Disney Debuts Trailer for ‘Primos’: Creator Natasha Kline Interview 5

Primos creator Natasha Kline has known since she was little that she wanted to make her own show. “I was 5 years old and I was like, “I want to be an animator,’” she recalls. 

Equally influential on the childhood of the director/writer/storyboard artist was her large, diverse family and hometown of L.A., a giant city where “there’s grit and there’s dust and there’s texture.” It’s a place she loves for the “real people who live here, despite what the world thinks of Hollywood as this glamorous place.” 

Growing up, the creative hadn’t really seen a series that reflected her coming of age as a Latina in a multicultural home in the Inland Empire. Hey Arnold!, the beloved ‘90s animated series set in a fictitious and amalgamous American city, got somewhat close, thanks to its setting and central characters who “are able to maintain their childhoods and tap into the fun of being a kid.”

It was a vibe that blew her mind as a kid growing up lower middle class in L.A., and one she hasn’t really seen since. But it’s also a show that isn’t quite her experience, which she sees among the multicultural and multiracial families in her current neighborhood. So, she decided to create one. “The house that I lived in, the neighborhood I grew up in where my grandmother lived — the way the show looks is how that neighborhood looked.”

Set to debut July 28 on Disney, Primos joins the likes of Dora the Explorer, Maya & Miguel, Dragon Tales, Nina’s World, Canticos, Legend Quest, Victor and Valentino, The Casagrandes and others as the latest chapter in a growing library of animated kids series centering the diverse landscape of the U.S. and global Latin diaspora, its families, communities, cultures and languages. 

The series follows an ambitious, quirky 10-year-old named Tater whose plan to make her big dreams a reality in a single summer is tested when her mom invites her 12 cousins to come to visit. With Tater and Primos, Kline wanted a kind of specificity — and the authenticity that specificity captures —  to speak to families like her own. 

“I want to send all those kids that are growing up in those families a message that: Here’s a place for you in TV,” she says. “I want to be a mirror for their experience in the world, because that’s not what I had when I was a kid. I feel like if I can reach out to those kids and help them feel seen, then the show will have done what it needs to do.”

Below, The Hollywood Reporter exclusively debuts the first trailer for Disney’s Primos as Kline unpacks the show’s personal inspirations, its artistic and creative development, and addresses early criticisms around its authenticity and accuracy that emerged last year following the online debut of its title sequence. 

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Your show feels like it’s tapping into a spectrum of diversity — both in terms of color and class — within the Latino community in a way some other shows on TV have yet to. How important was that to have in Primos? 

That was always the goal for me. The vibe of my family was just love, support, being there for each other. It doesn’t really matter that we all look different from each other. We all have this common feeling of love. And I thought, man, it would be so cool to be able to create that in a show. Yes, we all look different. Yes, we all come from different walks of life. But we still are here to support each other and to love each other deeply. It was a great message for me as a kid growing up, and to be able to put that on a macro level — like, hey kids, it’s OK if we all have different skin tones, if we all look different or if we all have different kinds of personalities, different struggles, we can all still get along and still love each other. That’s important for kids to see because otherwise it’s, “Oh, we’re all the same color and we get along.” And I’ve seen that a million times. 

ou’ve worked in adult animation on South Park and in kids animation with Big City Greens, The Lego Ninjago Movie and Home: Adventures with Tip & Oh. The comedy gap can be wide there. What are your comedic influences when it comes to Primos?

I have a lot of different influences and I think that they all got mish-mashed into this, but mostly it came from my writers. We had a really great month or two where we got to blue sky what we wanted the show to be. I had created a pilot and a lot of materials to go off of, but I always felt like we could take it to another level as soon as I got the right collaborators together. So in that first month or so, we just started making jokes, writing things for the characters, writing different layers. It was trying to depend on the sensibilities of the people around me. I think my own sense of humor is probably pretty weird, but the visual part of comedy is also really important to me. As a storyboard artist, I think the way that you frame a joke is extremely important.

Was there any line you considered not crossing considering your audience?

There’s quite a few things that I wouldn’t be comfortable joking around about, and luckily my writers were on the same page. Famously a lot of writers’ rooms are very — people get kind of cynical and there’s even borderline abusive writers’ rooms out there. I think that we all in our experience worked in rooms like that and we didn’t want that. We didn’t want any kind of dark or really gross out humor. The last thing I would ever want is for someone on my crew to feel uncomfortable about a joke that’s being made. And even if sometimes we got close to that line, it was like, “No, let’s take that back. Let’s not even go there.” We really tried to tell our jokes with the best of intentions.

Natasha Kline.

Disney/Michael Kirchoff

People can form opinions about an animation project based on whether the art style is aesthetically pleasing to them, but there can be lots of reasons why styling is selected beyond aesthetics. What informed the style for Primos?

The backgrounds are influenced by the literal setting I grew up in. My art director, Ivan [Aguirre], is basically from around 10 miles [near] where I grew up, and we’re both from the Inland Empire. It looks gritty and very much like a lot of parts of L.A. I wanted to represent that in a watercolor style and almost a storybook style because I think there is beauty in that. I’ve lived here for four years and I love L.A. It just looks the way it looks, and I think that the characters in the show love that, too. We have a lot of episodes where it’s about how beautiful L.A. is, and mostly it’s because of the community that lives here.

How did you think about the character design? 

All the characters are a blend of my actual family members. It’s interesting to hear people’s feedback on them because that’s actually how they look, for better or worse. But I love being able to represent that because it’s something that I think is rarely seen, the way my characters look. I think it does maybe tap into some people’s insecurities a little bit. But the thing about the characters is that they love themselves and they are extremely confident. There’s a lot of self-love in this family. That’s what I wanted to reflect, even if you have something that you feel like you might be insecure about. 

For me it was the unibrow. People always told me I needed to pluck my eyebrows and look a certain way. So it was a joy to be able to create a character who has a unibrow and who lives her life to the fullest, and who embraces that thing about her that maybe the world doesn’t really like. I think that’s actually what the Primos teach Tater. Tater wants to change herself and she wants to transform, and she wants to become X, Y, or Z — this really glamorous worldly person. Yet she’s surrounded by all these people who embrace themselves. She’s looking at them going, “You guys seem like you have so much self-love. Maybe that’s something I need to learn about myself.” 

This superficiality of how you appear to people, this show really plays with that. I think that the reaction was kind of evidence of how much people take from the surface level. That was another thing I really wanted to work on in the show. Yeah, this character may look like a bully, but once you start watching him, he reveals layers of himself that weren’t there on the surface. There’s tenderness, confidence, love and maybe a little bit of insecurity, but those things aren’t revealed until you actually watch the stories of these characters. So it’s interesting for there to be such a knee-jerk reaction to 40 seconds of content when actually there’s a lot of richness in the storytelling. I really hope people give it a chance because I think that once they see the layers that we’ve woven into these characters, they’ll see that it actually is kind of cool representation.

Spanish has appeared in U.S. animated shows with the intent of language learning, sometimes just sprinkled in, other times as central to the characters’ identities and episodic plots. In Primos, Spanish is used, but Tater has a different relationship to it than her cousins. In light of the larger industry conversations about specificity in storytelling, and how specific this show is to you, how did you want to represent and use Spanish? 

The specificity angle [is] definitely where I was coming from. A lot of my cousins spoke Spanish, and my grandmother, who we called Buela, was constantly over at the house. She helped raise me. My mom and Buela spoke almost exclusively Spanish, so I was growing up in this atmosphere where pretty much everyone spoke Spanish except for my dad [who spoke English], because my family’s bicultural. I would absorb a little bit of it, and I’m able to understand a lot of it, but that doesn’t necessarily lead to complete fluency. Just because you’re hearing the language doesn’t mean that you’re learning to speak it or write it or that anybody is helping to guide you to understand it. Learning a language isn’t just learning it. You can’t just go to a class. It’s about immersion. 

And there’s all these different facets of what fluency is. I can write really well in Spanish, but I can’t speak it because there’s so many social hang ups over it for me. I wanted to reflect that. I wanted to show what my experience was growing up in that household, where much of what was being said wasn’t understood by me, and you almost have to hang onto the inflection or the way that it’s being communicated so that you can understand it. I am really proud of the way that we’ve done that because I think it’s very clear that Tater is in this weird bubble of sometimes misunderstanding. But again, it goes back to that family support and love. They might not literally be speaking the same language sometimes, but they understand that they really love and support each other. 

That’s actually something that we take through the series, Tater not understanding and hitting a brick wall when it comes to being fluent in Spanish. But then eventually she realizes this is something that’s really important to my family, so maybe it’s something I should become interested in and learn, which was my natural journey, too. Because I had such a close relationship with Buela, my grandmother, I did want to learn Spanish eventually, but having the resources to actually learn it was another thing. 

Your show has arrived in a time where authenticity from voice casting to the writers room is being prioritized. How important was having voices from the Latin community in those roles to you on this show? 

It was extremely important. When we were first interviewing the writers, that was pretty much what the whole interview was about — trying to find out who they were, how they connected to the project, and what kind of lived experience they had that would make them excited about telling a story like this. Generally, it wasn’t even me asking them the questions. As soon as they would get the materials, they’d be like, “That’s me. I want to tell stories about this character.” So just seeing that kind of excitement coming out of the writers was like well, that person’s hired because they’ve connected to the story. And they would have stories of their own saying, “So this happened to me. This is my life and this is why I love these characters, because these characters are speaking about me and my life and my family.”

It was very much the same thing for the actors. The actors that I hired were always just over the moon to be able to be included on this because everybody in the cast sees themself in this project and in the characters that they’re playing. Disney’s casting is amazing. For every single character, I went through 20 or 30 auditions. As I was listening to auditions, for example, the character of Buela, I was trying to hear Buela’s voice. She’s been dead for like eight years now, way before I started developing this project. But her voice is just so clear in my head that when I finally heard Angelica Maria, I was like, “There she is. There’s Buela.” I remember bursting into tears. It was really special.

When the opening themed debut last year, it faced a wave of criticism. You’ve since made changes in the show to address some of that feedback. What did you prioritize in that process, and what did you decide to keep? 

The things that I prioritized keeping were things I purposefully built into the show to communicate a very specific story, things that I actually lived and that were part of my actual life growing up. That stuff was easy for me to keep. I understand why it would upset some people, but at the same time, this is the story I wanted to tell. And if these things left, then it wouldn’t be the same story anymore. The things that I was OK with changing were really just names of things, because I think as history has shown, names are really, really important, and the words that we choose are really important. They reflect messages that sometimes even go beyond our meaning. So when I saw that the meaning of the thing that I was creating was starting to change because of a name I had given it, then I was like, well, obviously it’s OK to change that name. 

I didn’t want it to tarnish the meaning of the show, which for me, is self-love, the importance of dreams for children, tolerance, acceptance, the support of your family. All of these really warm, shiny messages that I want to send to children were starting to become tarnished by names I had given things. So that’s why I was OK with letting go of those. It was actually kind of interesting and fun to be able to go back and find new names for them, because I actually found names that I felt were better ties to my identity and have a warmer meaning for me. The name of the town changed from Terremoto Heights to Hacienda Hills. My grandmother lived in Hacienda Heights. I loved Buela, I loved her house in Hacienda Heights. To be able to imbue that more into the show has been a joy.

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