Disney’s Zombies Continues to Imagine a Better, More Accepting World in The Re-Animated Series

Series stars Milo Manheim, Meg Donnelly, Chandler Kinney, and Kylee Russell talk bringing this franchise into animation, and sharing important messages with young audiences

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Disney’s Zombies Continues to Imagine a Better, More Accepting World in The Re-Animated Series

There’s something undeniably joyous about Disney Channel’s Zombies franchise. The film series takes place in a pastel-painted town called Seabrook where the presence of the titular zombies (and, later, werewolves and aliens) shakes up the status quo in frightening ways, only to make way for a more loving and accepting community when the denizens of this unique town all learn to embrace one another, differences and all. 

That central premise is what grounds the newest addition to the franchise: a 10-episode animated—or, better yet, Re-Animated—series that follows Zed (Milo Manheim), Addison (Meg Donnelly), Willa (Chandler Kinney), Eliza (Kylee Russell), A-Spen (Terry Hu), and so many more familiar faces as they re-do their senior year, prioritizing spending quality time together and having the same goofy and heartfelt misadventures they’re known for, just through a more day-in-the-life approach than the films are ever afforded. 

Why relive senior year, you may ask… Well, now that Addison finally knows where she belongs (after attempting to fit in with multiple crowds, Zombies 3 confirmed her alien heritage), she’s finally freed from the pressures of finding her people, and wants to actually enjoy her final year of high school with her friends before they all move on to college. While The Re-Animated Series features the same pastel colors, hilarious antics, and catchy songs that the movies boast, the most striking carry-over in the jump from live-action films to episodic animation is the messaging this series brings to its young audience. 

Zombies, in all its earnestness and addictive musicality, is a story of belonging and acceptance at its core. As Addison jumps from one group to the next in her attempts to find where she belongs, she allows all of Seabrook—and, in turn, the audiences watching—to accept those that are different from them. Whether it be through thinly-veiled metaphors about anti-racism or anti-xenophobia by way of its zombies or aliens, Zombies doesn’t shy away from the clear parallels to our own world drawn through its supernatural fun. 

“It’s a blessing, for sure,” Russell tells Paste of being a part of a franchise that is so clear with its messaging and values, “Growing up, I wished we had more programs that gave us valuable lessons to not only accept others but to accept ourselves because I feel like that’s a struggle with anyone, and to be able to learn that at such a young age is amazing.” 

Kinney echoes the sentiment, and reiterates that the accessibility of those messages is an extremely important part of why this franchise works so well as both a gateway to these larger ideas and a fun Disney outing for younger audiences to enjoy: “It dresses it up in pretty colors, and we have fun species and werewolves and aliens and we’re dancing and singing, but that message [is] very clear.” 

“The more I do this and as time goes on, the more I understand truly how meaningful the positive message is,” Manheim explains, and he shares the same belief in the importance of its accessibility. “I don’t think these kids watch these movies for the message—well, I mean, I’m sure a lot of them do—but I think they love the singing and the dancing, and they love the football and the colors and the bold choices and the kissing and whatever, but when you watch these movies, you can’t help but let the positivity and the acceptance wash over you. And I think you just see what a world it could be if we were all just a bit more accepting of each other.” 

“Seeing that from a really young age and having that instilled in you—self acceptance and acceptance of others, even if you may not understand them or understand where they come from—I think learning that at a really young age is so important. I’m just excited for the next generation and the generation after that, growing up with programs like this because I think you’ll see that directly reflected in the world that we live in,” Kinney adds. 

Elaborating specifically on the series itself, Donnelly emphasizes that “even though The Re-Animated Series is really random and crazy and so many fun things happen, at the heart of it, it’s still that message of acceptance and loving your friends. I feel like The Re-Animated Series is really about accepting your friends for who they are and it’s a lot about friendship and unity. It still rings so true, even in the craziest show!” 

But, just like it’s not easy bein’ green, it’s a new challenge to take these iconic live-action characters and bring them into animation. For Kinney, translating a character that is such a physical performance into a voice performance was a welcome hurdle: “It’s three hours in the hair and make-up trailer every morning [while filming the live-action movies] and then the dance days are so intense, and that presents a challenge in and of itself. But it’s a different kind of challenge stepping into the booth because for me, especially with playing a werewolf, I focus so much on the physicality of it, of bringing Willa to life, even down to the way that I hold my hands and my claws, and so I was nervous that losing the body language of it would be difficult.” 

She continues, “We have such an incredible creative team and they’ve been so helpful in guiding us in the booth that it still translates. And, obviously, we have an incredible team of animators as well who actually watched us in the booth. Aliki [Theofilopoulos], one of our executive producers, drew our faces and our facial expressions while we were performing, so what you see on screen is actually what we were doing in the studio, which I think is really cool.”  

Russell was more apprehensive about stepping into the booth, but praises the environment created by the creative team that allowed their performances to thrive, “It was definitely a little awkward at first because these characters are all exaggerated, so I was a little self-conscious and embarrassed, but [the creative team] created such a safe space to where I felt comfortable getting out of my comfort zone. And now I get so excited to go into the booth, and I genuinely love it and I’m having the time of my life.” 

Conversely, Donnelly found freedom from the jump in stepping into the voice booth, “Even being on camera and being in costume and hair and makeup, I definitely get very self-conscious about that, but being in a booth, you can literally just do whatever you want, make the craziest faces and you just know that you’re in the booth and the writers are on the other side and they’re laughing and it just feels like comedy, even like stand-up sometimes,” she explains, “If they’re laughing, I’m like ‘Yes!’ So it feels really great, and just so much fun. I absolutely love it. It just feels like one big bit.” 

In the recording process, Manheim discovered that “full force” is the best way to bring Zed to life using just his voice, “Watching the first [sessions] I did, I was like ‘Wow, you don’t get all the other things—the only thing you get is the voice.’” He elaborates, “When I started recording, I didn’t want to be too bold with anything because I don’t want to make it hard for the animators to do something crazy, but I realized doing it the way you think it’s supposed to be read is not fun, you know? You want to bring something really weird to it and if you go crazy with it, then they can make Zed go crazy with it and do something with him, oftentimes stuff that you could not do in the real world. That’s the beauty of it, you can let your creativity sort of flow and there’s no limits.”

In a world of total CoComelon domination and AI-assisted programming on the horizon, it’s a delight to still see Disney Channel and its peers creating children’s shows that feel substantial and important while also being as bright, colorful, and fun as these series should be. In just its opening episodes, Zombies: The Re-Animated Series tackles everything from academic anxiety (Addison struggles when she adds alien classes to her schedule) to mindful consumption (Eliza is a major champion for fixing something instead of immediately replacing it) and thoughtfully delivers these important ideas through delightful musical numbers and vibrant animation—all with a playful wink. 

And luckily for this franchise’s fervent fanbase, this summer’s return to the Zombies world is just the beginning, as filming on the fourth movie just wrapped in late May. Manheim and Donnelly tease an even more hard-hitting message in the next installment. “As it’s gone on, each movie has sort of brought its own thing, and I think the message of Zombies 4 hits the hardest. I found myself really getting emotional at that during our table reads,” Manheim reveals. 

“Filming Zombies 4, I think it’s the most intense the message has been, like it’s very, very, very apparent. And I think it’s incredible. And it’s the reason why Milo [Manheim] and I have been doing these movies for so long and are still doing them and doing The Re-Animated Series,” Donnelly says, “It’s really, really special that I’m a part of this and that there’s generations of kids watching these movies and feeling inspired to stand up to people in their lives or accept others for who they are. It’s just mind-boggling.” 

Zombies: The Re-Animated Series premieres June 28th on Disney Channel, with all episodes streaming June 29th on Disney+. 

Anna Govert is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For any and all thoughts about TV, film, and her unshakable love of complicated female villains, you can follow her @annagovert.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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