LA-based prodco 7ate9 is answering the call for inclusive content with a new approach to casting for its Netflix original series Wonderoos that focuses on the diversity of the characters…even though they’re all animals.
The 12 x 11-minute preschool series follows a group of critters from around the world who learn as they encounter new things. The 7ate9 team wanted to create a series that tackled inclusion for a preschool audience, says founder and chief creative officer Artur Spigel. Launching on Netflix globally on November 24, Wonderoos will address the serious subject of accepting people who are different head on.
To better reach a global audience and tell stories about different cultures, 7ate9 wanted to ensure that the voice actors shared traits with their on-screen counterparts, such as language, ethnicity and physical abilities, says Spigel.
In one episode, for example, the animals meet a character in a wheelchair. In that storyline, 7ate9 cast an eight-year-old who has cerebral palsy to play a bunny with the same disabilities. In another, the main characters go to a traditional Indian birthday party for the first time, and the prodco sought out an Indian boy to play the birthday elephant.
Authenticity in casting was paramount, says Spigel, adding that animated productions too often take the easy route and cast whomever is easiest (most often not a BIPOC actor), particularly when the characters are animals.
“Going into this, we knew we were making a show about diversity, and we have a responsibility to deliver with a cast who have experience with the cultures and languages,” says Spigel. “To tell a story about a character with a disability, we needed to have someone who knew what it was like to be judged for [their disability]. [It] helps kids relate to the characters and also increases their engagement.”
Overall, casting took four months, with the prodco sifting through thousands of applicants and working with local casting agencies, Spigel says. It was more time-consuming, but he ultimately believes the effort will be worthwhile.