Earlier this year Disney debuted Kiff, a new animated series about the titular optimistic squirrel and the wacky hijinks and adventures she gets into with her chill bunny bestie Barry. Created by real life friends Lucy Heavens and Nic Smal, the duo incorporated their experiences growing up in Cape Town, South Africa.

KIFF – Key Art (Disney)

During New York Comic Con, The Beat had the opportunity to sit down with Heavens and Smal to discuss the show. Our conversation covered a variety of topics including the positive messaging of the show, the collaboration process, as well as what fans can expect to see in future episodes.

Taimur Dar: A trend in media I’ve noticed in the last few years is a focus on characters and stories promote positivity. The best example is probably Ted Lasso. Kiff as a show and character seems be part of that trend in rejecting cynicism. Was that at the forefront when you first developed the Kiff cartoon?

Nic Smal: You’re absolutely right to mention a show like Ted Lasso because we were so tired of cynicism, sarcasm, and negativity. Feel-good positivity is what we need and it’s nice and enjoyable to watch. There was a period of time where we felt characters were speaking with cynicism and we didn’t want that in our show.  

Lucy Heavens: Or any of the humor to rely on sarcasm. It also comes out of us. That’s what was in our hearts.

Smal: Also, the character of Kiff is an optimistic squirrel. She’s positive. She wants the best for everyone around her. That was our central point for the show. Kiff is our lead and we started with her at the beginning. Everything spun out from her at the center. That personality and energy that she has at the heart of it all is what continued throughout.

Heavens: I think that’s what made Disney interested. Even though it has that wackiness, Disney [thought] it could be part of their brand. It’s just about a squirrel who sees the world in a positive way.

KIFF – “The Fourth Bath” (Disney)

Smal: To jump on that, the strength of the show is collaboration. Lucy and myself have very complimentary skill-sets and we share a brain when it comes to the show. That’s also echoed in Kiff and Barry’s friendship. As we continue through the show, we wanted that to be the atmosphere with the team in the writers’ room and art department. So we try to keep that collaborative spirit alive where everyone can give and suggest ideas. That’s when the best stuff comes.    

Heavens: We absolutely mine whatever happened on the weekend with our writers [and] whatever happened in their childhood. A lot comes from Nic and I living together and going to the grocery store and having awkward interactions with other people. An argument we had about a pizza slice became a story.

Smal: An idea for a story for a story can come from any one person or a dream or any experience. We’ll talk about ideas that we like and then the whole room together will work on the premise and talk about that story. And then we’ll all work together as a room on the outline. That outline will then be handed out to a writer to execute into script.

Heavens: Even one of our most recent scripts was based on an idea from our art director who lives in New York and had come to stay with us in L.A. and asked, “Are you OTDR?” We were like, “What’s that?” And he said, “Out the door ready.” Then it became a thing with Nic and I asking, “Are you OTDR?” We took it to the writers’ room, and they all had OTDR stories. That idea came from someone who wasn’t even in the writers’ room.

Smal: It’s a whole episode about Kiff and her family trying to leave the house.     

KIFF – “Road Trip” (Disney)

Dar: When I was growing up, if a kid’s show had a female lead it was typically seen as a show just for girls and wouldn’t be watched by boys. We’ve certainly seen a shift away from that misconception in the last decade best exemplified by My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Was there any resistance to having the main character be a girl at any point?

Smal: There was no resistance at all.

Heavens: Gender is not of consequence in the show. A lot of male characters have gotten that standing in the world. Even cartoony characters like SpongeBob. It’s very seldom that you see the dumb, fun comedy that we do with a girl lead. We wanted it to just not matter.

Smal: This character’s personality is not girl.


Heavens: Exactly

Kiff cartoon
KIFF – “Career Day” (Disney)

Smal: It’s all about the characters and who they are. We have a lot of fun. There’s an episode where Kiff and Barry work at city hall. When they arrive on their first day, they’re wearing pantsuits and Barry is there in heels. It’s got nothing to do with the plot or anything. When they’re stranded or anything, Kiff and Barry will grow a full beard. It’s the way cartoons should be.

Heavens: We’re so happy to see little boys watching it. It really makes my cup runneth over. 

Dar: The amount of worldbuilding you’ve established in just the first season is quite impressive. In the “Halfway There Day” episode, we saw Kiff’s grandparents and uncle. Despite the brief appearance, I was quite taken with them. Will we be seeing those characters again?

Smal: We will be seeing Kiff’s grandma again in a future episode. Also her Uncle Pat gets his own episode called “Fun Uncle Pat” where fun Uncle Pat comes to stay and never leaves! Often we’ll be telling one story and there will be a character who has a small role and somewhere down the line there’s the perfect bit in that area of town and that character is back. There’s not deep, deep lore but you get rewarded watching the show because there’s a lot of continuity throughout.

Dar: On that note, a lot of viewers picked up on Reggie mentioning that he had two moms. Was that just a throwaway line or can we expect to see his moms?

Heavens: We see Reggie’s moms in the “Kiff is Good at Sports” episode. We haven’t spent a lot of time with Kiff at Reggie’s house.

Smal: I reckon we’ll meet Reggie’s moms in Season 2.

Heavens: We have a document full of ideas that’s 100-pages long. We’re not running out of ideas.

Smal: With worldbuilding, as you mentioned, one of the things you’ll know we did is have every episode be brought to you by a business that’s in the world of Table Town. It’s so enjoyable and satisfying to think of these businesses that are just trying get their product in an episode of Kiff in the world of Table Town. That does such a great thing for worldbuilding [with] these oddballs running a store that just sells hats and mats. Then they show up and start to become their own characters.  

Heavens: There’s a little bit of continuity starting to happen in that way. We meet Danny Wibbon. And the very first episode is brought to you by Wibbon’s Ribbons. Danny Wibbon is a high schooler who’s heir to the Wibbon’s Ribbons fortune. In those kinds of little ways there’s continuity that’s being helped by the sponsorship idea.

Smal: It grew so quickly. We just were working on an episode and looking at the animatic, and there’s a shot of the cinema and it’s packed. In every seat is an incidental character from the show in the full cinema and that’s not even everyone. The world is growing and I think it’s just going to continue to. We’re excited about Birthday Brian who works at Café Penguino and comes out sings the birthday song. Now I want to know more about Birthday Brian!

Heavens: I don’t know how big it will be but there is a kind of infinity in terms of how rich it can be.

For more on our NYCC coverage, click here!