Keith, Lance, Hunk, Pidge, and Shiro. These names may not be familiar to you now, but come June 10, you’ll be hearing these names bandied about a lot in conversations. They are the names of the lead characters in Netflix’s latest and greatest animated series, VOLTRON: LEGENDARY DEFENDER. The show is a reboot of the popular Japanese animated series from the eighties best known in the United States as VOLTRON: DEFENDER OF THE UNIVERSE, which saw five teens coming together to defend the galaxy from the evil forces of King Zarkon. Each piloted different lion-shaped spacecrafts that, when necessary, would assemble to form one giant super robot, Voltron. It was a show that taught kids the value of teamwork, however, it was in desperate need for an modern update. That’s where showrunner/ executive producer Joaquim Dos Santos and co-executive producer Lauren Montgomery, who’ve both collaborated previously on THE LEGEND OF KORRA, came in.
Both were huge fans of the series and had big dreams to turn their shared interest into something this current generation could enjoy. Montgomery states, “[In the original series] You could see how much room for improvement there was.”
Dos Santos adds, “You realize, with adult eyes, that it was a product of its time. It was a show that was localized – it was a show that was two different shows edited together. We knew we could do it justice.”
It’s easy to see why VOLTRON’s legacy has endured and could easily be transformed for this modern era: robots with cool pilots set against the backdrop of an epic space opera. Dos Santos states, “There was that big through-line where, because of nostalgia, you can fill in the gaps that were there. That’s what we were attracted to: what could have been but wasn’t quite there.”
Montgomery says, “One thing we did was leave in the fun. There’s this really fun sense of fantasy, but also this aspect of magic and science melding together. What we didn’t want to do was take it in a super realistic, dark, gritty…how a lot of things tend to go when you age it up for a new generation. It’s a fun silly thing.”
Not only is the visual scope of the show is magnificent, but so is the warm synthesizer-based sound of the show. Dos Santos says,
“I’m obsessed with synth music and the eighties in general. There’s a whole movement in the synth world right now that pays complete respect to what came before it. We don’t view that music as ‘cringe-worthy.’ We pay respect to that era and also make sure it retains that epic, niche scaling – and Brad [Breeck] and Brian [Parker] just brought it.”
Dos Santos credits GOONIES as a big inspiration for the tone of the show. He also drew from GAME OF THRONES’ structure in how VOLTRON’s episodes would be constructed.
“This is like GAME OF THRONES for kids – not that it has all of GAME OF THRONES’ horribleness. But there’s an aspect you can gravitate to where you’re following one character’s through line and I’m following another. Hopefully, kids will gravitate to that pilot they like and can follow their storyline.”
To flesh out the characters, Montgomery and Dos Santos found the perfect cast. Dos Santos describes them as having that “it factor” – and boy do they! Through a series of extenuating circumstances rebellious Keith (Steven Yeun), fast-talking Lance (voiced by Jeremy Shada), jokester Hunk (voiced by Tyler Labine), whiz-kid Pidge (voiced by Bex Taylor-Klaus), and wise leader Shiro (voiced by Josh Keaton) are enlisted by Princess Allura (voiced by Kimberly Brooks) and her right-hand man Coran (voiced by Rhys Darby) to help defend the galaxy against a massive threat – Zarkon and his evil army.
Keaton felt drawn to his role as he was a fan when he was younger, owning only one toy from the series, which, coincidentally, was his character – the black lion. For Labine, the deal was sealed once he saw what his character was going to look like.
“They had a mock-up of Hunk on the wall, which funnily enough was one of the only names I remember [from the original show].”
Since the new show differs a little from the source material, some in the ensemble chose to return to the original series to research their roles. Labine says, “I went back mostly out of curiosity. I got through about three episodes and thought, ‘I’m going to give this a new, fresh look.’ What Joaquim and Lauren have created is something that rings true to the original show, mostly visually, but other than that, it’s a whole new universe. They’ve really taken advantage of that epic nature of the show, whereas before, they didn’t. We’re playing with no rules right now.”
Darby adds, “I went and had a look at the original stuff to get the feel of the world and get excited about the whole thing. What I liked about it was that it was another world – much like STAR WARS, it’s epic. Huge scale, but the new version just blows it all away. It still has that human quality of misfits put into a situation where they’re in a completely different world – out of their depth. You can relate to these tiny personalities.”
Keaton concurs, “I think we’ve had a really easy time letting the script speak to us. Lauren, Jaoquim and our writers all have done such a good job of making it close enough to the original, in terms of the spirit of the characters – the core motivations of the characters are all very consistent with the original. I feel like it only improves every episode because they get to know us and our personalities – what we bring to the character. And they tend to write more to those strengths, playing up certain things when they see us and our chemistry. I did go back and watch some VOLTRON, but really I didn’t have to. The writing is done well enough that you pick it up immediately.”
For Brooks, there was an evolution her character went through during the audition process.
“I didn’t know what they expected from the voice of ‘Princess Allura.’ The audition process was a few auditions and it changed over time. I’m so excited because I didn’t know what she was going to look like. When I saw her, I was just blown away and I think it’s really important to have such a diverse cast. I think it will be more inclusive for the audience and inspiring for kids. In the original Voltron, it was five white guys. There’s more diversity in the universe.”
Whether or not the series will be picked up for a second season remains to be seen as of now, however, the actors are hugely anticipating where the writers have imagined their characters would be in season two. Brooks says,
“I’m just excited to see what the writers do. It’s always wonderful and there’s so much depth with each character – every character has their stories.”
Labine states, “With on camera stuff, it’s very much a concern. Like where am I physically going to be re-enacting for you? With this, I like when there are sessions that are really light. I can sit back and watch the show take shape. There’s an even usage of us. We trust that they’re going to have us all be the necessary pieces we need to be.”
Whatever the outcome for the new series, Labine’s excited for the reboot to launch a whole new generation of kids who adore the show he also loved growing up.
“I want them to be as nostalgic as me in twenty-five years.”
VOLTRON: LEGENDARY DEFENDER premieres on Netflix on June 10.