Totally Spies! Creatives on Bringing Back a Beloved Brand

When Totally Spies! debuted in 2001, it captured children’s attention as they watched teenagers Sam, Clover and Alex navigate their lives as regular high schoolers in Beverly Hills and as global secret agents. After running for six seasons, with the last episode airing in 2014, the series came to a halt. Now, ten years later, Banijay Kids & Family is continuing the three young spies’ story with a seventh season debuting later this year for today’s children and the millennial and Gen Z audience of yore.

Now was the perfect time to bring the beloved brand back, according to Gary Milne, executive producer of the new season. “We are looking, as many producers do, for brands that will cut through a noisy and quite fragmented market,” he says. “That love was there [for Totally Spies!]. It has three really aspirational women at the heart of the show. It has kick-butt action. It’s funny. It really fits what’s needed out in the market.”

While the world has changed a bit since the last season launched, it was important to the series’ creatives to retain the universal themes of friendship, sisterhood and navigating high school. “But our new audience is Gen Alphas,” Milne notes. “They’re probably the most socially aware audience we’ve ever had. So, [we’re incorporating] themes about the environment, the online world that they are in [and] really rich and deep characters.”

They were careful not to alter too much in Totally Spies!, though, he emphasizes. “It was just about bringing out other elements that we could explore. That was a huge reason for taking [the girls] out of Beverly Hills and transplanting them in Singapore as the new city. In essence, that was taking them out of their comfort zone, and we then get to see a different type of story with characters we already love.”

With the newest season, “we’ve had an opportunity to go in deeper with them as individuals,” Milne continues. “You’ve got these three women at the heart, and I think it’s super important to show that there’s a spectrum to being a female. They are unique and different. We just elevated those differences.”

As for the spies’ iconic looks, it was important to keep those mostly the same so that little girls watching could still easily identify with them. “The most important thing for me is that every girl in the world should continue to feel like one of the girls, like Sam, Alex or Clover,” explains Stéphane Berry, director, executive producer and art director. “Because each time I talk with young girls or older girls, the first question I ask is, which one do you prefer to be? There are some Clovers, some Sams, some Alexes.”

In addition to the girls’ looks, the Totally Spies! world is known for the fun gadgets the spies use on their missions, from exploding barrettes to laser lipsticks. And while technology in the real world has changed a bit in the last ten years, the tech in the show didn’t need to. “What’s brilliant about Totally Spies! is the gadgets are unique to the show itself,” Milne says. “They’re always based on a twist on something that you might know, but it’s unexpected. So, in essence, it doesn’t really lock it into a time period in terms of tech.”

That being said, the creative team does recognize that the young audience is involved in a more online world than ever before. So, “we’re exploring things around that,” Milne says. “Clover does do sort of video blogs of her time in Singapore as a way of talking to the audience but also acknowledging that there’s that technology out there.”

Just as in the original six seasons, the gadgets and tech remain a focal point. With the principle of Chekhov’s gun in mind, if a gadget is shown at the beginning of an episode, it will be used by the end. The audience then starts to realize that when they catch a glimpse of a gadget, they’ll get to see it used at a later time, Milne explains. It creates a sense of anticipation, as “you’re kind of waiting to see how and why” the girls use their unique tools.

Many reboots of older shows often move from one animation method to another. It’s been seen time and time again: a 2D show from the early 2000s is brought back and rendered into 3D/CGI for today’s generation. Such is not the case for the new season of Totally Spies!, however.

“I said to my producers at the beginning that, for me, it’s absolutely impossible to make Totally Spies! in CGI,” Berry says. The girls travel all around the world, and making the background shots in 3D would be creatively demanding and costly, he explains. Not only that, but the three spies frequently change outfits in the episodes, which would be another costly change to incorporate with CGI. “So, the important thing for me was to keep them in 2D because it gives me the freedom to make them go through the world without any restriction.”

Another reason it was important? The new season isn’t a full reboot—it’s a continuation. “Totally Spies! is still available in all major markets,” Milne points out. As such, the new season will air alongside the others. “It needed to feel like it was sitting next to previous seasons. [It had] to feel like it’s had a glow up but still have that connection that feels right. Shifting to CGI may have been a bit jarring in that sense.”

As many brand owners have stated by now, a 360-degree strategy is important these days, and Milne notes that brand extensions will be coming along with the new season to allow fans to forge an even deeper connection with the series and characters.

“We’ve got our primary TV audience, which is 6 to 9, 6 to 11, but we also have our heritage audience of millennials and Gen Z,” Milne says. “With our licensing program, we’re really building in those brand extensions that have activations for existing fans.”

As it gets closer to the launch of the new season, the brand extensions will incorporate the new episodes more and look to draw in the new Gen Alpha audience, he says. Until then, the heritage audience that is familiar with the show from their own childhoods will be fed well.

Ultimately, “I’m hoping people will be excited by the new elements and then be really pulled in by the stuff that they know and love,” Milne says. And as someone who watched the original series himself, “I felt very honored to be put in charge of developing the editorial for this season.”