Growing up, Michael Kooman and Christopher Dimond—the songwriters for hit Disney Junior series Vampirina—loved Disney animated movies. “It was a huge part of our influence,” Kooman told Paste in a recent phone interview.
The duo met while students at Carnegie Mellon University and went on to write the musicals The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes and Romantics Anonymous, the latter of which is about to embark on an American tour. A Disney executive saw a reading of Howard Barnes when it was in development and asked the pair to audition for Disney Junior. Soon they found themselves writing all the songs for an animated show about a young vampire named Vee (Isabella Crovetti) who moves from Transylvania to Pennsylvania with her family and must adjust to living in the human world. The series hits on the themes of celebrating differences and working together to solve problems. “The heart of the show is just so strong and such a wonderful message to give to kids,” Dimond says.
Although the pair had never written for children before, they say it isn’t a big adjustment to adapt to the age of their viewing audience. “I think the worst thing you could possibly do when you’re writing for a younger audience is talk down to kids,” Dimond says. “Kids are a really smart audience. I don’t think our process changes drastically when we are writing for adults or children.”
Kooman and Dimond recently challenged themselves by doing something they hadn’t yet tackled in their career—writing an episode that is entirely sung through. In “Vamp-Opera,” Vee casts a spell that inadvertently has the whole town singing. “We got to play around with a lot of different styles.” Kooman says of the episode. “We have this one chance to have the entire town singing. We thought it would be so much fun if we had a big throwback to the movie musicals with the MGM kind of sound because it’s so opposite of what they normally do.”
The two are at an age where many of their friends and family have children in Vampirina’s target demographic, so they get to see first-hand the joy the show brings to children. They’ve also both been to Disney World and had the chance to experience the Vampirina fandom up close. “It was really a surreal, incredible, moving experience,” Dimond says. “It was really emotional. I got a little choked up.”
Kooman and Dimond see themselves writing for children for years to come. “It’s such a special job,” Kooman says. “All I do somedays is go to a piano and try to write a song that is going to make a kid happy, make a kid smile, or make a kid laugh. As the composer, if I’m sitting at the piano doing that I have to sort of embody that energy and that space to effectively communicate that emotion. So for a job, it’s just so wonderful because I get to inhabit this really beautiful positive mental space.”
See our exclusive sneak peak at “Vamp-opera” below; “Vamp-Opera” premieres October 18 at 11 a.m. on Disney Junior:
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal).