The last time I spoke with Craig McCracken, his new animated series Wander Over Yonder was about to premiere on the Disney Channel. I caught up with him again recently at the opening of “Man vs. Machine: The Robot Show,” the latest in-house art exhibition to grace the walls of Disney’s Television Animation studio in Glendale, California (you can read all about it here). Now that the show has been airing for a while, I asked him how he’s felt about the response he’s gotten from the audience.
“A lot of times what happens is there’ll be things that we’re doing organically in the show that we really like, and then we see that audiences respond to that same thing,” he said. “It kind of gives us the encouragement that all right, that was the right path. That was the right choice. So we’ve definitely being doing that. I mean, we see what the fans are responding to and we love those exact same things for the exact same reasons, so we’re happy to continue doing those things for fans.”
One of the unexpected reactions McCracken has found is just how popular the show’s main antagonist, Lord Hater (voiced by Keith Ferguson), has become. He may be out to conquer the universe and rule it with an iron fist, but deep down he’s just an overgrown adolescent riddled with insecurities. His relationship with Jack McBrayer’s Wander is more complicated than it seems, and McCracken plans to exploit those depths in the episodes to come.
“We found that Lord Hater is kind of a breakout star character,” McCracken said. “People just love him. And we love writing for him. And even though he’s a villain, he’s really just sympathetic and really lovable, so we’ve kind of embraced that. We love him and the fans love him, so you’re going to learn more about him. He’s not as evil as he says he is. He’s a lot more vulnerable than he maybe portrays. And we also learn more about what Wander’s trying to do with Hater. He’s kind of slowly trying to wear him down and just make him his friend, because he knows that deep down, somewhere inside of him, there’s a good guy. And Wander’s just kind of going to keep persisting until he finally gets that guy to come out.”
There’s a certain aesthetic appeal to Hater’s design as well. With a hooded skull face and lightning bolt embellishments reminiscent of 1980s death metal, there’s a bit of a nostalgic quality to his aesthetic. McCracken promises even more of that to come.
“There’s one episode where Hater’s feeling down in the dumps and he doesn’t know if evil’s the same as it used to be, so Peepers takes him out in his own van. So we have an old van with a skull painted on the side of it. And they kind of go out and they’re just kind of doing what bullies or teenagers do when they’re being rowdy. They kind of just get back to the rudimentary thing of being jerks.”
That episode will be part of a run of brand new episodes premiering this summer on Disney XD. (Reruns will still air on the Disney Channel, but XD is Wander Over Yonder‘s new official home.) McCracken said he’s looking forward to the opportunity to reach even more viewers.
“I’m really excited about it because it’s some of our best work from the season,” he said. It’s going to be airing right at the time when they’re doing a big push for shows in the summer. Wander‘s been normally premiering at night, but I’m curious to see how it’s going to do in the mornings or in the daytime, because it’s a really bright and sunny and positive and energetic show. It seems like the kind of show where after you watch it, you want to go outside and run around. Wander kind of gets you excited about having fun.”