On the new spin-off of Cartoon Network’s Emmy, GLAAD and NAACP Image Award-nominated ‘Craig of the Creek,’ Craig’s little sister Jessica is always on a quest to get ‘big’ and take on the world, with her friends, even if she does suck her thumb… sometimes; show debuts on CN today, October 2, streaming October 7 on Max.
For five years, Craig has been king of the creek. But now, it’s Jessica’s world, and we’re all just living in it.
Jessica’s Big Little World, a spin-off of the Emmy, GLAAD, and NAACP Image Award-nominated series Craig of the Creek from Cartoon Network Studios, centers on the adventures of Craig’s resilient little sister Jessica, a kid with a big imagination (who hates being called little). With the help of her friends, imaginary and real, Jessica sets off on her quest to become big and take on the world, even if she still does suck her thumb… sometimes.
The 2D animated series, full of poppin’ pinks and purples, debuts on Cartoon Network Monday, October 2 and will stream Saturday, October 7 on Max.
“Something that I would always point to in the Craig of the Creek pilot that helped launch my headspace for Jessica is this beautiful moment where she's trying to put away her clothes and is saying to herself, ‘Shoes go in the cubby, and coats goes in the closet,’ and then Craig zooms by and ruins it,” explains Tiffany Ford, showrunner, executive producer and co-creator on the new series with Matt Burnett and Ben Levin. “Every time we check in with Jessica through that episode, she's putting her jacket back on the hanger. This is what helped inspire the sense of who this resilient person is.”
Reprising their roles from Craig of the Creek, Jessica’s Big Little World stars Lucia Cunningham (Jessica), Philip Solomon (Craig), Phil LaMarr (Bernard), and Kimberly Hebert Gregory (mom Nicole). They are joined by Alani Ilongwe (Small Uncle), Byron Marc Newsome (Duane), and Ozioma Akagha (Big Jessica).
“It’s really cool for the spotlight to be on Jessica this time, because I feel a real connection with her,” shares Cunningham. “She reminds me a lot of myself and my sister.”
While many kids’ animated series are finding new and innovative ways to tackle hot-button or more sensitive subjects with kids, especially those who are coming of age, child voice actor Cunningham says Jessica’s Big Little World is a fun change of pace.
“Other shows, especially for older kids, bring up topics that are more serious, but this show brings up topics that are not serious at all, Jessica just makes them feel like they're serious,” notes the actor. “When talking about her bedtime routine, brushing teeth, going to the bathroom, she’s like, ‘I'm going to accomplish my goal of doing my bedtime routine! It’s going to be hard. It will be difficult. But I'm going to do it!’”
Ford, a mother herself, says it’s a stage of life she can currently connect with through her now toddler-age son. While Ford’s child was too young during production to inspire episode content, she says working on the show has taught her plenty about being a parent.
“It did inspire me to be kinder and communicate some things better to my son, who I hope can see me as a friend even as I parent, because of my experience on this show,” says Ford. “My co-creators Matt and Ben are also two of my parent role models.”
Craig of the Creek creators Burnett and Levin, also executive producers on Jessica’s Big Little World, have worked with Ford for over 10 years, with her being the very first storyboard artist they hired on the original series.
“The first episode she worked on was called ‘Jessica Goes to the Creek,’ where we were trying to understand who Craig's little sister was,” remembers Levin. “Tiffany really ran with it and created this fully fledged character out of someone who only had a few lines in the pilot. Throughout the remaining seasons of the show, Tiffany continued to grow the canon of Jessica and Lucia, doing the voice, inspired different ways of how to write Jessica. And the character became a favorite of ours, of the network, the studio, and fans, so we were approached with this opportunity to do a Jessica spin-off for preschool.”
Burnett’s two daughters also served as inspiration for different plot points in the series.
“Matt shared this really funny story about his daughter coming to them in the middle of the night with this crazy outburst, totally out of left field,” shares Ford. “She just had this important thing to say. I don’t remember exactly what it was. But this outburst inspired a moment later in a future episode.”
Burnett adds, “There’s been a lot of late-night outbursts. Including last night.”
The animation on Jessica’s Big Little World differs from Craig of the Creek in its cotton-candy wonderland-type aesthetic, in contrast to Craig’s more mud-stained, cartoony illustrative world. And it wasn’t just changed for the sake of a fresh look, but in order to help audiences see the world through Jessica’s eyes and how two siblings from the same family, living in the same home, can still see the world so differently.
“Jessica’s Big Little World and Craig of the Creek shared a lot of the same design team, in particular, our art director, Benjamin Anders, and our designers Nicholas Winn and Santino Lascano,” says Ford. “They were key influential voices on the design look of Craig and came over to do the Jessica show with the mindfulness that Craig's magical, special space is the creek while Jessica’s is her home; and we are living in Jessica’s world this time around.”
On top of Ford’s series highlighting Craig’s and Bernard’s older-brother roles in Jessica’s life (rather than just having a rambunctious Craig zooming out the door to get out of the house), the show also spends more time with Jessica’s parents Duane and Nicole.
“We're trying to, in the littlest ways, reflect what it's like to be a parent and not be perfect trying to figure it out,” says Levin, of the series’ subplot. “My son was around Jessica’s age at the time of us making it and it was fun to draw upon the little trials and tribulations you have and use that as the basis for a story. We tried to make the parents also feel realistic.”
Though Jessica’s Big Little World’s target audience can absorb lessons of ambition, perseverance, and individuality, parents can garner some life lessons watching the series as well. The creators admit they’ve certainly been enlightened.
“It helped me recognize the things kids do differently and the importance that they put on the everyday aspects of their lives,” says Burnett. “As a parent, you're sometimes so focused on things like taking a trip to the beach with your kids, but it's the everyday moments that occupy the most of their mind, and it's important to live in those moments.”
Levin, Burnett, and Ford note it’s been an exciting and educational journey telling more stories in this world and they are excited to expand the Craig of the Creek fanbase to a new generation. And Cunningham can’t wait to “binge all the episodes.”
“I never expected anything like this to happen,” she says, reflecting on her many years with Jessica. “I'm so grateful that I got the chance to do this. Thank you, Tiffany, Matt, and Ben. It wouldn't have happened without you. Thank you for picking me all those years ago.”