One of the Disney Channel’s most popular original series is Kim Possible, about a cheerleader who saves the world in her spare time. The show was created by Mark McCorkle and Bob Schooley, who worked as entertainment managers at Sesame Place and in the mailroom at DIC Entertainment before embarking on a 16-year career at the Walt Disney Company. The series won critical and popular acclaim through three seasons and the first animated Disney Channel Original Movie (So the Drama) before production stopped on new episodes in 2005.
Turns out you can’t keep a good girl down. Fresh from writing Sky High for the feature film division in 2006, the pair found out that that Kim would get a fourth season of 22 episodes, the first of which debut on Saturday, February 10, 2007. On the eve of Kim Possible’s Season 4 debut, Toon Zone News had the pleasure of interviewing the pair by phone about what’s in store for Kim, her friends Ron Stoppable and Rufus the Naked Mole Rat, and the rest of the gang at Middleton.
(NOTE: This interview does contain some very minor spoilers for upcoming plots in season 4.)
TOON ZONE NEWS: So how did you guys go from being cancelled to the fourth season?
MARK MCCORKLE: We hate the word “cancelled.” It makes it sound so grim (laughs). I think had done so many episodes and told so many stories, and we had built up to this huge finale, So the Drama. We finally got Kim and Ron together and it was this great wrap-up to the series. And we really did stop production. It really felt like it was a really good full library of episodes.
BOB SCHOOLEY: But I think the movie did extremely well for them, and there was momentum building in other countries, too. It’s a huge show in Germany, and I think it did really well in Japan. So I think that a lot of things came together and it made sense for them to order some more episodes…
MCCORKLE: To go back to Middleton for 22 more adventures!
SCHOOLEY: …and there was a lot of Internet letter-writing going on (laughs) which we are always grateful for.
MCCORKLE: So yeah, it was exciting when we got the call that, “Hey, they want to do 22 more!” So we’re like, “All right!” Disney wants them and the fans want them, so we’ll make them.
TZN: So when you were between season 3 and season 4, you weren’t trying to find other outlets for Kim?
MCCORKLE: No, by the time the movie had aired, we had sort of finished with Kim. I think we were doing a little bit of development and just dabbling in some other things.
SCHOOLEY: We always sort of knew after the movie’s ratings that there’d be something else with Kim, kind of. It might have been another movie, or a few more episodes. The 22 episodes kind of took us by surprise. We didn’t think it would be that big of an order. But I think we were just sort of sitting around waiting (laughs) to a large degree.
MCCORKLE: To see what the next thing would be.
TZN: In an earlier interview, the two of you said you kind of painted yourself into a corner with So the Drama, and that you’re going to try and tip-toe your way out of the corner you painted yourself in. How do you think you did?
SCHOOLEY: Yeah, the classic cliché is when Sam and Diane got together on Cheers, or what happened to Moonlighting. So we sort of avoided that during the show, even though from the very get-go we wanted to play that Ron clearly has a crush on Kim, but doesn’t act on it for various reasons. We knew we always wanted to get them together, so when we had that opportunity of, “Hey we want to do a big movie to finish this up,” we said, “Great! We can get them together, and then we never have to worry about what you do once they are together..”
SCHOOLEY & MCCORKLE: (in unison) …and then we did (laughs).
SCHOOLEY: It pumped some new life into it. We took the challenge of, “How do you play dating in a way that, for young kids, isn’t going to be, “I don’t care about any of this because this isn’t my world,” but for older kids there’s enough stuff in there that it feels kind of fun to see how things play out. And a lot of it is that we got comedy out of the villain’s reactions to them dating because it seems so unlikely. We sort of play out over the course of the season that Ron is painfully aware that he is the luckiest man in the world (laughs) for landing Kim, in a way. So we had a lot of fun with it. Like I said in that interview, we weren’t going to get to soap-opera-ish with it. We’re not breaking them up every other episode or anything like that. We were going to keep the basics of the relationship the same.
MCCORKLE: We felt that as long as the show feels like it has the same tone, but we can get some fresh new comedy out of the situations, what felt at first like being painted into a corner actually felt like we opened a door into a whole new arena.
SCHOOLEY: And it’s kind of realistic, because, as in real dating, the lovey-dovey phase ends pretty quickly (laughs).
TZN: Right, and then you find out, “Wow! This is work!”
MCCORKLE: The truth is that their romance is a lot like their friendship. We get a lot of comedy out of Ron never really having been in a relationship before. He’s a funny character to begin with, so to put him in a funny situation like that lets (Ron voice actor) Will Friedle really have a field day with all the Ron stuff. He is such a great actor.
SCHOOLEY: One of the first episodes the first night is the Valentine’s Day episode, where Ron has that realization of, “Oh my God, I actually have to worry about Valentine’s Day this year.”
MCCORKLE: Yeah, to him, February was Dental Health Month. He never had to worry about Valentine’s Day.
TZN: With that shift in the relationship, are you concerned in losing some of the audience, or do you think that the audience has grown with you?
MCCORKLE: Well, again, we only touch on it pretty lightly. We try not to have it take over whole episodes. She still saves the world. We still have the villains, and we have the comedy with the villains and their bizarre schemes and how they get foiled.
SCHOOLEY: Disney Channel a few years ago did an on-line poll where kids could vote on their favorite episode, and overwhelmingly the favorite episode was one called “Emotion Sickness,” where, through various reasons (chuckles), Kim is acting out a crush on Ron, but it’s not genuine. So we sort of took that as a sign, and the reaction to So the Drama when they kiss was, like, huge. So we took that to mean it’s OK to push this a little bit further than we have before without getting crazy with it. Hopefully, we won’t lose any of them and we’ll even gain a few from it.
TZN: So other than Kim and Ron getting together, what are you willing to reveal about what’s coming up in Kim Possible season 4?
MCCORKLE: Kim gets her own car, which is fun. It’s a fun episode in and of itself, and then that car ends up staying with her through the season where it gets tricked out. It is definitely a cool design and was a lot of fun. Her little brothers Jim and Tim, because they’re geniuses, they get skipped ahead to become freshmen even though they’re only 12, so they’re actually in school with Kim, which causes much frustration for her. And we had some fun too with Dr. Drakken as one of our favorite villains. We love bringing him back. John DiMaggio is so funny, and we have a lot of fun with him for the first part of the season with the first few episodes in prison. We do a little prison humor (laughs).
SCHOOLEY: We have a bit of a running gag with him stuck in prison while Shego keeps getting broken out.
We got Wade to go out of his room a little bit more. We figured he’s been staring at those monitors too long and we need to get him out. So he’s been out taking part in some of the adventures this season.
It’s been a lot of fun. It’s interesting, because we did so many stories and we kind of wrapped it all up. When you’re given that fresh start, it was a neat challenge to go in and go, “OK, let’s think – what are the things we haven’t done?” Like you say, not changing it so much that the tone is different. I think the crew definitely rose to the challenge.
SCHOOLEY: There’s a running series of episodes dealing with Ron’s parents adopting a baby, and that goes in sort of a…expected or unexpected direction, depending on how much you know the show, I guess. We had some fun with that.
TZN: How much of the new season are stories you didn’t get to do the last time?
MCCORKLE: I think most of it was new…
SCHOOLEY: Mainly because we have terrible memories, and once the show was done we kept having ideas and going, “Oh, man, I wish we could do that.” Once we got picked up we were like, “What was that idea we had again?” (laughs)
(SPOILERS IN THE NEXT ANSWER)
MCCORKLE: The one I think we had talked about quite a while ago and never got around to was Ron getting a baby sister. His parents adopt a baby, and there turns out to be more to that baby than just being a baby. She ties in with the mythology of the ninja school that Ron attended as an exchange student, and that she has a greater destiny that Ron is a part of. We had that idea floating around and never quite got around to it, so now with the extra episodes, we can get to do a couple of episodes that sort of fill out that. We play the comedy of Ron as a big brother and how he copes with that, but on the adventure side, it builds to sort of an interesting ninja mystical monkey power adventure.
SCHOOLEY: And there’s some running storylines that never really paid off previously. I think in a first season episode, Ron got these mystical monkey powers, and they sort of came and went as the various seasons went on. We sort of resolve that, finally. It’s a little different in that we committed that they’re seniors in high school, so a lot of the plots revolve around that. Previously, we kept it purposely vague what grade they were in. The sharp-eyed will notice that in the main title now, it says, “High School Senior” where it used to say, “High School Sophomore.” (laughs)
This year, another fun thing we’re doing is that we have little 30-second tag bits that play while the credits are running. So the shows are actually 30 seconds longer this season. That was kind of fun to do, because you can sort of wrap up loose ends to the story.
MCCORKLE: And you get to squeeze in one extra little gag, which is always fun.
TZN: What would you say was the biggest surprise you had coming back to the show?
SCHOOLEY: Oh, that it didn’t get any easier (laughs). Actually, it was great to have some time away when we weren’t trying to keep coming up with plots, but once you’re back in the crush of production, it’s like, “Oh, it’s like this again.”
MCCORKLE: I mean, we’ve been very lucky that Stephen Silver, who’s our character designer, he’s been with us since the very beginning…
SCHOOLEY: …Steve Loter, the director, has been with us since the second season…
MCCORKLE: …and a lot of our storyboard artists are people who have been with us all through the seasons, so we have a crew that really knew the show and knew the characters, but also I think they were all really up for the challenges of, “Let’s go in and make this the best season ever.” So I think we’re very fortunate that we have a great crew.
SCHOOLEY: And I think everybody in the crew are all fans of the show. It’s certainly the most fun we’ve had. We’ve worked at Disney for 16 years and done a lot of series, but I think this is easily the most fun we’ve had, and the most rewarding in terms of what the final product is. You’re lucky in animation if the final thing resembles at all what you set out to do. This does, for us.
MCCORKLE: It’s nice. It’s such a collaborative process and such a huge team of artists. The idea that everybody is on the same page and that the vision is very much a team vision. It’s really unified, and I think that shows. It’s part of why I think visually the show is so great looking.
TZN: So you managed to get back the entire crew of the show, then?
SCHOOLEY: I think some people went off to do another season of something, but I think we got pretty much every key person back.
MCCORKLE: Yeah, I mean sometimes you might have to wait a little bit for a certain board artist to wrap up on another series where we could get them, or maybe they had to leave a little early to go on to another series. But there’s definitely a lot of key crew members, I think, we’ve had for at least some point during each of our seasons.
SCHOOLEY: Yeah, it’s great that we could get them all back because this is not an easy show for anybody to do, especially the artists.
TZN: Why do you say that?
MCCORKLE: It’s a pretty ambitious show. The cinematic storytelling is pretty ambitious, because you’re doing the sort of sitcom dialogue type of stuff, but you’re also doing these huge action set pieces that are really demanding. It really helps when people are enthusiastic and actually love the show. I think everybody works extra hard on this show, and I think, hopefully, it shows on the screen.
TZN: A lot of reviews and fans say that the show appeals to younger viewers and adults alike. Is that something you aspire to or that you aim for when you are writing the shows?
SCHOOLEY: Yeah, I think we aspire to that in everything we write. Sky High was the same thing. We really didn’t want parents to be falling asleep in the theater. In everything we’ve done, we try to make sure that there’s something for kids, but parents will actually like to sit down and watch it with them. Of all the things we’ve ever done, I think Kim is the show where we actually get letters from parents who start watching with their kids, and in a way become even bigger fans of it than their kids are because they pick up on things that the kid’s don’t, I guess.
MCCORKLE: I think that writing down to kids is never a very smart approach. Those kind of shows never seem to have longevity. I think shows where somebody’s just shooting for the best quality possible tend to be the shows that not only connect to a wide audience, but then sort of live on. They become a little bit timeless.
TZN: Do you think you ever wrote too young or too old?
MCCORKLE: Well, I think if you have a whole scene that’s full of stuff that’s too adult, then you’re losing the battle. For example, in Kim Possible: A Sitch in Time, there was a thing about Ron’s parents being moved to Norway. The idea was that his mom was being transferred, and he says to his dad, “Well, dad, what about your job?” and he says, “I’m an actuary. I can work anywhere that people attach a dollar value to human life.” (laughs) And it was one of those lines that not many kids are going to get, but it made a lot of adults laugh.
SCHOOLEY: It made a lot of actuaries laugh (laughs).
MCCORKLE: It made us a hero to actuaries all over.
SCHOOLEY: I believe it even appeared in some actuary newsletter.
MCCORKLE: So it was one of those things like, if one little line makes the adults laugh and a kid doesn’t get it, I think you can succeed…
SCHOOLEY: …as long as the whole plot doesn’t hang on that one line or something, I think you’re OK.
MCCORKLE: I think we’re always trying to pepper in the occasional thing that might be over a kid’s head, and might be a bit more adult oriented, but you never get to a point where you let the whole thing go so adult that the kid’s are alienated.
In terms of too young, I don’t think we’ve ever really had that. Rufus, I think, is probably the most popular character with the real little kids, because he is a cute animal and he does silly things. But again, he’s only peppered in there occasionally. Every now and then, we’ll do an 11-minute episode that is a little more gag-oriented that really does feature Rufus, but on the whole, he’s in there for little spot gags and visual business. You really try to mix it up throughout a 22-minute episode. You want to tell a story and you want the characters to be true to themselves. You’re trying to do funny dialogue and exciting action. It’s a show that has a lot of different components, so hopefully we keep the balance.
TZN: How much do you think the Internet fanbase had to do with bringing the show back with the letter-writing campaigns and all that?
SCHOOLEY: Well, it didn’t hurt. It kind of pumped us up (laughs).
MCCORKLE: It was one of those things that was very gratifying. These kinds of decisions…it’s funny because I think people try to read a lot into it. “Why was it stopped at a certain number,” and, “How do we convince them to make more?” Those decisions are really just sort of business decisions. I think it just turned out that there was enthusiasm for this show, and enthusiasm when So the Drama aired with the ratings. People sat around a table and made a decision that, “Hey, you know what, let’s do some more of these.” So it’s funny. I think the Internet stuff was a very clear and loud message…
SCHOOLEY: Validation, maybe.
MCCORKLE: Yeah, validation, that there are people out there who really love the show.
TZN: Right, and who would come back for more if there was more to be had.
SCHOOLEY: And I think the ratings of So the Drama got to confirm that, too, because it was certainly well promoted and sort of the momentous occasion of their first kiss. It got strong tune-in. People were pretty invested in the characters by that point. I kind of think they’re going to want to know what happens next (laughs), so starting on Saturday, it sort of picks up right where we left off.
TZN: There was a crossover episode where Kim was a guest star on Lilo and Stitch. Were you guys involved in that at all?
MCCORKLE: Not really. I think our director sort of looked over the shoulder a little bit while it was in production, but I think it was pretty much just the Lilo and Stitch crew.
SCHOOLEY: They did a bunch of different crossovers.
MCCORKLE: …so we weren’t really involved in that. But it was a nice compliment that our characters were considered so popular that they wanted to DO the crossover, so we took it as a nice thing.
TZN: Do you know if there are any other plans for other crossovers?
MCCORKLE: I don’t think I’ve ever heard of any other talk of things of that sort.
SCHOOLEY: I don’t even know who we would crossover WITH.
MCCORKLE: Yeah, it’s funny, so many of the shows now have such different looks and everything, it’s…
TZN: It’d be too hard to integrate them together, you think?
MCCORKLE: It’s sort of hard to imagine them, unless you redrew characters in the style of the others, which could be an interesting thing.
SCHOOLEY: We were involved with a test that they did in Epcot in Florida with the Kim characters. It was an interactive kind of scavenger hunt that you play on your cell phone. We did original animation for that and went down and tried that out in August. I think there was a minute of new animation that was created for this and then a bunch of stuff that played on people’s cell phones. So that was fun. It was fun to see the characters, and see kids interacting with the characters in the park and all. So hopefully something will come of that.
MCCORKLE: And we got to meet the Kim and Ron who walk around in the park and sign autographs and all that, which was cool. It’s nice to see your character come to life.
TZN: Any word on DVDs?
MCCORKLE: Not that we’ve heard.
SCHOOLEY: We’re the last to know (laughs). We’d like to see season sets, but we haven’t heard anything yet. Hopefully sooner. My theory is that sooner or later, every television series will all be out on DVD. Every single episode, so I figure sooner or later, time is on our side.
MCCORKLE: We are available on iTunes (laughs).
SCHOOLEY: I know that there was one Monkey Fist compilation that’s been released in other countries but not here, I assume sooner or later that one will get released here, but other than that I haven’t heard.
TZN: Right now, as it stands, season 4 is it, is that right?
SCHOOLEY: Yeah, as far as we know (laughs). We want to be careful because we don’t want to act like we’re sounding coy, like we know something that we’re not revealing because…well, we don’t (laughs). As far as we know, this is it, so we tried to structure the season so it goes towards another finale that can be the very end and be satisfying, but something could happen down the line where we do another movie or something. Not that there’s any plans to pick up where the season leaves off. Right now our thing is that 22 episodes is a lot (laughs), so hopefully it’s enough to keep everyone happy for a while.
TZN: You mentioned Sky High earlier. How did you manage to get that writing gig?
SCHOOLEY: Between seasons 1 and 2, we wrote a live-action Kim movie script, because there was talk of doing a live-action Kim, which came very close to happening, but didn’t for reasons…well, who knows? But the people we worked with at Features liked that, so they asked us to take a look at rewriting Sky High.
MCCORKLE: The script was on the shelf because they liked the idea of a superhero high school. I think, reading how we wrote teens in Kim Possible, they felt like, “This feels good and contemporary, and maybe you can apply that to this project for us.” So it worked out great.
SCHOOLEY: We have had some other live-action feature experience. We wrote a script called Big Sir and Schwarzenegger was attached to star in, an then a month later he decided to run for governor instead. That would have been our first feature credit if he didn’t run for governor. The title was a play on a name and the place in California.
MCCORKLE: The title was S-I-R, but the climax of the movie took place at Big Sur.
SCHOOLEY: It was a comedy, it was actually very much like The Pacifier, so when that came out a few years later it probably kind of doomed the script from ever getting made.
MCCORKLE: But usually, with animation, the way the seasons are, there’s always that sort of in-between time before the next season. We have a chance to sort of do some other things at the same time.
SCHOOLEY: In between the last season’s Kim and this one, we wrote a book, which actually isn’t coming out until next month. That was our first try at something like that. Now we just need to write a Broadway musical or something and I think we’ve done everything you can possibly write (laughs).
TZN: With Sky High and Kim Possible, I was going to ask, “What is it with you guys and high school?”
SCHOOLEY: I don’t know, I think we have a lot of unresolved issues from our high school that we relive (laughs).
MCCORKLE: (laughs) Yeah, I guess.
SCHOOLEY: It’s funny, I went back to my old high school in the fall to see their drama kids, and they were all huge Kim Possible fans. It was the circle completing, I guess. But Big Sir wasn’t set in high school. That was a non-high-school thing.
We do get a lot of calls for a lot of high-school movies. A lot of rewrites and stuff. It’s our specialty.
TZN: I know you guys have probably been focusing on season 4, but have you given any thought to what happens next? You just mentioned there was a book.
SCHOOLEY: Yeah, we have a book coming out next month from Simon and Shuster called Liar of Kudzu, which is our first novel. We are currently adapting that into a movie, actually…
TZN: Live action or animated?
SCHOOLEY: …which we can’t talk much more about than that, probably (laughs). We’re working on a few movies — rewrites and things. We love doing series because it’s the fastest way to write something and get it done and produced and out of your system. Movies take SO long. We’re looking to do another series eventually, but whether it’s live action or animation, we’re not sure.
MCCORKLE: When you create characters you feel good about and have fun with, it’s great because you can keep revisiting them.
SCHOOLEY: …and finding out new things about them. But at this point, there’s no new series on the horizon yet, we’re just sort of kicking around ideas.
MCCORKLE: And we’re still pretty busy wrapping up Kim. Post-production on Kim still has quite a ways to go, so we still have plenty of Kim in our lives.
Toon Zone News would like to thank Bob Schooley and Mark McCorkle for their time, and all the folks of Disney’s PR department who helped set up the interview.
All images in this interview © Disney. All rights reserved.