Marvel's Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, premiering Friday at 8 p.m. ET on the Disney Channel and streaming on Disney Plus starting Feb. 15, is a stylistic and poppy debut for the supersmart Lunella Lafayette and her new prehistoric best friend.
The animated series, based on a Marvel Comics series of the same name, showcases Lunella (Diamond White) as a 13-year-old science genius who accidentally brings the big red Devil Dinosaur (Fred Tatasciore) into the present day via a portal she creates. She manages to befriend the creature, and the two partner up to fight crime in the Lower East Side neighborhood of Manhattan.
What's particularly refreshing about the show, at least in the episodes I've seen so far, is that Lunella isn't bestowed with fantastical powers. She's like a kid-Batman, inventing all her own gadgets, and she loves making new scientific discoveries that help both her crime-fighting life and her school life. Lunella's debut comes as Marvel is highlighting more black, female leads throughout its live-action lineup, most recently debuting Dominique Thorne's Riri Williams in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever ahead of her upcoming Ironheart series.
White said in an interview that she hopes Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur can show kids that it's quite beautiful to be the smart kid of the class.
"You can love quantum physics and STEM and all those things," White said.
The actress said she connected back to her 9-year-old self to create the character, who's also fiercely protective of her neighborhood and family.
"You have to really care," White said. "I'm from Detroit, and I really care about Detroit, and I would do anything for it. ... The show's about friendship, community and love, and she has her 10-foot dinosaur helping her through it."
Tatiasciore has to convey through dino grunts the friendliness his character creates with Lunella. The actor also notes that the dino is from an extremely different world.
"He comes from a very harsh place in time and space and now he's at this place that's not built for him," Tatiasciore said, adding that Lunella is able to help him adjust while he provides the muscle for their Lower East Side patrolling.
Judging from the three episodes I've screened, the show puts a lot of emphasis on both its hand-drawn style and its high-energy soundtrack, which makes some sequences feel like a music video. Each episode also focuses on a superhero conflict that resonates with a more grounded conflict.
That approach -- which evokes a bit of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer formula while being way more kid-friendly -- allows for the show to approach topics like Lunella's neighborhood feeling overlooked by traditional authority. That more realistic issue is paired up with a matching villain who's also obsessed with stealing power from the neighborhood. Another episode focuses on the insecurity Lunella feels over comments about her hair, which opens the episode up to a frank discussion about the discrimination Black women sometimes face over their hair. Meanwhile, on the more fantastical side of the episode, a new antagonist is literally made of hair.
Actor Laurence Fishburne serves as an executive producer on Moon Girl, alongside animator Steve Loter, and when it came to art and music in the series, they wanted to make sure the visuals and soundtrack reflected their experiences growing up in New York.
"You see a lot of the New York artistic benchmarks. You see Andy Warhol's silk screening process. You see Basquiat. You see graffiti, which was really important, and New York street mural art," Loter said, noting that all this was then mixed with a hand-drawn, comic book style.
The music influences, Fishburne said, included hip-hop, reggae and Latin, to reflect the sounds of the city while traveling from neighborhood to neighborhood. In addition to being behind-the-scenes for Moon Girl, Fishburne provides the voice of the Beyonder, a character who interjects a little bit of Marvel's cosmic side into Lunella's adventures.
Fishburne provides a more flamboyant, bouncy take on the character, which is a unique angle considering how, in Marvel's comics, the Beyonder often raises the stakes by getting involved in larger, universe-defining Secret Wars events. Though the Moon Girl show appears to be separate from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Beyonder's appearance is also prescient, since an Avengers: Secret Wars film is set for 2026.
With Moon Girl, Fishburne is one of the few actors who've played two different Marvel character roles spanning mediums. He portrayed Bill Foster/Goliath in 2018's live-action Ant-Man and the Wasp. Fishburne noted that the opportunity to take on the role came about during the development of the animated series.
"There was no set intention on my part of voicing a character in Moon Girl," he said. "That was really Steve's idea, and when he showed me the rendering of the character, I said, 'Let's do that.' The Ant-Man thing was a scientist. It wasn't that hard -- I had to just really be cool around Michael Douglas. That was the hard part."
Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur is scheduled to air weekly on the Disney Channel, and the first six episodes of the show will arrive on Disney Plus on Feb. 15. A second season has already been greenlit.