The DreamWorks Animation 3DCG series returns to Hulu and Peacock today, March 29, with new stories about hidden magical creatures hoping to find safe havens and peaceful lives in the human world.
When story editors Tiffany Lo and Ethel Lung worked on Season 1 of DreamWorks Animation’s Abominable and the Invisible City, they noted the experience was like “restoring and remastering” the Chinese legends they’d grown up hearing in their own Asian-American households.
With a story focused on the Abominable (2019) crew exploring the streets of Shanghai to find and safeguard other magical creatures like their beloved Yeti Everest, Lo and Lung took famous (as well as not-so-famous) Chinese folklore characters - such as the dragon-like Nian, the puffy and fun Minticon, and the Golden Gate koi fish - and gave them a modern twist, melding how they always pictured them while growing up with the latest 3D animation capabilities.
In the 10-episode Season 2, which premieres today, March 29 on Hulu and Peacock, even more beasts were added to the mix as the story shifts from Yi and her friends navigating a hidden world of magical creatures to navigating a world where humans know these creatures exist. Yi, Jin, and Peng form a “Creature Brigade” in order to help the mystical beings find safe havens away from prying eyes. And, while some humans have the best of intentions, others do not, and Yi sees that peaceful co-existence will not come easily.
Take a few moments to enjoy the trailer:
“Ethel and I have thought a lot about this and the idea that we’ve really lost touch with true connection, which was unfortunately exacerbated by COVID,” says Lo. “It feels like we all live behind screens now and it’s easy to dehumanize someone, especially someone who disagrees with you, making them ‘other.’ We really wanted to bridge that gap and show that no matter how different we might seem, no matter what ‘group’ we belong to, if we take away our assumptions, our fears, and our preconceived notions about one another, maybe we can find more connection with each other than division.”
It’s a serious task, but the journey has been fun for both women as they get to spend their days with dragons, nine-tailed foxes, and even other-worldly slices of meat.
“Tai Sui was absolutely the favorite to work on,” says Lung. “It’s a chunk of meat that is viewed as a sign of auspiciousness in Chinese culture that connects heaven and earth. So, we made him into a mischievous piece of steak that takes our crew on a crazy time warp ride.”
Giving such personality and wonder to a slice of beef may seem like a tough task, but according to art director Sei Nakashima, the most difficult of this season’s mythical reimaginings was the Yeren, a lesser-known character in Chinese legends who was described as a Big Foot-type creature.
“It's because of how he was described as a human-like character in Chinese folklore, yet we wanted to make him stand out well against human characters,” notes Nakashima. “But I believe it came out so great after many variations. What I actually found helpful was to find the oldest sketches or even scribbles as a starting point of inspiration. It helped me start imagining it as if I was there thousands of years ago when the folklore was made, with no unwanted stereotypes or concealed images. I wanted to make sure that we have creatures that are highly unique, almost as reflections of the wonder of the world.”
He adds, “The friendship and drama between the characters and creatures intensifies even more this season. I hope that people can enjoy some of those emotional scenes crafted with subtleness and tremendous artistic effort. And, hopefully, they notice how even some smallest things are treated with care to bring out the reality.”
Nakashima’s personal favorite magical being to tackle this season was the Qilin. Typically described as a four-legged hoofed dragon, the Qilin is one of the most revered creatures for prosperity in Chinese mythology. Of course, the show had its own take.
“We wanted to play with the theme of coveting by making [the Qilin] obsessively sought after by humans, but added a twist that ultimately makes our characters question why they feel like they need him so much and how that can be used against them,” explains Lung. “I think Qilin was our big challenge. I mean, he is legendary! We had to do him right! So, we thought, what would happen if Qilin shows up and everyone is clamoring to see him in order to get prosperity, but the big twist is that he actually doesn’t bring you hope and prosperity. It’s quite the opposite. We really took a 180 on Qilin.”
Lo also believes that Qilin was one of the most important characters of the season, not necessarily because of his being revered in Chinese culture, but because his character offered a chance to show what truly brings one hope and prosperity.
“At the end of the day, we want the audience to recognize that living in a world without differences is boring and blah, and it’s our differences and diversities, creatures and humans alike, that make the world a truly magical place,” says Lo. “We wanted to bring the same ‘seen and heard’ foundation [from the first season], but this time focusing on the humans. They now are the ones who feel shoved aside. In order to coexist in harmony, both sides’ needs and wants must be addressed. It cannot be one-sided, as we see the consequence of that in this current season.”
But under all these reminders to love thy neighbor and pleadings to not judge a book by its cover, Lung notes the serious pain her community has endured as a result of many casting aside the lessons usually taught in elementary school.
“As Asian Americans, we’re witnessing AAPI hate crimes almost every day as a by-product of this division,” shares Lung. “It is senseless and heartbreaking. Our main goal this season was to address that when something new or different is introduced into our lives, let’s not freak out and shut off. The takeaway is let’s take time to listen, observe and connect, because we can learn and gain so much from those who are ‘different.’ In fact, it can even make our lives better! We hope that people see each other as fellow earthlings that want to exist peacefully on this beautiful planet.”