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“Goldie & Bear” Executive Producer/Director Chris Gilligan On Bringing Classic Characters To A New Generation

From talking elephants to head-crushing celebrities, Chris Gilligan has tackled animation challenges of many kinds. He’s worked as an animator (“James and the Giant Peach”), storyboard artist (“Horton Hears a Who”) and supervising director (“Celebrity Deathmatch”). Recently, Gilligan has brought his wealth of talent to Disney Junior’s “Goldie & Bear.” The series picks up after Goldie’s initial introduction to the bears, chronicled in “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” Goldie has befriended Bear, and the two encounter other well-known fairy tale, folk tale and nursery rhyme characters as they engaged in fun adventures. Gilligan, the Executive Producer and Director of “Goldie & Bear”, took a few moments out of a busy schedule to discuss the series with Variety 411.

Variety 411: Chris, throughout your career you have worked as an animator or storyboard artist (Robots, Horton Hears a Who!) on projects for youngsters while producing or directing content for mature artists (“Celebrity Deathmatch” as supervising director, “Shit Year”). Why turn to producing and directing children’s content?

Chris Gilligan: For me, it’s all about good stories with interesting characters and worlds. It’s also a chance to work with the folks at Disney Junior – it’s been a great collaborative experience with Nancy Kanter (EVP, Original Programming and General Manager, Disney Junior Worldwide), Lori Mozilo, Joe D’Ambrosia and the whole team! Right now, I’m lucky enough to have “Goldie & Bear” in my life!

411: With so many different characters and pairings that could be drawn from the fairy tale world, what drew you to the characters of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”?

CG: Disney Junior approached me with the idea after developing it with Jorge Aguirre (Series Developer/Co-Executive Producer). We all know the original fairytale where Goldilocks takes off after “breaking and entering” the Bears’ house, but Jorge had the clever idea to ask the question, “What happens after the fairytale?” That’s where we find Goldie coming back, apologizing and becoming fast friends with Bear. That opens up a whole world of possibilities and it immediately started putting words and pictures in my head!

411: You have been involved in the creation of both live action and computer generated animated projects in the past. What were your decisions and elements you took into consideration when settling on a look for “Goldie and Bear”?

CG: It was my stop motion roots that began to shape the look of the “Goldie & Bear” world. I wanted the viewer to have an immersive experience when watching the show, like they could walk around inside a storybook illustration that had become three-dimensional and tactile. But I was also looking to the traditional, classic Disney films – the design, appeal and connection that audiences make with that painterly look and those characters. Do your remember View Master, those disks you’d put in with the offset that gave a 3D effect? Disney would take select frames from their classic movies and replicate them with these beautiful dioramas. As a kid, I got the Pinocchio disk and I remember loving how cool it was to feel that world in dimension. That was the starting point for the look of the series.

411: Can you define the style you have chosen for the story and assorted characters in Goldie and Bear’s world?

CG: It’s “storybook illustration come to life” and we really tried to make something original, with roots to tradition. Even in the animation style which is full, expressive and has room for physical comedy as well as subtle acting. Goldie and Bear are the heart of the series; their friendship is at the center of our stories. They have to have range. Other characters like Big Bad Wolf or Humpty Dumpty are broader, but equally as important as they support the stories. I wanted to develop a style that could service these extremes.

411: Did you have specific animators in mind that you wanted to work with to develop the look and style? Are many of the folks on your crew people you have worked with in the past?

CG: The core group of artists I work with now are folks I worked with on the initial test and pilot for Disney. Matt Haber, Gideon Kendall, Abigail Nesbitt and Josh Greer along with Vadim Turchin (who was unavailable for the series) all contributed to the primary look and style we developed. We’ve taken that aesthetic into the series and embellished it with the some new artists, particularly Geoff Taylor and George Samilski.

411: How involved are you with the scripts for each episode? Do you rely on the expertise of your writing staff, or do you spend as much time in the writer’s room, developing ideas that fully integrate the fairy tale world into “Goldie & Bear”?

CG: A bit of both. I have brainstorm sessions for springboards with the writers, led by our story editor Joe Ansolabehere. The stories we cook up always explore the friendship of our main characters in concert with a unique fairy tale spin. We strive to balance the emotional story with the magic of the world and a bit of humor too. Once a springboard is approved, I go back and forth with Joe and the writers on every phase towards the finished script.

I’ve approached the storytelling much like the filmmaking process. I like the visuals and the words to influence each other in a healthy volley. Design can start early at the story concept stage so that the writers can take visuals into their thinking at outline, first draft and so on. By the time we get to the record, the script has a nice synthesis of visual and story thinking and that’s when our great cast brings the words to life!

Songs are also a key element in the storytelling. Our songwriter Rob Cantor is always up for the nuttiest notions and is great at pulling up the emotional story in a musically fun and entertaining way. Songs are such a rich part of the Disney tradition, it’s great to have them in these shows!

411: You have previously stated in other interviews you wanted to expose children to the wealth of fairy tale characters to ensure they become aware of these various entities. Have you found methods of incorporating the elements of the assorted characters Goldie and Bear encounter that would inspire a young mind to want to further explore the original stories?

CG: Mashing up a relatable kid theme with a fairy tale element has been our way in. A story like “Big Bear” explores a universal kid theme of not feeling big enough to do things paired with Jack Beanstalk’s Magic Beans that make things grow gigantic (in this case, Bear himself). Or the idea of conflict resolution by having Goldie and Bear help sort out a dispute between the Woman Who Lives in a Shoe and the Giant who lost that shoe! The hope is that our stories will spark an interest to the larger fairy tale landscape, and kids and their parents will reach for that Mother Goose volume on the shelf and discover – or rediscover – the wealth of stories and characters, many of which inspired Disney himself.

411: I noticed you have a Harvard University Professor of Germanic Languages and Literature as a consultant on the show. Is she defining ways to integrate the nature of fairy tales into everyday life young children would be exposed to today?

CG: We are lucky to have Maria Tatar in our ranks! One of her many insights explains how kids perceive magic in fairytales as just something that happens…it’s accepted. To quote: “It’s the safe, protected place of imagination and you can use it to test possibilities, all the great what-ifs?” We loved this and thought about how it relates to today’s culture of instant gratification. Exploring this in story, we found it too easy to use magic for wish fulfillment…it could solve any problem! So, we flipped it and use magic to get the kids what they “think” they want like getting to be in charge or instantly big enough to do big kid stuff, but ultimately realizing that those things come in time, and they are “just right” as they are.

411: What are your expectations for future seasons of “Goldie & Bear” – do you see them remaining in the forest, or do you have thoughts of new locations and adventures for them?

CG: The Fairy Tale Forest will always be home to our eponymous characters and their friends and we’ll meet even more new characters within the forest as we tell new stories. That said, I can see adventure taking Goldie and Bear to new locales. Perhaps we’ll see the Giant’s world above the clouds or underwater with mermaids or Wonderland. The possibilities are endless!

411: What comes next for you Chris, as a producer and creative artist?

CG: “Goldie & Bear” keeps me pretty busy for now! However, I am also developing new material – another TV show and a feature that has a mythological angle of its own!