Behind The Scenes

Animation | She-Ra

Episode Summary

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power aren’t just for 80s kids - they’re back for a new generation. We’ll hear from showrunner Noelle Stevenson and from actor Aimee Carrero who voices She-Ra on how they updated the series for the current day while staying true to the show’s roots.

Episode Notes

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power aren’t just for 80s kids - they’re back for a new generation. We’ll hear from showrunner Noelle Stevenson and from actor Aimee Carrero who voices She-Ra on how they updated the series for the current day while staying true to the show’s roots.

Episode Transcription

Behind the Scenes: She-Ra

She-Ra (clip): For the Honor of Grayskull!

You might not recognize the battle cry, but you have probably heard the names “She-Ra and He-man” at least a few times in your life. You know, the 1980s cartoon series?

Noelle: Everyone has at least like an ambient awareness of She-Ra and He-Man. It's just such a part of the fabric of our pop culture. Just the zeitgeist, I guess.

That’s Noelle Stevenson. In 2018, Netflix charged her with rebooting She-Ra for the modern age.

Noelle: as soon as I started getting into it, it just felt perfect. It felt like the perfect thing. And I was obsessed with it immediately.

I’m your host Brandon Jenkins.

In this episode, we’re going behind the scenes of She-Ra.

First, we’ll be talking with showrunner Noelle Stevenson about how they paid homage to the original cartoon series, what they updated for a new audience, and how the actors helped the writers and animators develop their characters.

Then, we’ve got a special interview with the actress who voices She-Ra and her human alter-ego, Adora … Aimee Carrero! Aimee shared how recording as a cast elevated the show, and gave us an inside look into how she plays this iconic character.  

We’re going to be touching on a lot of themes, stories, and plot points from all five seasons. If you’re ready to hear more, then grab your Best Friend Squad because this is Behind the Scenes: She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.

SHE-RA THEME SONG : We’re on the edge of greatness. Turning darkness to light. We’re right beside you ready to fight. We’re gonna win and then we must be strong and we must be brave...  

Before we dive in too deep, let’s recap some She-Ra mythology for you. The show takes place on a planet called Etheria. For years, the Etherians, led by the Princesses of Power, have been at war with the Horde, an evil intergalactic organization of supervillains.

We first meet Adora when she’s a Horde soldier, having grown up in the Horde army with her best friend Catra.

Adora (clip): Come on Catra, we’re senior cadets now. I can’t believe you’re still pulling such childish, immature...is that a mouse?      

Catra: What where?  

But when Adora finds the Sword of Protection that allows her to become the mystical warrior, She-Ra, she changes sides and joins the Rebellion. Adora aka She-Ra finds herself leading the Princesses of Power, alongside her new friends, Bow and Princess Glimmer. Meanwhile Catra rises in the ranks of the Horde, grabbing power wherever she can.

Catra (clip): I am so much stronger than anyone ever thought.

Noelle Stevenson first found success through their webcomics, Nimona, and the hit comic series Lumber Janes, before jumping into the world of animation. You might expect that to be tapped to lead a reboot, Noelle must have been a life-long fan of the show ... but she actually didn't see the series until much later in her life.

Noelle: So I didn't grow up with the original She-Ra. It was a little bit before my time. I didn't actually watch a lot of animation as a kid. I watched some, but my parents were not big on TV. We were pretty religious. So we... everything had to be sort of vetted first. I did watch The Prince of Egypt a lot. That was kind of like one movie that was like solidly a-okay. You know, my parents kind of loosened up as I got older. And as like a teenager, like a younger teen, I got really into Teen Titans, Kim Possible a lot of kind of action adventure shows in that vein. And I think you can see a lot of that DNA in She-Ra as well. It wasn't until I was an adult that I really developed that appreciation for She-Ra and He-Man. And that was sort of like something that happened while I was becoming a professional in animation.

Brandon: So even though you didn’t necessarily grow up with the original She-Ra in real time you’re still charged with bringing this She-Ra to a new generation. What’s some of the things you all wanted to make sure you kept for this version?

Noelle: So the things I sort of zeroed in on from the original is that it plays a lot with, you know, good and evil and the way that those lines kind of blur. It's always been kind of a two-hander between the villains and the heroes. So it's as much Catra’s story as it is She-Ra's.The executive I was working with in development, Beth Cannon, she had grown up with the original, was a huge fan of it. And so this was sort of a passion project for her. She really, really loved the original, but she also just had things that she wanted to see change. And so one of those was she really wanted to see the characters deepen in their interactions and their relationships to each other deepened. Specifically the relationship between Adora and Catra. When she was watching the original, she had always thought they would have known each other, like they must have grown up together. They must have known each other in the Horde. How come they never seem to have any emotional attachment to each other? And I found that really inspirational right off the bat.

Noelle: So that was always my approach for She-Ra was like, are the characters always central? Are they making sense? Is it satisfying? Because that is what carries you through. That's why people keep tuning back in. You know, it's because they want to see their favorite characters. They want to see what they're up to. They want to see, you know, the satisfying conclusion of their stories.

Brandon: Good and evil is like a, an everlasting idea. But I don't know if I've ever seen that captured in a way that feels so dynamic. Like I'm curious, what other changes did you want to make in order to bring this show up to date to make it contemporary?

Noelle: The other thing that she requested was that the characters' designs be updated so that they were really, really distinct from each other. It was like kind of a standard thing about time in the 80s that all the characters were pretty much based on the same two models. There was the kind of muscular male figure and then the like curvy female figure. And there was really not a lot of going outside of those boundaries. There was a little bit. There were some like funky characters in both He-Man and She-Ra, but mostly the major characters all fit into these very idealized bodies. But that was something we really wanted to update and modernize and show that anyone can be a hero. You don't have to fit into any kind of mold. Especially since we’re not quite as toy-driven as the original was.

Brandon: I want to take the risk of being wrong here but I feel like the characters were changing on screen. And what I mean by that is like in most shows the characters look the same from start to finish but in this show it feels like they were changing, like they were growing up, they looked more mature, or did I just make that up?

Noelle: No, I think you're totally right about that. So back in season one, when we're designing the characters, we come up with a model pack for each character. So it’s like here's what Adora looks like from every angle. Here's how to draw her in this position or that position.

Noelle: We do a lot of that work at the top of the show to make sure that it looks the way we want it to look. And Adora, actually, her model pack didn't change through the course of the series. It's the exact same one from the pilot, much to the chagrin of fans who really want her to get a new outfit. But the way that we drew her changed. And our animation studio, the way they drew her changed.So I do think that you can see the characters aging in the show, because the way they're drawn, the way they carry themselves, though, their expressions, everything about them, you can you can feel the time passing, I think. And it's something that sort of happens between the lines.

Noelle: It's not something that's like, oh, here's the slightly older version of  Adora's model pack. It's it is in all of the little moments of acting that our board artists and our animators incorporate.

Brandon: You know, another way, I think you all sort of kind of reinvented the format or turned it on its head is thatyou really subvert the ideas of binaries with a lot of the interactions and themes that overplay the show. Can you tell me one or two themes or topics in particular that you guys wanted to like sort of to approach that in that way?

Noelle: It is a lot I think about blurring the lines between those binaries, like you said. I think for Adora it's really interesting because in season one, she goes from basically taking all her orders from a woman named Shadow Weaver to taking all her orders from a woman named Light Hope.

Light Hope (clip): My name is Light Hope; I have been waiting a long time for you.

Noelle: And so you assume, of course, the one with light in her name is going to be the
one who is like on the side of good. Like a paragon of integrity. And then as she finds out at the end of season four, Light Hope is also not good in a different way from Shadow Weaver. But, you know, she's got this, this programming that is destructive.

Light Hope (clip): After a thousand years, my programming will be fulfilled. The Heart of Etheria will be unleashed on the First One’s enemies.  

Noelle: What you think of as good and as evil is not clear cut. It's not always what you think it is. And if you were trying to make it more simple than it is, it's not going to play out the way you want it to like that. You can't overlook those complexities. You have to engage with them.

Brandon: I love that answer it because it…. what it does, it's like it breathes so much life until like the way we define not just evil and like what it means to be a villain, but also what it means to be like a quote unquote, one of the good people. Right. Like, yeah? Someone that’s trying to maybe do the wrong things for the right reasons or do the right things for the wrong reasons or some other flip of that of that dynamic.

Noelle: Yeah, definitely. I think Shadow Weaver is one of the most personal villains in a weird way like even though she's become kind of a harmless player in the story and she's just like gardening and, you know, seems really like oddly harmless after everything that she's put the main characters through, she is kind of the shadow hanging over so many of our characters.

Adora (clip): I will never forgive you. You ruin people. You ruin any chance they could ever be happy. Haven’t you done enough?

Shadow Weaver: I did what I had to do.

Adora: Keep te lling yourself that.  

Noelle: And I think that it's also everyone who's watching it has a version of that relationship. It could be a teacher. It could be a parent. It could be a neighbor. It is something that's like the people who have this sway over us. And even though we can be like, oh, I hate them, you always want to impress them at the same time. You always want to be like, look, look at me. Am I worth something to you now? Do you see me?

Brandon: Yeah, that's like constant conflict of like as a person. Right. Like how how in control are we or how influenced are we by by these things. And you've talked a lot about influence. I'm curious how the actors influence the characters that they take on. Like, has it ever altered maybe where their stories go or how the personalities have shifted?

Noelle: Yeah, I think that Lorraine to sign a Shadow Weaver is a perfect example of that. Like Shadow Weaver more than any of the other characters. I really felt we could not control like she always went off in directions that we didn't expect. And it was so much of that was because of Lorraine, like she's an amazing voice actress. Incredible. Just to watch her like she she is the most charismatic figure in any room she's in. It's just like she's like she's like a like a shining star like- So to put her in the robes of Shadow Weaver behind the mask, she becomes this character that as soon as she's in the scene at all, all of the gravity kind of pulls towards her. And that means that her story ended up going in a really different direction than we expected. Especially when it came to the fifth season, I sort of felt like Lorraine was writing the character because we were just trying to keep up with her. We always begin every season. It's just like we don't even know what's going to happen with Shadow Weaver. And then she just takes off and we just try and keep up.

While Shadow Weaver became a fan favorite by the end of Season 5 ... the most iconic figure in the series is the titular character of She-ra slash Adora. Aimee Carrerro, who voices the dual-character, shared what it was like to develop and grow with the roles over the last two years.

Brandon: What were sort of your first steps to developing the characters of Adora slash She-ra?

Aimee: Well, Noelle, who is our creator and our showrunner, she sort of took it in a different direction, which was really cool. They were a little bit younger. The characters were from the original property. And one thing I really liked about this version is that her friends were in on the fact that she was She-Ra. So it wasn't like something she was keeping from them. The most interesting thing about this show in general and it continues to be the most interesting to me is that when we see shows about superheroes, we so often meet them when they're already superheroes, like they have very little flaws. And with this version of the show, it's very much the making of a hero. So you're meeting Adora and she is still not at all what you would call a superhero, because she doesn't really understand anything about what's happening to her.

Brandon: Yeah, I feel like that. Like constant confusion that you find in a like especially a young person, something a lot of people can relate to. Can you talk us through a little bit of Adora's journey to discover her true identity?

Aimee: You know, when we meet her, she is in the Horde and she's been totally brainwashed into thinking that she's working for good. And then this thing happens to her and she realizes everything I've been told is a lie. But not only that, I now have to make the choice. Like, do I go back to living that lie or do I walk toward a different future that is totally unknown. But she knows deep down is right thing to do. It's really kind of a twisted journey, you know, much like our lives in general.

Brandon: Yeah, I feel like the show leans very strongly on the narrative of her being the chosen one. But also it inverts that with the kind of a She-Ra, you know, continually gaining strength from,  the people around her.

Aimee: Yeah, that's definitely one of those beautiful things that Noelle has woven into the storytelling, which I think is really nuanced and and and not what you expect from a kid's show. You don't really expect all of these existential questions. And the idea of her being the chosen one, then, she really rebels against that because she's like, what did I ever do to be the Chosen One? And why me?

Aimee: It takes the entire series for her to learn the biggest lesson, which is being a hero doesn't mean going it alone. It actually requires the entire community. It requires you the quote unquote hero, to rely on those around you. And not only rely on them, but really count on them and allow your love for them and your humanity to really drive whatever heroic impulse you have.

Brandon: Yeah. I really like the fact that you um you highlighted community, and I think that she has a very complicated community. I guess the word for me would be almost like bipartisan. You know, it's like a lot of lines get blurry. And she has a ton of history that we first see here when we open up season one all the way as it develops throughout the next seasons. How are Adora and She-Ra different? Or are they different?

Aimee: Totally. It's funny because this reference may be too old now for the listeners, but I remember when Beyonce was talking about her Sasha Fierce alter ego, you know who she like, You know, when she performs, that's who she sort of turns into. And so, yeah, I don't think they're two different people. I think they're sort of two sides of the same coin. And in order for her to complete superhuman tasks, she has to put her humanity kind of on pause. And I think that's where She-Ra comes in.

Brandon: Well, I love the Sasha Fierce reference because it does make me think like, you know, I imagine there's Beyonce in real life, Beyonce, the mom, Beyonce, say totally any person. And then there's Sasha Fierce onstage. So are there any are there any sort of different approaches you take in the vocal booth to separating the two? Or is it actually are there approaches you take to making sure that there's there's a commonality between the two?

Aimee: I think that it's you know, there is a difference between how you sound when you're at work or when you're totally in the zone and when you let your guard down. And so I think that when Adora transforms into She-Ra, she is just like, where do you speak from in your body when you're completely confident? And you know that you've got it under control. It's just it's just like a deeper, more grounded place. So, yeah, I think that might maybe might because my body language changed, maybe my voice changed, or maybe I'm just giving myself way too much credit. Who knows?

Brandon: Do you do you have favorite lines or catch phrases from Adora or She-Ra.

Aimee: For the honor of Grayskull is very iconic.

Aimee:The first time I said it because it was at my audition and I was like, oh my God, this is like the one thing that people who don't watch She-Ra know about She-Ra is her her big like battle cry. And so, when people ask me to do it, like at conventions and stuff, I always get like so embarrassed because it’s just so loud. And you want to give it to them. Right. But then you don't want to scream in their face.  

She-Ra (clip): For the Honor of Grayskull! For the Honor of Grayskull! For the Honor of Grayskull! For the Honor of Grayskull!  

Aimee: And every time A.J. who plays Catra says like, “Hi Adora” Or like, “Hey Adora.”

Catra (clip): Hey Adora, how’s it hanging?

Brandon: How would you describe her relationship with Catra?

Aimee: It's complicated.

Brandon: I like that you sighed because it has that feeling of complication like, you know.

Aimee: Yeah. You don't even need to watch one scene. You just know it's complicated. Yeah, but but is how many complicated relationships do we have in our normal lives. So many. Everybody knows what it's like to have a toxic relationship in their life that you sort of have to walk away from for a while in order to grow on your own and then come together later. So I think that that's that's where the core of their relationship is. They have a shared experience. They grew up together. They know what it's like to have that traumatic upbringing. But the difference is that while Adora chooses to go one way, Catra really takes that super personally and feels incredibly abandoned by Adora and and thinks like, how could you ever leave me? And of course, you left me like you've always been the goody two shoes. You've always been the teacher's pet. You've always done what is right. And so you know, Catra has to deal with her sort of abandonment issues and Adora has to deal with her savior complex. And it isn't until they figure it out and can be vulnerable with one another that they have a chance at all to salvaging their relationship.

Brandon: Yeah, so when you’re recording say, scenes with Catra, I kind of imagine you each recording separately in a booth. Is that correct? Or are the actors recording together, at the same time, in the same booth?

Aimee: With this show in particular It was really wonderful that we were able to do group recordings. It's kind of rare because obviously everybody has different shows that they're a part of and their schedules are different, so it's not usually the case that we get to record together on a you know, on any other show. But with She-Ra they really made an effort. And I think it makes a huge difference because we already can't see what's happening, because when we record the our voices, there isn't really any animation yet. There's like sometimes there's what's called an animatic, which is like a really rough sketch. And you can sort of see what the action is, but you don't really get to see their facial expressions or anything like that until after you've done the voices. So having that extra support of like being able to look into Marcus's eyes or Karen or AJ and being able to play a scene with them, I think just makes the show better.

Brandon: I mean I guess that makes sense, right, like this show is so much about relationships, and community, and team in a lot of ways that it feels only right for you all to do this as a team.

Aimee: Totally Yeah.

The final season of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power came out in May of 2020. While those of us on earth sheltered in place, isolated in our homes, on Etheria, Adora -- facing her own isolation and near defeat from Horde Prime --- realized her friendships, the open and understanding community she had built, was what would give her the strength she needed to fully tap into her She-Ra powers and save them all.

Adora (clip): It’s over. He’s gone.

Catra: Good riddance.

*laughter*

It was Noelle’s perfect ending … one that honored the original She-Ra series but would have a new lasting impact … create a new community.

Noelle: The reason I became a storyteller and the reason I went into the animation field to begin with is because I know the impact that these stories had on me when I was a kid, even though my exposure to animation was limited. It changed me in a profound way and it affected the way I viewed the world. And I want to be that for kids now. For someone now even not kids, for adults, for teenagers, for anyone who's watching. And I think I would know that we had achieved what we set out to achieve, if in like a few years, five, 10 years, 15 years, however long, there are like, young professionals coming up to me and saying this had an impact on me, this inspired me, and now I have my own show, I have my own story. Having having a lasting impact on, you know, people's imaginations and on the creators of tomorrow, that would be, I think, the profoundest honor to me. So I really hope that this show stays with people even after it's over and that the inspiration just continues to go forward into the future.

And that’s all for this week’s episode. Next week, we’re talking about the reboot of Voltron: Legendary Defenders with showrunners Lauren Montgomery and Joaquim Dos Santos. As fans of the Voltron series, Lauren and Joaquim tell us how the original 1980s cartoon influenced them as adult animators and how they brought their childhood favorite into the modern day.

Joaquim: I mean, it was huge, like on the playground for me with all my friends. Everybody could choose a different pilot and everybody could play along.

Lauren: But, you know, knowing that I grew up with the stuff and knowing that, like, I may be rare, but I'm not the only girl in the world that likes this stuff, I wanted to try and get a little more female rep in the show.

Behind The Scenes: Animation is a Netflix and Pineapple Street Studios production. I’m your host, Brandon Jenkins. If you liked what you heard, please subscribe, rate and review this podcast. Thanks for listening.