brass is very pleased! The show has been featured quite prominently on the service since the launch, even for people who don’t normally watch programming aimed at younger demographics. I'll take that as a sign that we did our job and then some. Plus the fans on Twitter have been absolutely awesome--very kind and effusive with their praise for the show in so many ways. It's been incredibly humbling and I'm honored to see that what we set out to do is working quite well.
The show seems to be aimed at a younger audience--but naturally some parents might watch as well alongside their kids. Are there jokes and things in the show for them as well?
Heck yeah! I wrote on Futurama so my comedy background is rooted in material that plays to an older audience than what our show's audience might be. And I think that was a big selling point for our co-presidents and executive producers when they were looking for someone to bring this show to life--they wanted a style of humor that could play to a kid's older siblings or their parents. We set out to give them comedy that they can appreciate and enjoy, even if the youngster watching with them might not get what the joke or gag is.
Season 1 has a really strong voice cast with some big names--how did that all come together? Why did you decide to recruit people like Norm McDonald and Jonathan Banks if it's a show for kids who might not recognize their voices? Or is a good voice just a good voice?
Honestly, it just started with a wishlist for each character, and we were extremely fortunate to get the names we wanted for every part. They are all fantastic actors with distinct voices, and that's how we approached a lot of our casting--who has a great voice? Who seems like a natural fit with the look of the character they're playing? And would they be interested in helping us bring this amazing universe to life? Luckily, all of this amazing talent decided to play ball with us and the result has been just fantastic.
"We will for sure add a few new characters, particularly a few fan-favorites" -- Rogers on what's new for Skylanders Academy Season 2
Netflix and Activision have said Season 2 is coming next year. What can we expect in terms of story, and will you add more characters?
We will for sure add a few new characters, particularly a few fan favorites. We are also diving deeper into the mythology of the universe we've created thus far, and we'll start to tie together some characters and their histories in some pretty surprising ways. Season 2 really gets things humming along for every major player in our universe. Like any great serialized show, we've made sure that every episode leads you to wanting to see what happens next. It's been good fun making that all come together.
Generally speaking, how do you walk that line of honoring the game and also doing what you know works in a TV sense? Not everything will translate, I'd imagine.
Our goal from day one has been to make sure anyone who already knows and loves the game will love what we've done with the characters and universe. But we also wanted to bring enough new material and mythology to this world that it deepens what anyone might already know--or think they know--about the Skylanders world. One of the things that appealed to me so much about Skylanders is that the game--beyond the amazing look of the world and the characters, and their catchphrases--left so much open for us to interpret and to make our own for the series. So it was a lot of fun diving in and creating deep backstories for all the characters, using what we wanted or needed from the game, and then making up the rest from there in a way that was unexpected and funny. A great example of this is the link between Pop Fizz and Wolfgang in the episode "Pop Rocks," where we establish that Pop and Wolfgang were once a successful folk duo called "Pop and the Gang" before they became hero and villain.
What's it been like working with Activision on this project? Specifically the dynamic of working within the confines of the game's universe and how much freedom you're afford to deviate and expand? I know Academy has some characters not in the games after all.
"We live in a completely crazy, unpredictable world and values are more important than ever" -- Rogers
Working with Activision Blizzard Studios has been flat-out awesome. They've been extremely supportive every step of the way and have allowed me to have a tremendous amount of freedom to interpret the Skylanders universe in the best manner for TV. We do our best to try and always use characters and settings from the game's lore, but sometimes we find ourselves in situations where we need to create a character or setting for the sake of comedy. For example, we created the Skylanders Temp Agency in "My Way or the Sky Way," when Kaos finds himself trying to find a job for the first time and sits in the agency's waiting room with the Old Wizard who is fretting about whether or not to lie about his age on his resume because as he believes, "age-ism is a real thing!"
It seems like one of the themes of Season 1 is togetherness and teamwork--those are nice, wholesome things. How much do you think about values like that for this show? It's not exactly the same as what you seemed to be after for Futurama.
I think for a show aimed at a younger audience, it's never a bad thing to impart any sort of values over 22 minutes of entertainment. We live in a completely crazy, unpredictable world and values are more important than ever. If a kid happens to learn something valuable that they can apply to their life while watching this show, then it is fantastic. It's not our number one goal to teach anyone anything, but if we can build stories that work thematically in that way, then it's icing on the cake.
Going back to Futurama--what did you take from your experiences working on that show and The Simpsons too that was useful when working on Skylanders?
Everything I know as a showrunner I learned from [The Simpsons writer David X. Cohen]. Sitting in a writers room with him for several years was just the best training anyone could dream of, and you can't put a price tag on it. And then to also have the exposure to comedy writing talents such Ken Keeler and Josh Weinstein... all of those writers on Futurama made me who I am right now. Not to mention having a legend of animation like Matt Groening hanging out with you every day and imparting his experience on what we see on the screen, what works visually, what doesn't, what he's learned making animation history the last 30 years, etc. Seriously, you can't buy what I was exposed to in those rooms. I owe every writer I worked with on that show a huge debt of gratitude. And a trip to Taco Bell. My treat. I'm a giver.
How far into the future are you thinking for Academy?
Oh Lord.... can I just get through Season 2 first?! Seriously, I have some big sweeping ideas for the future of the show, but as far as the details of what will happen in Season 3 and beyond, I'm just going to let my brain rest for a hot minute, and get through the production of Season 2. I’ll let the bigger ideas I have slowly simmer their way down to the fine print of what we can accomplish in the future, and then take it from there...
Except for my idea that Crash appears in every episode of Season 3 and an all-musical episode told through a sheep's POV. I'll let you know if anyone goes for it.
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