Show creator Nicole Dubuc speaks to TV Kids about how The Rocketeer honors its inspiration while finding inventive ways to connect to its young audience.
Nicole Dubuc began her career in the entertainment industry in front of the camera. Best known for playing middle daughter Robin Cooper MacGillis in the sitcom Major Dad, Dubuc also held roles on such popular TV programs of the ’80s as Our House and ALF. Her first gig on the other side of the business was as an apprentice writer for Disney Channel’s Kim Possible. She went on to work on Miles from Tomorrowland and Transformers Rescue Bots, among many other shows. The latest from the seven-time Emmy nominee is The Rocketeer, an animated series inspired by the comics penned by Dave Stevens and the subsequent feature film. The Disney Junior show follows a young girl named Kit who learns that she is destined to be the next Rocketeer superhero, equipped with a rocket pack that enables her to fly. Leading the series’ voice cast is Billy Campbell, who played the Rocketeer in the 1991 Disney film, as Kit’s dad, while Kathy Najimy (Hocus Pocus) voices her mother. Kit is voiced by Kitana Turnbull (A Series of Unfortunate Events). Dubuc speaks to TV Kids Weekly about how The Rocketeer honors its inspiration while finding inventive ways to connect to its young audience.
TV KIDS: How did you come to be involved with The Rocketeer?
DUBUC: I was lucky enough that Disney reached out to me. I was super busy at the time, so I was going into the meeting like, I can’t take on anything else. And then the executive just slid the Rocketeer comic book across the table to me and I was like, Oh, you got me. I love it so much. So I got involved and I worked on developing it for a couple of years. And here we are.
TV KIDS: The comic book and movie were quite a bit different from the series for Disney Junior. Can you talk a bit about the changes that were made?
DUBUC: One of the biggest thoughts we had going into this was to make this awesome world accessible to preschoolers. As part of that, our main character is Kit Secord, and she’s related to Cliff [Secord, the comic’s protagonist]. So she’s not so much replacing him as taking up the mantle. What we liked about the small-town community is that there are elements of it in the film that we kind of leaned into—so, the Bulldog Cafe, the rural elements of the airfield. We thought that might be kind of a cool thing to work in for a preschool show because having a smaller cast of characters in this town, where everyone knows each other, feels like something that kids are very familiar with. It makes it like something they could master. But we haven’t forgotten some of the stuff we all like about the comic or the movie, so we worked that into the design style a bit. My art director, Max, came up with this idea called “steampop.” So there’s a little bit of the steampunk element; it’s like steampunk meets preschool. We’ve got a lot of repurposed airplane parts that kind of make up the world around the show, and really leaning into the idea that this is a town with aviation history. It’s even called Hughesville, which is a reference to Howard Hughes. It’s got a lot of Easter eggs from the original stuff too because as I mentioned, we’re all fans first.
TV KIDS: How did you decide to make this iteration of Rocketeer a girl? And do you think this series, with its strong girl lead, will appeal to boys as well?
DUBUC: I thought it was kind of a neat way to continue the story and say, Look, everyone and anyone can be a hero. Girls love to fly too. We even had one of our directors study to be a pilot and she said she was one of the few females in the class. It’s kind of neat to be able to say, Well, girls do this too. I absolutely [think the show will appeal to boys]. Kit is just a really fun character. I feel like she’s somebody that everyone would want to be friends with and fly in the sky with. She has a best friend named Tesh, who is a boy and they’re a great kind of contrast. Kit is like, I am going to do whatever it takes to get this done! And Tesh is like, Yeah, but there might be a shortcut! There’s a good kind of balance to that. Tesh is a really fun character. We also have Butch the bulldog in there. Who doesn’t love a bulldog?
TV KIDS: Billy Campbell, who played Cliff in The Rocketeer movie, is involved in the series. How did that come about?
DUBUC: We were lucky enough that he said yes when we asked him to play Kit’s dad. It was a great moment for me. I’m like, I will try not to fangirl out every time we record this! He plays Kit’s dad Dave, who is named after Dave Stevens, of course, so it’s a neat homage. And it’s been so cool having the original Rocketeer kind of guiding the new Rocketeer in a way on this project.
TV KIDS: Every episode of the series is going to have a new original song. Did you always plan on having music be a big part of the series?
DUBUC: We kind of ended up falling into that, but it’s been really great because it gives you these neat backdrops to have these beautiful flying sequences. Sometimes that might be backed away from in preschool because there’s not a lot of talking necessarily during it, but there’s all of this action. Being able to speak to what the characters are feeling through song during the action has been a really good fit for the show.
TV KIDS: What are some messages you hope the young viewers take away from the series and the character of Kit?
DUBUC: I think one of the great things is it’s a really empowering show. It gives you the idea that anybody can be a hero if they believe in their heart that they’re ready to rise to the challenge. And so, with Kit putting on the rocket pack, she gets this chance to create a positive impact on the world by helping out whenever she can. There’s that pro-social message of helping others, making new friends, stopping the bad guys. For a preschooler, I think it’s really empowering.
TV KIDS: You were part of bringing a same-sex couple to My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic. Can you tell me a bit about how that came about? And do you think we’ll be seeing more of a push for diversity in kids’ TV?
DUBUC: Michael Vogel and I had written [that storyline for] the My Little Pony chapter books. Hasbro gave us the chance to get those characters into the show. That was really cool to bring them to life. I can’t speak to the whole oeuvre of animation, but I think it’s very important to have representation, to have people be who they are on-screen and I believe in a message of love.
TV KIDS: What else do you want people to know about The Rocketeer?
DUBUC: The Rocketeer is such a beautiful show. We’re working with this amazing animation company called ICON [Creative Studio] up in Vancouver and just like every time I look at a new episode I’m like, Wow, this is pretty. And some of the flying stuff I think is really going to be engaging for kids. I’m super excited for everyone to see it.