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How ‘WondLa’s Tiny Details Speak Big About the Story’s Heart

Utilizing a unique approach to music, costume design and character-specific themes that enriches its storytelling, Skydance Animation’s new animated series, based on Tony DiTerlizzi’s best-selling books about a curious, enthusiastic, and spirited teenager raised in an underground bunker by her robot caretaker, debuts today, June 28, on Apple TV+.

It’s heartwarming to learn that for a show so rooted in the idea of finding one’s family, the families of WondLa’s own production team members are so interwoven in the small details of the story. 

“In Season 1, the main character Eva finds her way into this abandoned classroom and there are names of kids on the chairs,” explains Bobs Gannaway, showrunner of Skydance Animation’s new 3DCG-animated series, WondLa, based on the book series from author Tony DiTerlizzi, also known for The Spiderwick Chronicles. “The first name is Tony’s daughter's name, and the second two names are my son and daughter's names. And the final name is that of my son's friend from Cub Scouts.” 

He adds, “Another little detail is also in the first episode, when Eva finds the ripped page that says ‘WondLa’ and turns it over where a note reads, ‘Eva find me.’ Eva is 16-years-old in the story and, since my daughter is 15, I had her write that out. I still have the original note at home.”

WondLa, which releases globally on Apple TV+ Friday, June 28, follows Eva, voiced by Jeanine Mason (Roswell, New Mexico), a curious, enthusiastic and spirited teenager being raised in a state-of-the-art underground bunker by Muthr, a robot caretaker, voiced by Emmy Award nominee Teri Hatcher (Desperate Housewives) who also narrates the audiobook for DiTerlizzi’s series. On her 16th birthday, an attack on Eva’s bunker forces her onto the Earth’s surface, which is now inhabited by aliens, and covered by other-worldly fauna. No other humans are to be found. In fact, it’s no longer called Earth but Orbona. Otto (voiced by Emmy Award winner Brad Garrett from Everybody Loves Raymond), a loveable giant water bear with whom Eva shares telepathic powers, and Rovender (voiced by Gary Anthony Williams from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows), a cantankerous alien with a troubled past, join Eva as she leads the team on a dangerous quest to find humans, her home, and her true destiny.

Executive producers include Gannaway, John Lasseter, David Ellison and Dana Goldberg. Also lending their voices to the cast are Chiké Okonkwo (The Birth of a Nation, La Brea) as Besteel, the greatest hunter in all of Orbona; D.C. Douglas (Sharknado 2: The Second One, Black Ops) as Omnipod, Dynasty Corporation’s sentient hand-held device, issued to every human at the age of six; and Emmy Award nominee Alan Tudyk (Resident Alien) as Cadmus Pryde, founder of Dynasty Corporation.

Check out the trailer and exclusive clip:

“When I started writing the books, my daughter was only two at the time, and I was thinking about how much the world had changed in the 40 years I'd been around, and then was wondering what the world would be like when my daughter turned 40,” shares DiTerlizzi, whose daughter is now 17. “I thought about mankind's reliance on technology and how much it had grown in my short lifetime. And, at the same time, mankind's isolation or departure from the natural world, from the plants and animals we share this planet with. I was also reflecting on some of the people that were in my life that were not my flesh and blood, but who I love just as much as my brother and sister. I was thinking of all these things with no real answers, but it was a story I wanted to explore.”

Apple TV+ evidently feels the same way as the WondLa animated series has already been renewed for a second season ahead of its initial release. 

“Having that commitment from Apple at the beginning was great because it allowed us to go ahead and realize the whole story and vision over all the episodes while making each season satisfying,” says Gannaway. “I've never gotten to do that before. Most of the things I've worked on in the past are very episodic, which can be nice but doing a serialized show was super exciting.”


DiTerlizzi, whose WondLa trilogy book series kicked off with “The Search for WondLa” in 2010, joined the production’s story meetings and art reviews. Gannaway notes that the award-winning author was “very generous with his ability to let us play with his toys.”

“Adaptation is a tricky alchemy,” notes DiTerlizzi, whose series The Spiderwick Chronicles has gone through two very different adaptations, first as a film and now recently as a TV series. “It’s very tough to transmute a book into zeroes and ones. But Bobs, John, David and Dana, and the whole team at Skydance, were very respectful of me as a storyteller and wanted me to be very involved in this production, which is unusual. I was excited to have a front row seat to see how things were made from soup to nuts. I was already a tremendous fan of animation so to have that respect going both ways, I think, really helped make this amazing.”

WondLa is also the first Skydance production to utilize the studio’s brand new Costume Design Department, the first official department of its kind in animation, led by fashion design expert Neysa Bove, who has done costume design for Disney films like Moana, Raya and the Last Dragon, and Encanto

“I would show Neysa my illustrations and inspirations for the book, artists that inspired me, and she would take it and run with it,” says DiTerlizzi.

Gannaway adds, “Animation is such a business of disciplines–lighters, animators, background, vizdev–that we asked ourselves, ‘Why don’t we have a designated costume designer and design department?’ And when it came to Eva’s Dynasty Corporation outfit and as she ventures out into the world and meets different races of aliens and environments, it became more clear that having Neysa there to bring in authentic world patterns and textures was a terrific idea.”

The patterns, fabric, color, and style of a character’s clothing are details that, as Gannaway notes, “can go completely unnoticed.” But they are often what authenticates the world of a story and the cultures represented, whether they are real or fictitious. For Moana, Bove drew from Oceanic heritage; for Encanto it was Latin American culture. But, for WondLa, the challenge was unique. 

“Along with having to stay on top of the progression charts that tracked Eva’s costume wear and any injuries she sustained in the show, there was also the fact that this story doesn’t take place in just one world,” explains Gannaway. “We explore multiple worlds in this season and next season and the rules of costumes weren’t all the same. For example, Episode 5 of this season features an alien queen and we had to decide what alien royalty looked like. But I think Neysa had a blast because working on costumes for this one show was like getting to work on multiple movies.”

The team’s progression charts also tracked hair changes, and the unraveling of Eva’s hair–which begins as a militaristically-tight braid–is a literal and metaphorical illustration of the teenager growing up and embracing her newfound freedom. It’s an important symbol in the story, but it’s also one of the details that was most drastically changed from DiTerlizzi’s books. 

“Eva’s whole character look was very much based on my daughter, and she also had a much more intricate hairstyle,” shares DiTerlizzi. “I loved drawing all those elaborate braids and it’s always fun seeing fans cosplaying as her. And when we were discussing the hair in production for the series, Bobs said, ‘We can animate that, but it’s going to be expensive.’ I didn’t want to blow the whole budget on Eva’s hair, and I knew we could accomplish the same messaging with a simpler hairstyle while making sure we were putting the rest of that budget into the show’s effects and other characters.”

However, there was one non-negotiable when it came to Eva’s hair. 

“I’m not sure how many people reading this have read my books, but there’s a major thing that happens with Eva’s hair and she’s transformed. Her hair changes color and I told Bobs, ‘We have to have that in the show.’ And he was like, ‘We’re going to do it. No problem.’ I know some fans are going to be upset by how different Eva’s hair is in the beginning. But I promise, the important parts of her growth are still there.”

Gannaway shares that the joy of working with Skydance comes from the studio’s can-do attitude when it comes to facing challenges and coming up with creative solutions. 

“Nobody here ever says, ‘No,’” says Gannaway. “They say, ‘Let’s figure it out.’ And that’s lovely to say but harder to do with a project like this because, when Tony was writing the books, he could do anything. He could summon an army with one word. We are much more limited. Muthr’s design is different than Tony’s original design whereas Besteel is very similar to the original concept. But we don’t want to do anything where we can’t give it our all, especially with so many talented people here. That’s why we wanted Tony right there with us in this.”

Joy Ngiaw, WondLa’s composer, also attests to Skydance’s willingness to explore and experiment with the development of their stories. 

“I’m extremely thankful that our filmmakers are so open to hearing and experimenting with new ideas, whether it’s trying out a unique approach to a character theme, layering vocal textures, or experimenting with interesting instrumentation,” says Ngiaw. “By using instruments like African percussion, Southeast Asian mallets, Viking war horns, Mongolian choirs, ethnic flutes, and Amazonian textures, I aimed to capture each group's essence and environment. This approach added a unique sonic identity to each of the story’s tribes, enhancing the viewing experience.”

A musical theme unique to each character is another detail that often goes unnoticed when it fuses so well into the show’s overall score. However, like costumes, a character’s musical theme speaks to their personality and story arc, and often provides an invaluable boost to their journey. 

“For example, one of our main characters, Rovender, is a wanderer from the Cæruleans tribe, so I wanted his theme to have an earthy and grounded tone, which is why I chose an ethnic flute to play his theme,” shares Ngiaw. “Another example is our antagonist, Besteel. He's intimidating and strong, yet possesses some virtue, so I created a sound using the Chinese Er Hu as a base, layering with low Tuvan vocal calls. These thematic elements not only reinforce character identities but also enrich the storytelling experience in WondLa, aligning with the visual evolution seen in animated narratives.”

It makes one wonder what kind of composition and animation viewers will experience during Eva’s big transformation, teased by DiTerlizzi. 

“The goal with this series from day one was, feature quality, elevated look, as well as a picture and a story for all audiences,” says Gannaway. “And I mean that sincerely. I think a lot of people might say that, but we really wanted to make sure that the story worked on multiple levels. Yes, it's a 16-year-old coming of age story, but the themes of family are larger and more complex as we go along and as Eva grows up. She's a teenager who thinks she’s got it all figured out and then gets thrown into this wild world and realizes she knows very little. She's going to grow, evolve and mature. So hopefully the audience is engaged with Eva and is excited about going on the journey with her.”

He continues, “Animation is tough. Why anyone does it is beyond me because it’s so crazy and so labor intensive. But we all love it. Sometimes I’m like, ‘What’s wrong with us?’ But you finish a project and it’s thrilling. Our team rented a theater so we could all watch it on the big screen, and it made us all so excited for the rest of the world to see it.”

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Victoria Davis is a full-time, freelance journalist and part-time Otaku with an affinity for all things anime. She's reported on numerous stories from activist news to entertainment. Find more about her work at