Creator And Star Of Dystopian Kids Show Speak Out

For more than a decade now, dystopian stories have been amongst the most popular with young adults – and with new animated series WondLa, AppleTV+ are betting that tales of a dark future will resonate with even younger audiences too.

Tony DiTerlizzi, the author of the book trilogy the show is adapted from, is unsurprised that such material continues to resonate. He explained to Zavvi: “As long as young people are barraged with news of dystopia, they’re going to respond to it – and in the 15 years since I wrote the books, I think what the younger generation is facing has only grown worse.

“I wrote the books at a time when dystopias were all the rage, with The Hunger Games the biggest phenomenon, but I wanted to offer a glimmer of light within an Orwellian future, that there is a reason to be optimistic even in the darkest times, and I think this series embraces that idea too.

“The young readers I wrote the story for were anxious about the future, and I think that anxiety is now shared by their parents too. I hope this show speaks to their fears, without necessarily answering them; the best stories are the ones that raise important questions, but leave the answer within the audience’s mind.”

The series follows teenager Eva (Jeanine Mason), raised by a surrogate robot parent named M.U.T.H.R (Teri Hatcher) in a futuristic underground bunker. When her fascination with what lies beyond the bunker walls finally gets the best of her, she immediately calls attention to herself, leading her to flee and fend for herself in the ravaged planet outside.


DiTerlizzi began sketching characters for the series back in the late nineties, but didn’t begin writing a story for more than a decade later. At this point, his hit series The Spiderwick Chronicles had been published and had received a film adaptation, and he became interested in writing a story that would be its structural opposite.

“That story was about some kids who found a book from 100 years ago, which immediately affected their present”, he continued. “That got me thinking about the inverse, of a story from the future affecting our present day, but I didn’t have more than that – I just knew, based on my drawings, it would involve aliens and robots!

“Fast forward a few years, I turned 40 and my daughter was two at the time, and I began contemplating what the world would look like when she got to my age. I was thinking about our reliance on technology and the effect we have on the natural world, and how much that had changed during my short 40 years on this planet, and the concept of a story began to form.”


The first novel in the series, The Search For WondLa, forms the basis for the TV narrative, and unsurprisingly, a dystopian story for young audiences attracted the attention of Hollywood before it was even published. So why has it taken so long to arrive on screens?

“It’s the typical Hollywood journey for a novel; it gets optioned immediately, a big studio snaps it up, and then it’s stuck in some stage of development for years! As a storyteller, I’m obsessed with the alchemy of adaptation, and how a story can be transmuted from one medium to another, and that long gestation period led to this becoming an animated series, which is the perfect medium for it.

“I make books for 10 year old me, and I was fortunate enough to have parents who read to me growing up, so I’m always writing thinking about that shared experience between generations. It’s why animation is the right fit, as the movies I love the most come from Pixar and Studio Ghibli, stories that resonate with all ages in a way I hope this will.”


The series arrives from Skydance Animation, whose team comprises veterans of Pixar, Disney and Dreamworks to name just three powerhouse animation studios. They worked closely with DiTerlizzi throughout production, even as they changed how this world looked on the page.

“When I made the books, the idea was creating a streamlined, antiseptic world that I pitched as “what if Apple made homes?” I used my iPhone at the time as the template for the drawings, every aspect of the home had round geometrics and round corners – very timely in the moment, but in a show about futuristic humans, it makes no sense as those devices are long outdated!

“The big transformation in the characters is M.U.T.H.R, who looks a lot more Star Wars here, and less like a practical device.”


Desperate Housewives and Superman & Lois star Hatcher previously recorded the audiobooks of the novel trilogy, and jumped at the chance to be involved with the series, if only to work with Tony again.

She told Zavvi: “We had worked together at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles a couple of times where we would both come in to the rooms with the patients, and as I would read from the novels, he would have a big pad of paper and would be drawing what I was reading in real time. It’s testament to how brilliant he is that he’d make beautiful drawings like that – he’s a master of animation, so I’ve been really grateful for his support throughout the years.”

The voice performances were all recorded before the cast glimpsed any final character designs, so Hatcher was unaware that M.U.T.H.R would have a reimagined look – not that it would have affected her approach to bringing the robot to life.


“The only struggle was determining just how much robot was going to be in the robot”, she continued. “If you’re imagining the Siri of the future, she’ll sound less robotic than she does now – and there might be no trace of robot in her, which means the challenge becomes where that aspect of AI comes in, when she sounds identical to a human.

“The robotic-ness was in her reserve, her directive, her programming and her purpose, but beneath that behaviour at the forefront, there is a mystical seed of love growing within that’s foreign to her. I think it’s beautiful that she’s discovering this capacity to love at the same time Eva is discovering her own strength and sense of purpose.”

That character arc gave Hatcher and the creative team more room to experiment with a specific register for the character that would balance the artificial intelligence with a growing humanity.


“We definitely played around with the voice. I think we started off a little bit more robotic, and then as they started to put the images together, we went back and rerecorded some of it to make it a little less robotic.

“It’s pretty subtle what our work was, but I think it matters when it’s when it’s only your voice.”

The first book ended with the revelation that this story was the first in a trilogy, although Apple are yet to announce whether two more seasons will follow. If they do, take that as a sign that dystopian stories continue to resonate with families scared of the future…

The seven-episode first season of WondLa premieres on Apple TV+ on Friday, 28th June

Alistair Ryder

Alistair Ryder


Alistair is a culture journalist and lover of bad puns from Leeds. Subject yourself to his bad tweets by following him on Twitter @YesItsAlistair.