See Jane Spotlight

Disney Junior’s The Rocketeer Flips the Script

Original Hero Passes his Superpowers onto a Young Girl and Rocks her World

© 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.

By Mary Ellen Holden

There is a movement in Hollywood to retell classic stories for a new generation of children and The Rocketeer is a stellar example of how and why – with the right vision – this formula can work! The animated series, premiering on Friday, November 8th on Disney Channel, Disney Junior, and DisneyNOW is a reimagining of Dave Stevens’ comic books and the 1991 film with a contemporary twist. Wide-ranging storytelling, coupled with several nods to the original, lays the groundwork for an inspirational and educational adventure series told from a young female superhero perspective that the whole family can enjoy together.

The series features a young girl (Kit Secord) who received the Rocketeer’s helmet on her birthday which her Grandpa immediately recognized belonged to the beloved superhero. He realizes that Kit was chosen to be the next Rocketeer and gifts her a rocket-pack that enables her to fly the skies to protect her community. Kit embraces her superpowers and receives help in her adventures from her best friend, Tesh, Grandpa Ambrose, and her most trusted dog, Butch.

The Rocketeer is developed, and executive produced by seven-time Emmy Award nominee, Nicole Dubuc. She shared her philosophy regarding onscreen inclusion in children’s programming. “It’s especially important to have touchstones for all children, regardless of gender. I like to break stereotypes by empowering girls and show that one female character doesn’t have to be all things – that’s why we have female characters who are good but also created female villains for this series. It’s not about exclusion. Inclusion means that you don’t have to get rid of a group to bring more in. It’s just like when you love someone your heart grows to encompass everyone.”

© 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.

Here’s more from my interview with Nicole on how and why she rewrote the script.

Mary Ellen Holden: What was it about The Rocketeer that excited you?

Nicole Dubuc: For me, it was very personal. I was a huge fan of the original movie; it sparked my imagination. The concept of an everyday person rising to the challenge of being a hero coupled with the excitement of flying inspired me. After seeing the movie, my friends and I played at being The Rocketeer all summer. In my mind, I’ve been that girl who was the Rocketeer. So, getting to work with this property during this iconic era to bring more new young viewers to the story was great. Yes, the original Rocketeer was male, but I knew in my core that the character’s spirit didn’t have to be.

Mary Ellen: Who decided to make the animated Rocketeer female?

Nicole: I was developing the show with Emily Hart at Disney Junior and we both felt that we had this opportunity to explore some of the facets that made the iconic Rocketeer amazing by having the original hero pass his superpowers to a young girl. We realized if we gave our main character this great enthusiasm and capacity for flight, it would be a fantastic chance to inspire future aviators of different genders and backgrounds. I think it’s so important just to see someone do it onscreen.

With that said, we knew that the story would need to resonate and be age-appropriate for the Disney Junior audience. To accomplish this, we needed to create an entry point character that our viewers could immediately recognize themselves in. We developed a fantastical superhero whose challenges might parallel their own; we wanted viewers to identify with her. She was a problem solver who wouldn’t give up and we hoped that she would motivate our young viewers to do the same. In doing so, we captured the DNA of the original comic book and movie. We tapped into those themes to draw in our young audience; there are tons of nods to the legacy projects that will resonate with kids and their parents alike.

Mary Ellen: Who is your target audience?

Nicole: I think of it as family viewing. For Disney Junior, our sweet spot is always kids ages 3-5. But, when I write a story, and I tell my writing room the same thing, my goal is to tell a good story to draw anybody in.

Mary Ellen: How do diversity and inclusion inform the production?

Nicole: I always keep inclusion in mind. My whole team is a melting pot with diverse backgrounds and we intentionally celebrate that heritage. Sometimes when you’re writing a script it’s a matter of being mindful when you describe a character on the page to ensure that your imaginary world better reflects the real world – so that people can see themselves being represented. When we’re hiring – we’re always looking for new voices and new perspectives as that only strengthens the production. For instance, one of our characters in the show is from the Philippines and one of our story artists happened to share the same heritage so he had observations and notes which we tapped into.

© 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.

Mary Ellen: How has the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media inspired your work?

Nicole: While I was always aware of the Institute and its research. Kathy Najimy (who plays the mom on the show) made me realize that my thinking is perfectly aligned with the Institutes’ vision. It’s so inspiring. I love the idea of girls not being defined by one characteristic. Both Kathy and I share a Lebanese cultural heritage, but we have many other defining characteristics – we’re both actresses, we have a similar sense of comedy… All people are intersectional.

Mary Ellen: Can you share an example of how the Institute’s research has informed your vision for this production?

Nicole: The Institute challenges me to put labels on some of the choices I was making and challenged me to revisit my work for bias. It makes me more aware as a storyteller to check and double-check my story and character choices. I reference the Institute now and keep its tenets in my mind while story editing. I love the push for #SeeItBeIt.

Mary Ellen: What are your goals for The Rocketeer?

Nicole: My goal is to inspire our young viewers; I want to show everyone that they have what it takes to be a hero. It’s a message of empowerment and resiliency because life will throw things at you and there may not be an easy or obvious solution. Kit, our hero, can be “MacGyver-like” and figure out a way to help people out. On a personal level, I think it would be great to have kids dressing up as our characters and saying that they want to fly!

Mary Ellen: What are the key viewer takeaways that you’d like to see?

Nicole: I want the show to teach age-appropriate lessons. For example, finding the hero in yourself, remaining resilient in the face of challenges, inspiring the love of community and hands-on problem-solving. Other age-appropriate lessons are teamwork, listening, communication, openness to difference and patience.

Mary Ellen: What do you see as the future of children’s programming?

Nicole: I am most excited that this is such a wonderful time for creators because people with new voices and authentic perspectives are suddenly getting a chance to tell their stories as only, they can. Networks are actively seeking these new voices and I want to hear those stories. Streaming services have expanded the platforms for animation and the craving for new content.

Mary Ellen: What advice do you have for female creators entering this industry?

Nicole: Look to mentors, mentor others when you can, recognize that you have a unique story to tell and always look for ways to tell your story. Be true to your voice. I stopped acting at 14, went to college and then off to a dot.com before breaking into this industry. Kira Meers was my mentor during my internship at Disney. She so generously shared her business acumen and provided me with the opportunity to try new things. I try to pay that back by meeting with younger writers and talking to women in this industry.

Mary Ellen: Is there something you’d like to say to our audience?

Nicole: Please watch the show because I’m so proud of it. I hope everyone falls in love with Kit as much as I have.

IF SHE CAN SEE IT, SHE CAN BE IT