Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors Gives Girls the Female Superheroes They Want

The team behind Disney Channel's new female-focused animated superhero movie explain how their film serves the growing demand for superhero content geared toward girls.

by | September 28, 2018 | Comments

Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors, debuting on Disney Channel and Disney XD on Sunday, represents an expansion of Marvel Entertainment’s superheroes into a market often underserved by action-oriented animation: young girls. Proof: One story that has made the rounds in Hollywood involves a network executive canceling a well-received superhero cartoon because it played too well to girls and was, therefore, outside the target demographic. But as the voice cast and producers of Marvel Rising told Rotten Tomatoes, the will finally exists to acknowledge that young female audiences like superheroes.

“It’s not anything surprising,” explained Sana Amanat, Marvel’s vice president for content & character development and co-creator of Ms. Marvel. “They like awesome characters who kick butt.”

In the case of the Secret Warriors telefilm, those characters include Ms. Marvel (a.k.a. Kamala Khan), the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (a.k.a. Doreen Green), and America Chavez, among others. The three characters came to prominence in the pages of Marvel Comics over the last 10 years. During that time, Amanat worked at Marvel as an editor of comic books like Hawkeye and Ms. Marvel, and as she recalls it, the increased focus on female characters is something the company has been building toward for a long while.

(Photo by Disney Channel)

“We had much bigger audiences coming into Marvel, so we were able to tell more stories,” she told Rotten Tomatoes.

While the company has a longstanding tradition of powerful and prominent women in their team books — Storm and Captain Marvel have both led the X-Men and the Avengers, respectively — the more recent uptick in solo titles was a result of that larger audience becoming more vocal. One of the early successes in recognizing the audience was Captain Marvel herself, who was known as Ms. Marvel until a 2012 rebranding of the character that eventually led to the upcoming feature film. The change with the character followed Disney’s purchase of Marvel Entertainment, which Amanat said also contributed to the growing focus on female characters.

“As Marvel’s global brand has expanded, we were able to do what we do with Captain Marvel and then create Kamala Khan and do a Squirrel Girl book,” she said, noting that the increased emphasis was never a directive or initiative from on high. “There is this community out there that wants it, and we want to be able to tell stories for them,” she added.

(Photo by Disney Channel)

And as with the comics, the animation community also became vocal — especially after that story about the superhero show cancellation trickled down to fans. At the same time, action-oriented shows with prominent female characters began to emerge. With the market potential recognized by a broader corporate group, both Amanat and Cort Lane, Marvel senior vice president for animation & family entertainment, went to work developing Marvel Rising as an umbrella concept to house characters like Ms. Marvel and Squirrel Girl in animation. Lane’s team also went to the source to discover what girls wanted from a superhero cartoon.

Key elements included action and comedy — a mixture familiar to anyone who has watched Avatar: The Last Airbender — but Lane said the research revealed the audience was also interested in “how characters interact with each other.” In the case of Secret Warriors, Lane pointed to Squirrel Girl’s disastrous first meeting with Dante, a fire-powered Inhuman, versus the way Ms. Marvel viewed their initial interaction.

“She sees through his fear and anger and sees there’s a good guy in there,” Lane told Rotten Tomatoes. “It opens the door for him to be the best version of himself. That’s the kind of character stories girls want to see.”

(Photo by Disney Channel)

The research also led to an interesting and very specific note on inclusion: The girls surveyed wanted two boys in the group.

Explained Lane, “Just one is weird. Two is enough.”

Taking the point to heart led to adding Dante — based on the Marvel Comics character Inferno — and Patriot, another protégé of Captain America with ties to early Marvel history. Voice actor Kamil McFadden told Rotten Tomatoes he was thrilled to learn about the extensive past of Marvel characters called Patriot.

“I loved learning about the different variations,” he said. “I definitely felt it was necessary to do due diligence [in learning about the character], because I’m the first person to breathe life into this character, and I want to make sure I do it right.”

For Tyler Posey, who plays Dante, voicing a supporting character was one of the key appeals.

“My character is more of a vulnerable, angsty teen while [Kamala and Squirrel Girl] are more powerful emotionally and physically,” he said.

Both the strengths and the bond of Kamala and Squirrel Girl are key components of the Secret Warriors story and the earlier Marvel Rising project, Initiation. Both were written by television and comic book writer Mairghread Scott, whose work includes runs on titles like Batgirl and Transformers. Her pitch for the film centered on Ms. Marvel as the anchor before expanding to introduce characters like America and Dante.

(Photo by Disney Channel)

In anchoring the film as Kamala, voice actor Kathreen Khavari said she was “blessed” to play a character she relates to in a number of ways: “I love representing her. She’s so full of life. She’s excited and excitable, and it really lends itself well to animation.”

But unlike the 23-minute Initiation, the 80-minute Secret Warriors also delves deeper into some of the characters’ flaws as well. That was an element Milana Vayntrub definitely appreciated in the script.

“No one is perfect,” she said. “Creating characters with flaws is more relatable.”

Marvel Rising is a return to the character for Vayntrub after playing Squirrel Girl in New Warriors, a live-action comedy pilot that may yet become a full TV show somewhere in the Disney/Marvel universe.

“I was most attracted to her positivity and her outlook on the world,” she said of Doreen. “She believes in friendship and doing the right thing and will find a way to make that happen by any means necessary.”

Of course, her zeal can lead to some missteps and possibly major disagreements with Ms. Marvel. But as Lane noted, “These are the kind [of stories] Marvel is known for. It’s very personal, the mistakes are personal. Even the world-saving stakes are tied to personal stories for the characters.”

(Photo by Disney Channel)

Unlike the more external problems, which can often be resolved in superhero stories by a battle of powers, the more personal mistakes can often only be dealt with by empathy and compassion, which Lane said was a critical aspect in stories for this market. “[Even if] Kamala and Doreen have a fight, they still love each other. Kamala finds empathy for Dante. It turns out to be so essential. All the characters find empathy is more important than what they think they should be doing. Empathy drives Doreen’s plea and it drives Patriot’s choice [at one point in the movie].”

To Amanat, emphasizing the characters’ ability to grow — while also showing them as competent and strong — will continue to bring viewers back for potential future Marvel Rising projects.

“We believe there is this entire audience that we’ve been able to tap into,” she said, “but we want to continue to talk to.”

And as for those future projects? In trying to maintain the usual Marvel veil of secrecy, Lane said, “There are things to announce soon. Very soon.”

Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors premieres Sunday, September 30 at 10 p.m. on Disney Channel and Disney XD.

Tag Cloud

Sundance Now scary movies dramedy animated TV renewals Awards Tour doctor who 4/20 canceled french Travel Channel Grammys BBC Tumblr boxing Super Bowl comic books Trailer Set visit DGA Song of Ice and Fire south america screenings trailers Black History Month Bravo TCA Winter 2020 45 Toys MTV cops razzies telelvision Apple TV+ festivals aliens 21st Century Fox best Animation free movies Hulu PaleyFest batman Rock Syfy docuseries psychological thriller Shudder YouTube Red popular science fiction adaptation VICE screen actors guild VOD Biopics Mystery politics stoner kaiju TCA 2017 scorecard Disney streaming service TIFF Quiz Elton John Musical Amazon Prime transformers supernatural space ghosts spain Crackle Emmys El Rey Year in Review FX crime thriller Reality Crunchyroll 2017 Turner Lifetime ViacomCBS DC Universe Mindy Kaling boxoffice mutant Rocky Netflix Christmas movies Trophy Talk E3 blockbusters First Look Television Critics Association FX on Hulu australia prank Polls and Games Broadway Valentine's Day Martial Arts Rom-Com New York Comic Con miniseries GIFs Pirates The Academy Interview Pet Sematary ESPN 2019 natural history cancelled TV shows ABC all-time HBO Max IFC Fox News video mockumentary Thanksgiving name the review crossover Britbox TNT unscripted comic Columbia Pictures werewolf IFC Films Photos TCA Awards godzilla elevated horror LGBT BET Kids & Family cats Paramount Plus Trivia reviews Cartoon Network stop motion Funimation Opinion Star Wars Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt twilight harry potter National Geographic Chilling Adventures of Sabrina zero dark thirty Universal criterion concert romance X-Men Christmas award winner Extras The Arrangement psycho justice league BAFTA laika 99% foreign Esquire Tubi President Adult Swim what to watch Disney Plus Marvel Studios toronto Hear Us Out Country Baby Yoda Ellie Kemper Ovation Sony Pictures Comedy documentaries Dark Horse Comics Tomatazos Sci-Fi japanese Disney+ Disney Plus Box Office Amazon Studios SDCC WGN Music BBC One book Infographic GoT Cannes Pixar 71st Emmy Awards Netflix canceled TV shows Ghostbusters a nightmare on elm street The Purge period drama Black Mirror Spike crime drama zombie movie political drama Showtime 2016 Lionsgate rom-coms anime Heroines Apple TV Plus renewed TV shows See It Skip It TV Binge Guide game show USA theme song child's play Epix HBO Go facebook discovery FXX cancelled television superhero Stephen King E! Starz versus Sundance TV indie Amazon Prime Video cancelled TV series nfl Brie Larson binge dark black dceu Marathons news Endgame james bond deadpool Premiere Dates CMT teaser HBO CNN football Writers Guild of America sports Fantasy Chernobyl Masterpiece Exclusive Video fresh italian comiccon social media halloween tv RT21 TBS biography war parents Marvel Television Winners dc Watching Series Television Academy latino Spring TV Teen Hallmark Film Festival Summer MCU adventure women worst movies hist Western serial killer Captain marvel TruTV 2018 Nickelodeon strong female leads universal monsters CBS All Access Schedule breaking bad Film rotten jamie lee curtis jurassic park ID Lucasfilm films rt archives First Reviews toy story travel indiana jones 72 Emmy Awards Action nbcuniversal Mary Tyler Moore Peacock spanish cults Rocketman satire reboot Mary poppins PBS FOX Star Trek zombies Mudbound spinoff Musicals OneApp based on movie Pop classics A&E Hallmark Christmas movies CW Seed slashers Anna Paquin Classic Film Superheroe medical drama thriller Red Carpet PlayStation SundanceTV 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards 2021 YA Horror spy thriller SXSW green book emmy awards Shondaland Freeform Fox Searchlight composers christmas movies Family cancelled Cosplay Comics on TV Election independent richard e. Grant DC Comics kong DirecTV Awards Comedy Central Alien venice Acorn TV San Diego Comic-Con sequels anthology ABC Signature VH1 technology OWN Legendary Comic Book critics The CW sequel golden globe awards blaxploitation Fall TV Logo video on demand Discovery Channel tv talk Calendar remakes festival Holidays NBC A24 APB Marvel YouTube Premium sag awards streaming pirates of the caribbean Sneak Peek ABC Family 24 frames diversity 2015 20th Century Fox Pop TV rotten movies we love Academy Awards ratings Tarantino NYCC superman movies Spectrum Originals game of thrones police drama Creative Arts Emmys Nat Geo Countdown Women's History Month Best and Worst dragons Superheroes cinemax The Walt Disney Company television crime Emmy Nominations sitcom fast and furious kids golden globes directors mission: impossible joker spider-man comedies die hard worst romantic comedy Mary Poppins Returns CBS finale hidden camera archives TLC hollywood Paramount Disney Channel Character Guide vampires dogs Food Network chucky ITV halloween MSNBC talk show Video Games Winter TV Warner Bros. Holiday RT History Oscars USA Network nature American Society of Cinematographers Reality Competition 007 hispanic singing competition TV Land Avengers Apple The Witch docudrama children's TV 2020 casting blockbuster franchise robots Podcast Arrowverse Paramount Network TCA History BET Awards LGBTQ cars WarnerMedia historical drama true crime cooking Sundance revenge king kong series Pride Month obituary Certified Fresh asian-american Lifetime Christmas movies spanish language Vudu Walt Disney Pictures stand-up comedy DC streaming service Drama GLAAD quibi comics AMC Amazon documentary Turner Classic Movies TV One TCM witnail Disney YouTube The Walking Dead Nominations monster movies cartoon disaster BBC America