This fall there’s more to celebrate than Halloween and Thanksgiving: Maya & Miguel is marking its first anniversary! This animated series made an immediate connection with a worldwide audience and quickly became the number one show on PBS KIDS GO! The hit series already reaches 97 percent of U.S. markets, is broadcast in over 35 countries, and has been nominated for numerous awards. Parent & Child talked with Director Tony Kluck and Producer Machi Tantillo about their experiences with the show.
P&C: What was the motivation for creating Maya and Miguel? How did the series take shape?
Tony Kluck: Deborah Forte, executive producer of the show and head of Scholastic Media, came up with the original concept to create an animated TV series in which Hispanic children, their parents, grandparents, animals, and friends celebrate the multicultural mosaic the U.S. has become. A diverse and talented team of designers, including Eric Robles, Dave Conception, Mucci Fassett, Chris Aguirre, and Carey Yost, created the characters and town they live in.
P&C: What is the goal of Maya and Miguel?
Machi Tantillo:It’s a show created for humor, entertainment, and to promote English-language learning and cultural diversity.
P&C: Why do you think the series resonates with children?
Kluck: Kids and grown-ups love the way the Santos family is shown as being happy, cohesive, ethnic, and intergenerational. They love Maya, the over-the-top heroine of the show, who genuinely loves life; her twin brother, her parents, her grandmother, and friends.
Tantillo: Kids like it because it’s funny, the characters are nice, respectful, and close to their families yet independent, there’s good community spirit, and kids get to see characters that are like them. Plus they hear Spanish! I also think kids enjoy the kooky situations that Maya and the gang get into.
P&C: What is the importance of bilingualism today?
Kluck: I was born in the Netherlands, so I got an early and forced education in English, French, and German, which helped me in my travels and work all over the globe. The more today’s kids are multilingual, the better they will understand and appreciate other cultures.
Tantillo: It is crucial for understanding and participating in the huge cross-pollination of Hispanic cultures that this country is now celebrating. What a way to learn!
P&C: What should parents look for when choosing quality children’s programming?
Kluck: Parents should search for highly entertaining and solid educational content, and in Maya and Miguel, they can find that!
Tantillo: Shows with characters that they feel represent the values they would like to have their kids model. Maya and Miguel’s characters have a strong family foundation and a strong community spirit. They celebrate the idea of helping each other versus only looking out for yourself.
P&C: How can TV, as opposed to other methods or media, help children learn?
Kluck: Scholastic has always had a strong presence in the print world, where you can educate kids through words and illustrations. But a book is a book, and you have to be able to read. By adding movement to the illustrations, and changing the written word into a voice and soundtrack, which is what animation is, you can reach an enormous group of kids who are just starting to read and direct them in just the right way to the messages you want them to learn.
Tantillo: TV can represent stories, characters, and cultures truthfully, not as negative stereotypes, and provide good role models children can identify with. You still need to have great stories with appealing characters — that’s always the challenge — but imagine when you can add teaching children about community and family and watching out for each other. Pretty good, right?
P&C: Who are your favorite characters on the show and why? Who do you relate to the most?
Kluck: I just love Maya in the way she wants to make the lives of her friends and family better. Her creative and ambitious plots give us great storylines. One story is totally different from the other, and that makes for terrific animation and attention span for the creators, kids, and parents watching. I relate the most to Miguel (he’s more of an introvert) and the way he deals with his flamboyant and fabuloso twin sister, whom he loves dearly. These kids, their parents, Abuela (the grandmother), and friends are the salt of the earth. They don’t have a mean bone in their bodies, and they present a world without a “meany” character, which other shows depend on heavily.
Tantillo: My favorite is Maya. The fact that her main goal is to have big ideas to help solve problems and get her friends out of jams is inspiring. She is a great TV role model. We need more like her. She also does not disintegrate if she makes mistakes and has the humility to apologize, which is unusual for a TV character. My other favorite is Abuela. She always has her eye on Maya, Miguel, and their friends, but she does not squash their spirit. She is very young at heart. She is no-nonsense but has a great sense of humor, she’s a great chef, and she has tons of friends in the community. She is voiced by the talented Lupe Ontiveros, whose skill as an actor comes through beautifully in her character.
P&C: What is your favorite part of working on a program like this?
Kluck: I love directing this creative team, whose backgrounds are as diverse as the characters we are portraying, with all my heart.
Tantillo: We have a fabulously talented crew, writers, artists, etc. It’s a very diverse group, and we get to be bilingual at work!
P&C: Has anything about the show changed between when the idea was conceived and now?
Tantillo: The goals are the same: support, cultural diversity, and English language learning. The stories have taken the characters on many different paths, but each story and adventure still has Maya’s trademark “Eso es” moment when she gets her big idea to help.
P&C: What does the future hold for the characters? How might they change or grow? What might some of their adventures be like?
Kluck: Maybe a feature in the future? That would be lovely. There are not going to be many changes in their growth patterns. Right now they’re 10 years old, and they’ll stay that way until show 65. (Now and then we’ll show them as 3 or 5 year olds, which is very cute, you watch!) We’ll feature some shows where Maya is not the heroine and concentrate more on her friends Maggie and Chrissy or her brother, Miguel, which does not mean she’s not involved. And, of course, she’ll always have her “Eso es” moments. I don’t know if I can give any more away . . .
Tantillo: Actually, I’m not sure I can reveal this. It might spoil the suspense!
P&C: Please share any other information about the show that you think is important for our readers to know.
Kluck: This program was created by people with huge hearts. I think it shows in the series.
Tantillo: Maya and Miguel is a show that celebrates family and culture. Your readers will be happy to know that they can see positive portrayals of Hispanic children on television who are out to make others happy and to help them get through problems. It’s refreshing.