Chris Nee’s Journey To “Doc McStuffins”

Cannes Film Festival

Disney Junior

Writer/producer Chris Nee can’t keep still.  While her career began as a writer for children’s programming such as "Blue’s Clues" and "Little Bill" (which earned her an Emmy and Humantis Prize), her itch to travel inspired her to begin producing nonfiction fare such as  "The Real Roseanne Show," Morgan Spurlock’s "30 Days," and "Deadliest Catch."  On location in the Bering Sea, she wrote more children’s programming, discovering her two greatest loves: animation and documentaries, merged nicely on the strangest shores.

 

"There are several kids’ shows that are written in very bizarre locations," said Nee.  "I wrote the first ‘Wonder Pets’ double Christmas special while I was in Alaska doing ‘Deadliest Catch.’  There are some ‘Backyardigans’ episodes that happened while I was living in downtown Vegas.  I don’t know what influences you see in the scripts, but for many years it worked perfectly for me." 

Nee’s latest creation was formulated in the mundane setting of her bathroom shower.  Being the parent of a child suffering from asthma, she noticed there was no content produced that helps demystify a doctor’s office visit.  While thinking about this under the running water, she developed the idea for a show that would make the doctor’s office a friendlier place.  Running out of the shower she wrote down her concept of an upbeat, cheerful six-year-old girl who investigates and diagnosis the ailments of toys and quells their fears through cheerful songs.   After typing a few pages she pitched the show to Disney Junior and "Doc McStuffins" was born.

As executive producer, Nee‘s first task was to find an animation studio.  She focused her attention on Ireland.  In addition to healthy tax incentives, Dublin has developed great infrastructure for animation over the past several years.  Although her initial pitch illustrated the  characters in 2D, the animators at Brown Bag Films spent time modeling three characters in 3D for Nee and her staff to view.  The 3D helped solve the problem of ensuring the toys were not mistaken as animated characters but recognizable as toys.

”A concern for us regarding 3D was the rigging that controls facial expressions.  The rigging had to be almost at a feature level so we could get the acting, especially from Doc, that we needed, and amazingly they just stepped up to the task," said Nee.  “"Brown Bag spends so much time on the texture, you can really feel that sense of whether a toy’s plush or plastic.  You can feel that the toys have been played with because they put scuff marks all over everything. As soon as we saw it, we just said ‘That’s it!’”

With the look of the animation in place, Nee and her team tackled the tricky development challenge of how, exactly, the toys would benefit from Doc’s diagnosis.  Although challenging to translate a medical condition with a toy’s predicament, Nee decided that toys should require a mechanical condition that can be associated to something a child might experience.  Ailments range from a helicopter’s broken blade (a natural association with a broken bone) to a CDC epidemic where multiple toys develop blue spots all over their surfaces.  Doc McStuffins searches for patient zero: her little brother who neglected to wash his hands after using blue finger paint, and makes the correlation between the paint and the ways germs and colds are spread.

 

Because Nee and her staff depict a wide gamut of topics from basic cuts and scrapes to stitches or overnight hospital stays, she has reached out to the medical experts at the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Medical Center.  The center has directed her towards various experts who’ve provided councel on some of the more sensitive medical topics, providing recommendations on how simplistic or complex the material should be for the young viewers.

 

“It wasn’t the same person every time who’s become a sort of TV doctor consultant,” said Nee.  “They would find someone who specializes in (the issue), who spends all their time in that field of the medical profession.  We would have a dialogue with them about what’s the best way for us to represent this, to talk about this, and what do kids need to know.”    

 

To further enhance the issues explained on the show, an online space has been created by Disney Junior featuring various interactive games. “The Doc McStuffins Clinic for Stuffed Animals and Toys” online space includes a waiting area, check up area and play area where children can select, care for and  ensure a toy of their choosing remains in good health, along with games such as “Hallie’s Hunt,” designed to help children identify medical tools.

 

Along with a regular air time on the Disney Junior Channel, “Doc McStuffins” activity sheets and DVDs have been distributed to Disney VoluntEARS – Disney and Disney affiliate employees across the country who donate time to assist with children’s charities – who have arranged screen parties for pediatric centers and local hospitals.  Topics of the screening party episodes include overnight hospital stays, as seen through the eyes of two huggy monkeys who must separate when one loses the Velcro patch on its paw and is required to stay in Doc’s clinic overnight.

 

In addition to the show’s educational content, Nee wanted to ensure that the character of Doc McStuffins would present a positive image and role model to children.  When Nee presented her idea, Disney Junior was looking for a strong African American character to add to their slate, and a smart, confident doctor character fit perfectly into their vision.  While there have been animated children’s series that have presented a lead African American male character, Doc McStuffins is the first African American lead female character, a fact that was surprising even to Nee.

 

“You think in your head, and honestly, I thought to myself as well, ’No, that can’t be’ but at the end of the day it is.  I think it’s going to be a really powerful thing,” said Nee.  “At the TED Conference for Women this past year they talked a lot about ’You can’t be what you don’t see.’  I think that is very true.”   

 

Nee read through a number of studies focusing on the attitudes young children, especially girls, establish towards doctors and scientists during their pre-school years.  She hopes the character of Doc, blending a smart, inquisitive nature, a warm, friendly demeanor, and girlish traits such as the love of stickers and flowers, will appeal to girls and modify some of those pre-existing negative connotations.

 

While her roles as executive producer and writer on the show keeps her rather busy, she’s happy to travel to Ireland, a country she holds a dual citizenship in and where many of her family members still reside.  While she is excited with the prospects of how “Doc McStuffins" can change children’s lives, there is one personal change she hopes she can obtain from the show as well.

 

“I am a total baby when it comes to doctors, so it does make me laugh that I’ve spent the last several years writing about that,” said Nee.  “I may have an ulterior motive that someday I will be able to walk in and say ‘I created Doc McStuffins’ so that they take really good care of me.”

  

To explore the “Doc McStuffins” online site, please click here:

http://disney.go.com/disneyjunior/doc-mcstuffins