‘Disenchantment’ – Matt Groening Interview on Creating the New Netflix Animated Series

Disenchantment Animated Series
A scene from ‘Disenchantment’ (Photo Credit: Netflix)

Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons and Futurama, is set to launch his first new animated series in more than two decades with the premiere of the fantasy series, Disenchantment. Setting the series up at Netflix provided writer/executive producer Matt Groening and executive producer Josh Weinstein with new opportunities to tell a story, and during roundtable interviews at the 2018 San Diego Comic Con they talked about how it changed their approach to Disenchantment. Groening also described the main characters audiences will be introduced to when the series premieres on August 17, 2018.

The Disenchantment Plot: In Disenchantment, viewers will be whisked away to the crumbling medieval kingdom of Dreamland, where they will follow the misadventures of hard-drinking young princess Bean, her feisty elf companion Elfo, and her personal demon Luci. Along the way, the oddball trio will encounter ogres, sprites, harpies, imps, trolls, walruses, and lots of human fools.

Inside Disenchantment with Matt Groening and Josh Weinstein

What do you think about having the series on Netflix? How does that change the way you approach the series?

Matt Groening: “Working with Netflix has been a dream, in part because they’ve been enthusiastic about every single thing we’ve mentioned. And, they’re equally enthusiastic when we change our minds and go the other way. It’s incredible.

Both the idea of telling stories in a new way, having 10 episodes in which to tell a story and having more time and no commercials…”

Josh Weinstein: “You could never tell this type of story on Fox or any regular network. You just couldn’t. It’s also wonderful, too, that because you don’t have commercials you’re just following the story. You’re not interrupted by a razor blade or Chevy commercial.”

Matt Groening: “And, we don’t have to…when you come back from a commercial you have to remind the audience and repeat yourself, and we don’t have that.”

Josh Weinstein: “That’s true with storytelling, too. It’s such a sitcom format. You have to reset at the end of every episode, and we don’t do that because we’re telling one long story. There are lots of individual stories. As a writer, it’s really annoying that you have to reset at the end and reset in the beginning. And, instead, we keep going and our characters keep going and growing. That’s a lot more fun for us to write.”

Matt Groening: “And also we have this amazing staff of writers and animators who are younger than us. They like some of the stuff that we like, but our references are generally a little older.”

Josh Weinstein: “This is very intentional, because we’re old farts. There’s like half the writing staff is people like me who are 50 are older. The other half is 30 or younger. I have this theory that the young comedy writers, because I worked on this show called Gravity Falls and I was the old guy on it – everyone else was in their 20s – and they’re so much funnier than I am and also so much better with storytelling and embracing emotions. I think that there’s a younger set of writers, and animators too, I think who grew up on The Simpsons and shows like South Park so they’re already more evolved than us. They had a base. I grew up on Scooby-Doo which sucks.”

Matt Groening: “How dare you!”

Josh Weinstein: “It sucks in a good way. I feel like the younger writers and animators have evolved beyond us, so it really helps to have this combination of old guys who go like, ‘Well, you see, Johnny Carson was this old guy who told jokes on TV…’”

Do you have more freedom with your jokes on Netflix?

Matt Groening: “There’s certainly no censorship at all. There isn’t any. In fact, when we originally talked about this, we thought maybe we’ll go a little more risqué, a little dirtier. We wrote a few jokes that way and we said, ‘No, this doesn’t feel right.’”

Josh Weinstein: “There was actually an early, early draft of a script where a character said ‘shit’ and it didn’t feel right. I think there’s a thing where us being allowed to talk about more adult topics and things like that, but there’s a smart way to do it as opposed to a crass way.”

How long was the concept in your mind before putting it down on paper?

Matt Groening: “I started a sketchbook, I don’t know, a long time ago. Five or eight years ago. I just wrote down every fantasy cliché and trope and reference. There are 25 different kinds of short-statured mythical creatures from dwarfs, elves, ogres, trolls, imps, leprechauns, munchkins…on and on and on and on.”

Do you draw every day?

Matt Groening: “Yes, I do.”

Disenchantment Animated Series
Luci, Princess Bean, and Elfo in ‘Disenchantment’ (Photo Credit: Netflix)

Can you describe your characters?

Matt Groening: (Showing off a drawing of Princess Bean) “You would say, ‘Is she a princess?’ Yes, you can tell by the crown. But this is not Cinderella. This is not Sleeping Beauty. This is not even Waking Beauty. She’s an unusual type. We did that on purpose. We were going to do the opposite of what you expect. Although I think she’s beautiful and I have a crush on her, she’s not what you expect.

Elfo is based on the very first character I ever drew in this style in the fifth grade. He looked almost exactly like that without the elf hat. When we drew him first we wanted him to have romantic feelings towards Bean and towards other characters in the show, and he looked like a little kid. That’s why we gave him sideburns.”

Josh Weinstein: “And that’s why Nat Faxon’s voice is so great. In a typical cartoon he’d be (in a high voice), ‘Hi, I’m an elf.’ Nat’s voice is a really adult, almost deep voice that he makes a little higher for Elfo. It’s really real.”

Matt Groening: “Lucy is a character I designed completely independent of the show. Obviously, it’s in a completely different style. Lucy is Bean’s personal demon. I think this is going to be a breakout tattoo.

Lucy is played by Eric André from The Eric André Show, a total wild man. He’s fantastic. He’s just great.

And then we come to King Zod, played by John DiMaggio. King Zod – in John’s King I hear a little bit of Wallace Beery. I hear a little bit of Archie Bunker from All in the Family.”

Josh Weinstein: “And that’s what I love, too. In a typical fantasy cartoon, they would all have these grand English voices. But it’s like the King’s clearly from New Jersey.”

Can you talk about creating Bean as a character and how Abbi Jacobson played with that creation?

Matt Groening: “Josh and I sat down and we laid out the world. We worked on this for a very long time and it became quite clear that Bean was the center of the show, and that Elfo and Lucy, her personal demon, basically completed her. She’s the most interesting character that we came up with for a long time because she had so many flaws and she’s still lovable.”

Josh Weinstein: “It’s also the idea, and based a lot of history – not England, obviously – where women princesses would grow up in a patriarchal kingdom and never be allowed to rule. She’s clearly much more together and smarter than her younger half-brother, Derek, and she will never be able to rule. And, so, it’s a much more interesting conundrum for us.

But what it also did is that also transposed into being her age, about 19 or 20, because a lot of this is about going into the world for the first time. There’s a lot of friends I had when I was 19 or 20, female and male, where we drank too much. We didn’t know what we’re going to do in life, but adults were telling us what we’re going to do. So, a lot of it is finding your way in the world. Especially as a woman in this world, we think there’s so much more interesting stories to tell.”

Matt Groening: “And Abbi took what we considered very feminist lines and made us realize how mild we were. She kicked it to another level. But I would say that’s true of all of our actors in this case because we have more time to play with telling a story than a regular network animated show. Everybody ad-libbed and then we used some great ad-libs, including from John DiMaggio. Really good, good, good stuff.”

Josh Weinstein: “We really count on these guys and Abbi to really kick it up and make it real.”