My 7-year-old son’s soccer team is halfway through their season. They’ve lost five games – and haven’t won a single one. It’s tough going, but he’s sticking with it. And I’m proud of him for not giving up.
I’ve learned a lot from my kids. They inspire me, not only as a parent, but also as someone who makes children’s television. I’ve always seen my kids as the heroes of their own stories. And thanks to my kids, I’m telling lots of stories about what it means to be a hero – and what it means to fail.
When my twin sons were 3 months old, I pitched an animated series to Disney about a family in outer space. They went for it, and after years of development and production, Miles from Tomorrowland went on the air. By that time, my kids were 5 years old. They had grown up with Miles. And small events from their lives made it onto the show. The sibling characters of Miles and Loretta have similar traits to my kids – one is more creative while the other is more analytical.
After telling over 100 stories of the Callisto family’s adventures, my creative team and I wanted to do something new with the show. But what?
I looked to my kids, who at the time were adjusting to the transition from kindergarten to first grade. Suddenly, there was less hand-holding. There was less sitting in a circle on a rug. There was more reading. There was homework! This was getting serious.
My generation of parents is known for hovering and helicoptering. During kindergarten, most parents in our class would hang out in the classroom to watch our kids going about their kindergarten business, until the teachers eventually kicked us out. But in 1st grade, we were told not to linger. Our kids needed to be independent, starting with the first bell.
I thought I’d have to deal with independence when they went to college – not 1st grade! But even if I wasn’t ready, my kids were. Soon, I was lucky to get a quick goodbye hug before they dashed into their day.
As a result, I thought, if my real kids are ready for independence, maybe my animated kids are, too.
Through the first two seasons of Miles from Tomorrowland, we’ve seen Miles and Loretta go on small adventures with their friends, but always return to their parents’ starship at the end of the day. But the idea of seeing them strike out on their own in a bigger way was exciting. (We didn’t want to say goodbye to the parents forever, though. Perhaps the kids could return to their parents’ starship when they needed to do laundry?)
So, at the end of season two, we wrote an episode that gave Miles, Loretta, and their three best friends — Haruna, Mirandos, and Blodger — a big challenge that tested their mettle as a team. When they passed with flying colors, they were ‘promoted,’ and asked become a special, elite team, independent from their families, with new and big challenges ahead of them.
In other words, they were going to first grade.
This new team is called “Mission Force One,” and to highlight the big shift, that’s the name of the third season now, too. Since one of our series goals is to encourage kids to explore science, each member of the team has a special skill that corresponds to the letters in STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math. Our heroes do extraordinary things, like zoom around on jetpacks and battle evil with their high-tech gadgets – but at the same time, they are relatable kids, who doubt themselves, lose confidence, and yes, fail.
It’s hard watching my kids fail at things. As a parent, I want to be able to protect them from heartache. But at the same time, I know they need to learn how to be resilient, to pick themselves up and dust themselves off; to have grit. I want my kid to keep playing soccer even if he doesn’t win a single game this season.
Similarly, my goal with “Mission Force One” is to tell stories where our characters are tested — where they have the freedom to encounter failure and figure out what to do next. Since they’re out in the universe on their own, they must take ownership over their triumphs AND failures.
In each episode of “Mission Force One,” the Tomorrowland Transit Authority gives our team a mission. But sometimes, they don’t fully complete it. For example, when they’re tasked with recovering a spaceship with some friends inside that has been stolen by a villain, they don’t actually recover the spaceship. But they do rescue their friends. That story is about prioritizing what’s most important — even if it means failing at part of your mission.
Because sometimes, heroes fail. But a real hero gets up and keeps going – especially when there’s no one hovering nearby, telling them what to do. And I hope that any kids who watch our show take that message to heart.
Especially my son, who has his next soccer game this weekend.
Don’t miss the next episode of ‘Miles from Tomorrowland’ called “The Junk Monster of Planet Crunkle/The Lost Empire” on Monday November 13 on Disney Channel.