A Disney Channel animated offering features a superheroine of Venezuelan descent

We have always seen Hispanic culture represented in some Disney animated television productions, with those of Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Mexican descent being the ones that have had the biggest boom and exposure. However, it is very striking that Disney Channel now has a Venezuelan-American family among its latest releases. Does it have anything to do with the marked migration of Venezuelans to US territory in recent years? Not necessarily.

This time it’s the animated show of the Disney chain “Hamster and Gretel”, a program on the theme of fashion among children and young people: Superheroes.

Here, Gretel is the protagonist of the story, a brave, determined and very dynamic or witty girl who, together with her pet hamster, dedicates herself to protecting the city from villains. His powers were obtained after an alien ship visited the planet. Both Gretel (voiced by Mellie Povenmeyer) and the Hamster have supernatural powers and can even fly, but they are not alone as they have Kevin (voiced by Michael Cimino), Gretel’s older brother, who is responsible for aiding and abetting her younger sister in her superhero activities. Aboard his minivan, he is always at the right time to help Gretel.

The show, which was brought to the Disney screen by the creator of animated series like Phineas and Ferb, the famous Dan Povenmire, has a funny script of superheroes with musical themes and villains with very specific personalities, in the middle of situations with a lot of action and graphics.

There’s a universal children’s cartoon story, but the special comes to the screen when Gretel leaves her superpower environment to interact with her Venezuelan-American family.

(Disney)

Povenmire, an American film and television director, producer, co-creator and voice of the character Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz in Phineas and Ferb and Winnie the Pooh in Milo Murphy’s Law, brings to the screen this story, which until now has not ceased to be a universal proposition for children’s animation, but the special comes to the screen when Gretel leaves her super-powered environment to interact with her family in a normal house and away from the adrenaline rush of being a girl with powers.

Gretel’s house has some details that suggest that this is a Venezuelan family, because on the walls you can see a painting of the iconic Avila Hill in Caracas (the same one to which the Venezuelan singer Ilan Chester composed one of the most iconic theme songs from his career), and in the corners you can see some recognizable handmade ornaments from Venezuelan culture and artwork inspired by the kinetic style of Venezuelan artist Jesus Soto. And like that, many other things that give it that Venezuelan touch, such as the empanadas that are served while the main characters sing, or their taste for eating “ropa vieja” (as they call the shredded meat in Cuba) which in Venezuela it is part of the Creole Pavilion dish. (mehada meat, with rice, black beans and fried plantain).

The reason is that Gretel and her brother Kevin, in addition to Hamster, are part of a Venezuelan-American family where the father named Dave (voice of Matt L. Jones) is American and the mother is of Venezuelan origin and also named Carolina (voice of Carolina Ravasa), which has one of the most popular female names in the country of Simón Bolívar. If you are Venezuelan, you must surely know more than three Carolinas in your country.

All these Venezuelan elements are thanks to Joanna Hausman, the co-producer and main writer of this animated program, which premiered on August 12 on the Disney Channel and will arrive on Disney+ from the 17th of this month.

Joanna Houseman, who is an English-born Venezuelan-American comedian, writer and actress, has gained popularity through her comedy videos on the YouTube platform as well as Univision’s bilingual platform known as Flama. She is part of and leads the writing team for this Disney offering, which is undoubtedly attracting a lot of attention with its content.

Hmaster and Gretel comes to Disney+ on August 17th

Hmaster and Gretel comes to Disney+ on August 17th

(Disney)

This very writer, who also holds American citizenship, spoke with Pedro Graterol of the Caracas Chronicles blog about her experience in the writers’ room and the process of bringing Disney’s first Venezuelan-American family to life.

At this meeting, Hausmann shared with Graterol his enthusiasm to be a part of this initiative, which is now a reality on the Disney Channel screen. In her conversation with Graterol, she told him that working surrounded by a team of six talented writers made her very excited because “most of them have a lot more experience than her” in the creative process and help create a world that is much more put together by the one of the “sketch she knows best” is quite a challenge.

Houseman also commented that since this is an animated program, they have to take several details into account, starting with the limitation of Gretel’s powers. She told Graterol that at first she was very nervous about doing the story, but then realized that “the most important job of a head writer is to know the talent of his writers,” and once he identified it, the job was much more big easy. “I’ve been very fortunate to have writers who are incredibly insightful in the comedy space,” he told Graterol at their meeting.

The secret was to have a dynamic team of writers where some specialized in writing action sequences, others focused on comedy sequences and still others on building environments, ultimately creating a “big brain”, something that was in evidence in every chapter and in Hamster and Gretel’s great sense of humor.

Because it’s a children’s show, there’s a lot of comedy, but the dialogue and sequences are “accompanied by a well-known satire of the superhero genre and a good dose of absurdity,” described Graterol, who also quoted Houseman as telling him that what was being sought was “that the comedy is at a level that, regardless of your age, will leave you impressed”.

One of his favorite parts of the whole process was creating the character’s home, which is sure to be very familiar to the Venezuelan audience, who would immediately recognize the decorations, paintings and other objects. To do this, the exhibition’s artistic director Dorothea Gerasimova drew on some objects she saw in Joanna’s own house, according to Graterol. They are objects that in the eyes of a viewer from the US or from another country do not say or mean anything to them, but to the Venezuelan they are completely recognizable and real.

Graterol also reveals that Venezuelan culture is what brought Joanna and Dan Povenmire together. Hausman told Graterol that “for a while she tried to blend into the mold of what looks like success for an actor or a writer, but it was difficult for her because she didn’t fit into the Latino stereotypes” that are known in United States, so she chose to go in the opposite direction. Instead of going unnoticed, she chose to use her Venezuelan identity to highlight her Venezuelan-American experience throughout her comedy. That’s what caught Povenmeyer’s attention, as he “loved his videos because he hadn’t seen content in English that talked about the reality of living in a Venezuelan-American family like his.”

From that point on, Graterol says, Povenmire connected with Joanna through YouTube, and over time they developed a close friendship that led to Povenmire asking her to be his lead writer when he began developing Hamster and Gretel. The rest is history.

Hamster and Gretel premieres on Disney+ on August 17.

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