“The Ghost and Molly McGee”: a fiery friendship
*** This article originally appeared in Sept./Oct. ’21 number Animation review (N ° 313) ***
It’s been almost 30 years since Emmy-winning writing partners Bill Motz and Bob Roth sold their first screenplay to Disney, which was for an episode of the popular series. Black wing duck. Now, having worked together on many acclaimed animated shows including Aladdin, Hercules, Star Command Buzz Lightyear, Kim possible, Phineas and Ferb and Penguins of Madagascar, they’re back with a lovely new show for Disney + titled The Ghost and Molly McGee.
The series centers on Molly, a cheerful young girl (voiced by actress / writer Ashly Burch) who gets stuck with a cranky ghost named Scratch (Dana Synder) after she and her family move into a new home. The duo end up forming friendships despite their differences as they navigate life’s little adventures.
In a recent interview, Motz and Roth reveal that their own different personalities inspired the show’s premise. “We made up this simple story about a young girl and a ghost years ago, but it wasn’t until we started developing the series that we realized they were actually us. Roth explains. “Bill is an extrovert and an optimist, and I’m more of an introvert and a pessimist. Bill is lucky and I’m a little cranky. That’s when we realized: Wait a second, we’re just doing a show on us!
Keep the ghost alive
The duo remember coming up with the show’s pitch 14 years ago, but struggled to sell it at the time. “He was killed in 30 seconds,” Motz says. “Then we presented it to Nickelodeon, and it was thrown over the rocks as well. But we kept coming back to it. Lego Star Wars project with Disney when the studio graciously gave us a global agreement. So we played around with several different ideas, and Bob said, ‘Hey, I liked that Molly McGee idea, so we tried our luck again! Then when we had Dana as Scratch and Ashly as Molly, we were cooking on gas.
Motz says they decided earlier to base Molly’s legacy on whoever they chose for the role. “So when we chose Ashly, who we adored, we built the character’s ethnicity on her,” he notes. We didn’t want to assume that everything was fine, so we got together for lunch and asked her what she thought about it, and she was very excited about it.
Roth adds, “When we interview people, we always ask them to tell us about themselves – not just about their work, but about where they grew up, their siblings, their brothers and sisters. pets, where they come from, etc. get to know them. That’s why Molly went half Thai and half white, just like Ashly. Our crew also bring a lot of themselves to the show and that makes it all richer and more interesting “
The diversity of the team doing the show was very important to the showrunners.
As Roth tells us, “We built our team around this idea. We work very closely with them, and they are all very talented and hardworking. Disney has also been very helpful in helping us discover talent that we weren’t aware of before. We had a huge pile of submissions from people who had never been hired before. They had such new perspectives and told us firsthand about Thai culture and traditions. We also bring in consultants in all areas covered by the show’s script, be it LGBTQ issues or climate science, etc.
Motz and Roth are very happy with what they call the “magical chemistry” of their show. “We discovered some things just through a merry kismet,” says Roth. “For example, we learned the practices of Thai culture towards the supernatural. They have the tradition of these spirit houses, which are little houses that they have to honor the spirit that may have lived there before. It was a perfect idea for our Scratch ghost! So that was added to the mythology that we were trying to build on the show. “
Also on hand was co-executive producer Steve Loter, who was in charge of the show’s gorgeous visuals. (The actual animation production is done by the fantastic team at Mercury Filmworks in Canada, using Toon Boom Harmony.) Loter, who won two Emmy Awards for his work on The Penguins of Madagascar series, had previously teamed up with Motz and Roth on a number of projects, including Kim Possible, The Penguins of Madagascar and The Legend of Tarzan. “I would take any opportunity to work with them,” he tells us. “I loved the concept of their new show and absolutely wanted to be involved. I like the quirky humor, but what makes him shine is his genuine heart that you can relate to. “
Loter adds, “We have this strong desire to include at least one original song in every episode. The songs that our series songwriter Rob Cantor writes are so awesome that you want to keep storyboarding to make the visuals as fabulous as the songs.
When asked about the challenges of working during the pandemic, Motz and Roth point out that the lockdown only started two weeks before sending the series’ first episode to animation. “The entire season has been locked out,” says Roth. “What’s amazing is that even before the pandemic we wanted to put something of hope in the world – something that warms the hearts of the public and makes them dream again. We want families to watch this show together and remember that we can make the world a better place if we try to understand each other better. “
Motz adds, “We like to say that the show is about a ghost and a girl bringing him back to life. Molly is that seething force that brings both Scratch and the whole town to life. She will bring him to her point of view. We think there is enough cynicism out there!
As we near the end of our interview, Motz and Roth mention that they met about 31 years ago at a USC summer film production workshop. “We have forged a friendship that has lasted for over three decades! Roth said. “We are good collaborators. I think we’re ready to dig into every idea and let the best idea win. We don’t come with giant egos.
Motz says they’re not like other creators who come to meetings without wanting to change their ideas or see another way of telling a story. “We guess at each other all the time. If we get notes on something and we’re not sure, we don’t debate it in the room. We have learned to say, “OK, let’s think about it”. Then we are considered for 24 hours. Sometimes the notes reveal that there is a problem. Perhaps their solution is not the most elegant, but it allows us to reassess the situation. We find that when you dig a little deeper you find something stronger than before. At the end of the day, it’s about presenting the best story possible, not about being right. A good idea can come from anywhere.
Animation vets also give us some advice: “If you have an idea, don’t give up. If the time is not right, just keep it on file. Let it evolve and grow and be open to notes and contributions from the universe, ”says Roth.
Motz steps in to add, “And always behave towards everyone the way you would like to be treated.” It sounds like a basic idea, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t realize it. There were people who worked for us and now they’re at the top of the entertainment business. I am so happy with their success. People remember who was nice to them as they went upstairs.
The Ghost and Molly McGee premieres on Disney Channel and DisneyNOW on Friday, October 1. The series has already received an order for the second season.