10 new episodes of Radford Sechrist and Bill Wolkoff’s post-apocalyptic adventure series reveal long-buried family secrets and newly discovered special abilities, available now on Netflix.
With today’s Season 2 premiere of DreamWorks Animation’s Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts, Netflix once more transports audiences to an oddly whimsical post-apocalyptic Earth, where our young heroine, Kipo, after spending her entire life living in an underground burrow, struggles to survive against the giant (but adorable) animals that rule the surface world.
For executive producer/creator Radford Sechrist (How to Train Your Dragon 2, Penguins of Madagascar) and executive producer/developer Bill Wolkoff (Once Upon a Time, TRON: Uprising), the story of Kipo began roughly six years ago. Back in January, Sechrist shared, “I was working [as a story artist] on How to Train Your Dragon 2 and trying to think of a new comic project to write and draw. I was inspired by shows like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones and wanted to do a dark epic post-apocalyptic tale.” Thus, Kipo was born, debuting as a webcomic in early 2015, and almost immediately being optioned by DreamWorks Animation. Shortly afterwards, Wolkoff came aboard.
In the show’s inaugural season, Kipo saw herself as an ordinary kid, trying to get back to her father and the people of her burrow, hoping she could be safe and ordinary again. Following on the events of Season 1, we learn all is not well on the surface. With the burrow people under evil villain Scarlemagne’s mind control and her father his prisoner, Kipo must quickly learn to master her newly discovered mute abilities in order to save them. As she and her friends split up on a dangerous rescue mission, Kipo unearths mysteries of the past that change everything she thought she knew.
“On her Season 1 journey, she discovered that she is far from ordinary,” Sechrist says. “In Season 2, she quickly realizes it is now up to her, and her surface friends, to keep her people safe! In order to do that she’ll have to master what makes her so extraordinary: her half-mute nature. That path involves uncovering long-buried family secrets, stopping Scarlemagne from remaking the surface as a united mute empire with humans as mindless servants, and karaoke. Lots of karaoke.” Noting Kipo’s new-found abilities and Scarlemagne’s importance to the new season’s storyline, Wolkoff adds, “I’m excited for people to learn more about our villain Scarlemagne and what makes him tick. Also, learning about Kipo’s story and why she’s a mutant.”
Season 2 production was even more hectic than Sechrist expected. “We had to move twice as fast once we hit Season 2,” he explains. “We added one more board team because we were handling three episodes at a time instead of two. So, everything we learned in the first season we had to fly even faster on in Season 2. The speed of production, and doing more episodes at once, has been our greatest challenge.”
Production on the show benefitted from good rapport between the writing staff, the storyboard team and the directors. “From a writing standpoint, we were able to push the bounds of what was creatively possible by inviting episode directors and board teams to become a bigger part of the story breaking process,” Wolkoff says. “Getting them involved before scripts were written and keeping lines of communication open between the two departments when the board artists took over after the script stage, was very effective for us. So, board artists were involved much earlier, and writers continued to be involved much later. That gave us a more diverse tapestry of voices taking ownership of Kipo and molding the show into something that was truly the collective result of our entire amazing crew.”
Both creators concur that producing a series for a streaming platform, releasing an entire season at once, provides them more creative freedom than they’d most likely receive with linear broadcast delivery. According to Wolkoff, “Both Netflix and DreamWorks encouraged us to push the boundaries of what you could depict in a children’s show, which was great for us because we see Kipo as equally for adults. Would broadcast or cable have permitted one of our principal cast members to openly state that he’s gay, and allow him to go goo-goo eyed over a dreamy boy crush? Hard to say. I’d like to think they’ve made progress on that front. My fear is that if we were on broadcast or cable, we wouldn’t have been able to paint a world that mirrors the reality Rad and I know to the extent that we did. But I could be wrong!” Sechrist adds, “I also think we would have gotten pushback on our subject matter.”
Releasing an entire season at once also provided Sechrist and Wolkoff the opportunity to tell a more contiguous, engaging story people can settle in and really enjoy. “I love when shows are one hour and dropped every week, because it gives you time to chat about fan theories online between episodes,” Sechrist says. “22 minutes feels too short for that. However, our 10-episode seasons are almost like one long episode you can watch all at once. It was a conscious decision to write for binge watching.”
Wolkoff appreciates taking advantage of releasing an entire season at once by “writing, directing, and producing fun cliffhanger endings without our audience revolting against us for making them wait a week until finding out what happens next.” He laughs, noting that “the downside is that they would stay up all night and finish the season in one sitting!”
He hopes the large number of viewers who watched Season 1 more than once do the same with the new season, though he realizes that if you’re not dropping a new episode each week, you lose the “water cooler” social discussion dynamic that helps keep a show in people’s thoughts. “How do you keep the show in the cultural conversation when everyone devours it so quickly?” he asks. “That’s hard to do when there aren’t new episodes. To that end, after releasing Season 1, Rad, myself, our writers, and even other members of our crew interacted with fans over social media, which helped to bring new people to the show as they discovered it after launch. I loved finding new reasons to talk about the show, like this past March 26, which is Kipo’s birthday within the show, and (I’d like to imagine) National Appreciate a Parsec Day. You know, because 3.262 is the amount of light years in a parsec. We googled that so you didn’t have to.”
Looking to the show’s future, Wolkoff feels there are many more Kipo stories to tell, concluding, “We’d like to continue Kipo’s journey of realizing that even though the surface is dangerous and full of conflict, especially between mutes and humans, a conflict that has festered for hundreds of years, the way to save the world isn’t by going backward…it’s by learning to embrace the wonderfully unfamiliar changes this new world holds, no matter how scary they seem.”
All 10 half-hour episodes of the second season of DreamWorks Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts premiere today worldwide on Netflix.
Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.