How Disney Brought the Iconic Teen Heroine to Life

Twenty years ago, “Kim Possible” creators Bob Schooley and Mark McCorkle introduced the world to a high school cheerleader who saved the world in her spare time alongside her best friend Ron Stoppable and his naked mole rat, Rufus.

The series turned the damsel in distress trope on its head, putting a heroine on the small screen at a time when most of the world-saving characters we knew were men (and they still are). Schooley and McCorkle told TheWrap that the original inspiration for the iconic character came from their daughters.

“When we were growing up, we would have these action heroes that we would worship. We looked at them and said, ‘Well, you know, it was always effortless for them.’ And it’s like, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to have a heroine where it’s effortless like that?’” McCorkle said. “There’s never a point where it’s like, ‘Oh, you can do this and you’re a girl?’ We just dispense with that immediately, which I think looking back was very smart and maybe why it connected.”

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Christy Carlson Romano, who voiced the titular character, didn’t sign on to the series with an agenda, but she knew that she “just wanted to create a character that felt authentically strong.”

“I think that that wasn’t something that was overtones [for me]as much as it was more of the mentality of, you know, be the change that you would like to see and create the best characters,” she said.

Both Romano and her co-star Will Friedle (the voice of Ron Stoppable) were already part of the Disney zeitgeist when they were plucked for the lead roles in “Kim Possible.” Romano had starred in three seasons of “Even Stevens” and Friedle was known for his role his as Eric Matthews on “Boy Meets World.”

Going from playing Shia Labeouf’s older sister to creating a voice for a teenage superhero presented a new challenge for Romano. At the time, she was 17 years old and had little experience voice acting. The “Kim Possible” creative team used her youth her to their advantage her, often consulting her about her character ‘s life her, her friends her, and even her her famous catchphrase her.

“They would ask me a lot of questions, which is where ‘What’s the sitch?’ came from because they asked me like, ‘What would you say if you just wanted to say like, what’s up to somebody?’ It was a collaborative conversation that I was a part of, and they would keep me in the loop.”

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For Friedle, voicing Kim’s goofy sidekick wasn’t too much of a stretch, considering that, in some ways, Ron Stoppable and Eric Matthews were quite similar.

“Eric and Ron had an amazing amount of heart, and I think that’s something that’s very important,” Friedle told TheWrap. “Eric was always there for Cory and for his family his and for his friends his. As goofy as he got, he always had that big heart and always put other people first and I think Ron was exactly the same in that respect… It was almost like you could have animated Eric Matthews into a different show and he would have been very much like Ron Stoppable.”

But finding the voices of these two teenagers was only half the battle. Schooley and McCorkle also had to figure out how to bring them to life on screen.

It’s always a gamble to see whether digital art will hold up over time. Sometimes, visual effects are quickly aged by rapidly advancing technology. This isn’t the case with “Kim Possible,” which still looks strikingly modern. That’s because Schooley, McCorkle and their team did a little of what they like to call “future-proofing.”

“The smart thing technically was it was done in HD in an era where Disney Channel wasn’t actually airing in HD yet,” Schooley explained. “It was the first show we did where it was done all in HD and we didn’t actually get to see it aired in HD for years afterward. I think the run was done before Disney Channel went to HD.”

They don’t take credit on their own, adding that their producer Chris Bailey and his team — character designer Stephen Silver and art director Alan Bodner — had a “clear vision” for the art direction of the series, taking inspiration from vintage Disneyland posters for the 2D backdrops.

As for the characters themselves, the creative team took a “stylized” approach to their design that made them “a little bit bulletproof for animation,” McCorkle said.

And they made them look their age. The creators were adamant from the beginning that they wanted Kim to look like a real high school student.

Before landing on Bailey, the pair talked with other animators who took a more traditional superhero approach to Kim’s aesthetic, “where she ended up looking like she was 25 and a bombshell, not a sophomore in high school,” Schooley said, adding that Bailey and his team took a more “unique” approach to the characters, ultimately ensuring the characters felt like teens.

Romano remembers one element in particular that she felt made Kim feel like a real teenage girl: her outfits.

“She started wearing different clothes, which was very new for Disney [animation], because the kids wanted to see Kim wear cool outfits,” she said. “She did, and that was a direct correlation of fan engagement. She had a different action suit in her movie [“So the Drama”] and that was like a whole thing. I would always think it was really funny that a cartoon character could matter so much that what she was wearing at any given time would influence so many people.”

There are many aspects of the series that made it unique at the time, and one of them is the fans. “Kim Possible” drew legions of passionate viewers who tuned in every week (Friedle says he still gets asked to sing the “Naked Mole Rap” from Season 3). And when the show came to an end after the third season, it was the fans who pressured Disney to bring it back.

“There was a lot of outrage over the ending of the show,” Friedle remembered. “A lot of the people wrote in — actual hand wrote in letters to Disney Channel demanding that there be more.”

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At the time, it was fairly common for Disney Channel to order 65-episode, three-season runs of childrens’ programming to air after school. Not that that matters to the fans, who were desperate to see Kim and Ron’s relationship play out on screen after they finally kissed at the end of the TV movie “So the Drama.” “We had not heard that term ‘shipping’ back when we were writing this, but we certainly experienced it,” McCorkle said of the fan’s appetite for that romance.

After the relentless fan mail insisting on more, Disney approached Schooley and McCorkle about returning for Season 4. While the fans were thrilled, the creators found themselves in a bit of a tough spot.

“We got them together and they kissed we’re like, ‘This is the perfect way to end,’” McCorkle said. “It’s just tying a little bow on the gift and you don’t have to then get into the relationship when they’re actually dating.”

Schooley added: “I think one of our things was, we didn’t really want to see them sort of spatting and then breaking up and getting back together.”

Once they sorted out how to “bring new life” to the characters through their newfound relationship, Season 4 was a go. And good thing, considering it brought some of the most iconic moments from the series, including Ron and Kim’s high school graduation.

It’s been 15 years since the finale of “Kim Possible” aired, and in the age of the reboot, it’s natural for Schooley and McCorkle to get questioned about whether or not they think they could pick up where they left off. If you’d asked them in 2007, they might have had a different answer.

“I think when they first graduated high school at the end of Season 4, if you had asked me that question, I think I would say ‘I don’t know. I feel like we’ve done everything we can do,’” McCorkle said. “But I think these little bits of revisiting it with them over the years… there’s more we could do with them, if we were given the opportunity.”

Adds Schooley: “Of everything we’ve done that obviously feels like one that we feel closest to, so we’re open-minded.”

For the record, Romano and Friedle were always on board for more “Kim Possible.”

“I honestly hope that could happen,” Romano said, adding that there are so many avenues to take the story. The beauty of voice acting is that they can pick up their characters right where they left them, or revisit them at a later point in their life.

Friedle trusts McCorkle and Schooley to sort that out: “The writing is so good, I’ll leave that to them.”

For now, fans can find solace in rewatching Seasons 1 through 4 of “Kim Possible,” which are streaming on Disney+.

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