Matt Braly, creator and executive producer of Amphibia, talks to TV Kids about the animated comedy series that has launched its second season on Disney Channel.
With the spirit of adventure at its center, the second season of the animated comedy Amphibia is currently underway on Disney Channel, following fiercely independent teen Anne Boonchuy as she heads off on a quest through the land of frog-people alongside Sprig and Hop Pop Plantar. In the hopes of unlocking the mysteries of the music box and finding Anne passage home, the trio leaves Wartwood for the distant city of Newtopia. Throughout the journey, they visit new locations, unearth hidden secrets and reunite with old pals.
“The first season was really all about Anne trapped in this one location and kind of having to make do and make connections with the people around her, and by the end of the season, she really loves that place,” says Matt Braly, creator and executive producer of the series. “In the second season, they’re actually setting out. They’re embarking on this exciting journey to explore the world more actively and find a way home for Anne. Really, the theme of the second season is adventure.”
Braly found inspiration for the series from trips he took to Thailand with his mother as a child in which he felt, in his words, like “a fish-out-of-water.” He explains, “I really wanted to create a show that starred a character who was dropped into an environment they were unfamiliar with and sort of grew and changed because of their experiences there. Because I knew that when I went to Bangkok, I would always feel very uncomfortable at first—things were so different, I was from California—but by the end of the trip, I didn’t want to leave. I was looking to bottle up that feeling.”
While the pathos of Amphibia’s story is anchored by Braly’s own experiences and feelings, the character of Anne has been drawn from images of his grandmother as a young girl. “She has this crazy, wild-child hair and this very determined, independent expression, and so I was really looking to kind of pay homage to her in a way.”
A throughline in Braly’s show is Thai culture, with Anne’s Thai background an established part of her character that is explored in subtle ways over the course of the series. For Braly, Amphibia isn’t a show about a Thai character with the aim of being a cultural ambassador, but rather a show with a Thai character whose unique experiences organically seep into the story. “The show itself is really not about being Thai or being Thai American, but [Anne] being Thai is definitely part of the show,” explains Braly. “In flashbacks and such you can hear her mom speaking Thai to her. There are little bits of her culture that pop up in the show. We have an episode called ‘Lily Pad Thai,’ where she converts a struggling frog restaurant into a Thai fusion frog restaurant.”
This seamless introduction of a culture that many young viewers may not be too familiar with—and, perhaps more importantly, a representation for kids who rarely see characters in their image on screen—is vital in the contemporary content landscape. “Just by existing, and there being a Southeast Asian protagonist, it does a lot of work,” says Braly. “When I was growing up, I was constantly looking for myself on the screen and there just weren’t many examples. Hopefully, this will embolden others to do something similar. There are many ways to bring diversity to the screen. [Anne] being Thai is part of the show, but it’s about a girl who is stuck in a fantasy world.”
Another series that’s set amid the fantastical and supernatural is Gravity Falls, a Disney Channel show created by Alex Hirsch for which Braly worked on as a director and storyboard artist. Season two of Amphibia will feature a Gravity Falls homage. “I can’t say too much, but I will just say that two very familiar faces will be showing up in a way that no one is expecting,” Braly teases. The sophomore outing of Amphibia will also feature more than a few notable guest stars, including Gravity Falls’ Kristen Schaal and Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville and Michelle Dockery. However, Braly might be most excited about the appearance of Muppet Kermit the Frog, an idea that was championed by Big City Greens creators and EPs Chris and Shane Houghton. “We’re super excited to have the most famous of amphibians voicing a character on our show,” says Braly, who is also thrilled to have aStar Trek star onboard. “I was very honored to be able to record George Takei. He’s a huge Asian-American role model and he was an utter delight to work with. He was just reciting Shakespeare in the booth!”
Ahead of the season two premiere of Amphibia on July 11, Disney Channel ordered a third that Braly has already commenced plotting. “I really like to think of this show, these seasons, as chapters in a book,” says Braly. “So, rest assured, the third season will feel very different from the second season, which feels very different from the first.”
Amphibia airs on Saturdays on Disney Channel and DisneyNOW at 8:20 p.m. The series is a production of Disney Television Animation and carries a TV-Y7 parental guideline.