The makers of Netflix’s ‘Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts’ break down the final season
This story contains spoilers from the third and final season of “Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts.”
In the third and final season of “Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts,” 13-year-old Kipo Oak attempts to pull off the impossible: Create a world where mutants and humans can live together peacefully.
It’s a tough sell even to Kipo’s closest friends. The animated DreamWorks/Netflix series is set in a postapocalyptic future 200 years after events gave rise to giant mutant creatures, driving humans into hiding for their survival. Even the various groups of “mutes,” as they are known in the show, do not generally intermingle.
Kipo is one of the few characters who can see the humanity in everyone — mutes and humans alike — and her outlook feels particularly prescient at a time when the White House itself stokes xenophobic and racist fears in its drive to maintain political power.
Creator and executive producer Radford Sechrist explained that even from their earliest meetings, showrunner and executive producer Bill Wolkoff wanted to address these issues playing out in the real world.
“I grew up in the ’80s, and I really became aware of the world when nuclear war was a very real threat in our lives, and that was really scary,” said Wolkoff. “I don’t remember any kids entertainment that dealt with that head on, and I wished I had had it when I was that young.”
“When we started doing the show, it came at a time of really big, scary concerns of xenophobia in the world and just discord between people in our country,” continued Wolkoff. “We didn’t want to sugarcoat [it]. We wanted to portray the [world] that Kipo found as being very real and reflecting a lot of the issues that we have today, just through the prism of the mutant animals who evolved out of us.”
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Kipo, who grew up in an underground burrow, is not bound by any sense of the surface world’s rules or limited by any ideas of how things are “supposed” to be. Plus, as revealed in Season 2, she is a human-mute hybrid.
“Kipo is kind of an indomitable spirit of joy, and it’s important to see that now more than ever,” said story editor Joanna Lewis. “It’s so easy to see all of the negative things that are happening in our world right now and get scared or be intimidated by them or let it put out your light.”
Because the primary conflicts within the world of the show are between humans and mutes, the humans in “Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts” are less concerned about their own differences. Instead, they’re busy dealing with abandonment issues, betrayal, confronting others with opposing worldviews and surviving in a world full of giant creatures.
“It was important to every single person who worked on ‘Kipo’ to have a diverse group of people and not have the fact that they were different be an obstacle,” explained Lewis.
“It’s 200 years in the future, and this is how it would be,” added story editor Kristine Songco. “You just are who you are, and there’s no question.”
“When you are worried about being eaten by a Mega Mute, you are looking at other human beings as your ally, and it doesn’t matter what they look like or how they identify,” continued Lewis. “It matters that you’re people and you’re on the same side. That is kind of our hope for the world — that eventually, our differences aren’t things to divide us. They’re things that make us richer.”
“Kipo,” of course, is a coming-of-age story, so it was only appropriate that the show’s climactic battle happened during a postapocalyptic prom.
“The idea of planning a party amid disaster, I think, is weirdly relatable,” said Lewis. “But it’s also like a metaphor for finding joy in a particularly trying time.”
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Wolf is one of the human characters that had the biggest transformation over the course of the show. Can you talk a little bit about Wolf’s journey?
Sechrist:When I had drawn [Wolf originally], I hadn’t thought of the implications of what it meant for her to be wearing that wolf pelt. It was really interesting, because Bill homed in on that right away.
Wolkoff: Wolf embodies for us just survival on the surface — she’s been hurt so badly and betrayed so badly. She’s put a literal pelt over her and has this hardened shell over her, and it takes a tidal force like Kipo to break break through that. The fun of the series was coming up with a character who puts up so many walls and putting her against another character who breaks down boundaries left and right.
One of the most interesting things to me about characters is to define them with a physical prop, like her pelt, but then at a certain point, you say to yourself, “When is that a crutch for her?” Her learning to let go of that pelt in Season 3 is about the biggest sign of growth that I could possibly think of for her.
Why was it important for Scarlemagne to be redeemed?
Wolkoff: We didn’t set out from the very beginning to say we’re gonna make a redemption arc for him. It grew organically out of the influence of Kipo on him.
Season 2 is about those two forces bumping up against each other — all of the betrayal he’s had and the resentment that he has toward humanity for what we collectively have done to this planet. And then it becomes extra personal because he was betrayed by his parents because they needed to save Kipo when she was a baby. They are essentially brother and sister.
That is what the show is about. How does this force of Kipo in the world affect those around her? And Scarlemagne got so pushed into her point of view that he did change between Season 2 and Season 3.
But change is incremental. It’s not [that] suddenly he’s all good. He still falls prey to the same weaknesses that he has and the same tendencies that he’s built up, and he must fight against them constantly.
Sechrist: It’s also interesting just comparing his motivation to Emilia. Like, he had a tragic backstory where he was hurt so he has to overcome that hurt. Emilia, she was in a way brainwashed by her father, and the pressures of her belief caused her to literally murder her brother. If she were to be redeemed, she would have to face that.
That is a different type of growth or redemption than Scarlemagne being purely from a hurt place. So it felt natural when we started getting into his motivation, it felt like it was leading toward a redemption arc. Whereas with Emilia, you’d need a whole other season for someone to admit when they murdered a person they loved, that it was wrong.
Wolkoff: It’s hard to redeem Emilia. She is a lot of what’s in human nature but [what] is ugly about human nature.
Sechrist: It’s interesting because we leave her stuck to face her past. She’s back in the burrow where [she grew up]. If she wanders in the burrow she’s probably going to see pictures of her and her brother as kids. It’s almost like you’re setting up for her to emotionally be forced to deal with that.
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What were your thoughts on Emilia being pushed to a place where she decides to transform into what she hates in order to defeat Kipo and prove her point?
Sechrist: That was something we struggled with in the writing room. If she’s so emotional about thinking that the mutes are lesser or wrong, would she do that final step of becoming what she hates? We went back and forth a lot on that.
I think ultimately, in my mind, she was willing to do this because she had the cure just sitting there with Greta. It was like, “I’ll try everything else, and this is my very last option.” That’s where my mind was.
Wolkoff: We had a lot of talks about whether she would be willing to cross that line. For me, what makes it make sense is that she has to be right. Because if she’s not right, then murdering her brother was for nothing.
That has driven her so far: “I’ve got to be right, and this is the last thing that I can do to show that I’m right and to save a version of the world that I have based my whole outlook on.”
She’s continued to do bad things after that flashback. She kept Song prisoner for 13 years, all in the name of reclaiming the surface for humans and never letting herself see the world that her brother saw.
Benson and Dave had their worldview shift
early on in the series as they became accustomed to being a part of this found family. But we finally find out a little bit of their backstory, or supposed backstory, this season.
Wolkoff:They have such a unique outlook on the world. They are survivors, and in Season 1 when we find them, they survive by deflecting. They don’t really engage. Kipo in Season 1 gets them to really live for something bigger than just the two of them.
Season 3 was our chance to explore how they have that outlook that’s allowed them to survive this long on the surface and enjoy it too. So we knew it had to be insane.
We knew it was also an opportunity to dig in and also give some backstory about how the world that we’ve seen in three seasons evolved and came to be. And playing out that war that happened over hundreds of years between all of the different Daves and the people that eventually Benson came out of was the result of that.
Sechrist: I always had a very clear backstory in my mind how they met. And it’s just funny, when you’re working with a group and you’re trying to get everything to work with the big plot, that’s one of those ones that totally went a different direction than I had planned.
What was your original backstory for Benson and Dave?
Sechrist: I love those classic vampire tales where someone’s lived for so long. You get attached to people, [but] at some point, you stop getting attached to people because you know you’re going to live forever and you’re going to keep losing people.
In my mind, I had this backstory where Dave had been attached to someone before and [had] gone through that loss. So he met Benson as a young baby and was immediately gonna walk past and not get attached to this kid. But he was helpless and almost forced to just help this kid out and get attached again and overcome that fact that he’s going to have to lose them.
But we just could never make that concept work with the larger narrative and in the story we’re trying to tell. But it just comes from being a huge vampire fan. I love that living forever concept that always gets so emotional.
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Benson’s story was particularly significant in terms of onscreen representation. Was there any pushback about including his love story?
Wolkoff: There are so many people who have tried to have coming-of-age stories about kids being gay and dealing with that in a real human way and having pushback against that. We came at a time when DreamWorks was more open to it.
I think also, we didn’t have the baggage of being a franchise. I worked on “Once Upon a Time,” and I was in the season where the Mulan character was going to fall in love. But we couldn’t do it, we couldn’t do a gay story with Mulan.
With Benson, we got to tell the story that we wanted to. They supported us from the beginning.
It was exciting to see that at the end of the world, nobody gives you trouble for being gay.
Wolkoff: It reflected the world we knew. You can have a story about being a teenager and being afraid of asking your boyfriend to prom without having to deal with the extra weight of homophobia. That’s also real, but it’s not every story.
Sechrist: Someone brought to our attention that when you see gay characters in media there’s a lot of turmoil. People on our crew, it was important to them that it wasn’t a big deal.
Wolkoff: My instinct as a writer is to always put my characters through the hardest situations possible, and it’s something that you have to be judicious with. When we were in the writers room, one of the writers said, “Hey, you know, it would be more subversive to not put Benson and Troy through hell.”
Can you tell me the story behind the K-pop narwhals?
Sechrist:My wife is Korean, and we go to the BTS concerts when they come to town, and also on our crew Kristine is a K-pop fan.
Wolkoff: Leore [Berris] was the narwhal factor — pushing for narwhals since Season 1.
Sechrist: It seemed like a no-brainer. K-pop narwhals, the magical unicorns of the sea.
Wolkoff: That is the joy of doing a show like this, and it is hard to do. We had lists and lists of mutes that we wanted to introduce that didn’t quite make it, didn’t quite fit. But this felt true to everything we had done before it. All the elements were in place. We said “K-pop narwhals” and Rad immediately, I think within eight minutes, had drawn all of them.
‘Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts’
When: Any time
Rating: TV-Y7 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 7)
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