Once regarded as unsophisticated media, the last few years have seen a greater appreciation of programs aimed towards preschool and young audiences such as the various lauded shows on Disney and Nickelodeon Junior blocks of programming. Taking a page from the same playbook, WarnerMedia has debuted the Batwheels cartoon, DC’s first-ever Batman preschool series that follows the Batman Family along with his amazing team of super-vehicles offering young viewers a high-speed, vibrant CGI-animated iteration of the Caped Crusader.

During New York Comic Con we had the chance to chat with some of the talent behind this high-speed, vibrant CGI-animated series including executive producers Michael G. Stern and Simon J. Smith as well as voice actors Jacob Bertrand (Bam), Lilimar (Batwing), Xolo Maridueña (Snowy), and AJ Hudson (Duke Thomas/Robin).

L to R: Jacob Bertrand (as Bam the Batmobile), AJ Hudson (as Robin), Lilimar (as Batwing), Xolo Maridueña (as Snowy the Snowcrawler), Simon J. Smith (Supervising producer) and Michael G. Stern (Co-Executive producer)

Taimur Dar: When this Batwheels cartoon was first announced, the concept of talking vehicles definitely reminded me of shows I grew up watching like Thomas the Tank Engine. I’m curious how this show came about?

Michael G. Stern: DC and Warner Bros. Animation had wanted to find a way to connect young kids to their heroes and they had sort of been struggling to do it. They brought me in and I looked at what had been done before for this age group. I saw they sort of dumbed down these characters for kids and decided that was why it really wasn’t connecting. [Kids] should get a chance to meet the real Batman. So our Batman is the same cool Batman that everyone knows and loves. He does everything short of punching you in the face. It started with that and then we found the “Batwheels” as the characters who could be the kids and see the show through their eyes.

Dar: Quite a few of the cast members have worked together whether it’s Xolo and Jacob on Cobra Kai or Xolo and Lilimar on Cleopatra in Space. Obviously the voice recording for this Batwheels cartoon was remote but I’m curious if you ever recorded together or if you knew who your co-stars were?

Lilimar: This one was a little bit more secret. I didn’t know who was who. None of us ever recorded together. Cleopatra was more fun in the sense that we could do group sessions. With this one, I had no idea who was on the show until they announced it.

Simon J. Smith: We had one table read where we had 25 people on the Zoom and everybody could see each other for the first time.

Lilimar: I found out Xolo was on it later because they mentioned it casually, “We have this one guy. His name is Xolo Maridueña.”

Jacob Bertrand: This guy? Why is this guy on every show that I’m on! He’s following me around.


Dar: I grew up in the ‘90s so the Tim Burton Batman films and Batman: The Animated Series were my gateway into Batman. What was your introduction or first encounter with Batman?

Lilimar: For me it was The Dark Knight. I didn’t see a lot [of Batman] growing up until I moved to the states. Dark Knight was my introduction. That’s kind of why I like DC because of all the dark themes.

Bertrand: Batman Beyond was my first introduction to Batman. I just remember going, “Oh my God! He’s so scary and mysterious! I love him!”

Smith: Mine was [Batman] ’66.

Xolo Maridueña: Honestly, I didn’t watch too much Batman growing up. But the first thing that I liked of Batman was the video game LEGO Batman 2. I got it for Christmas when I was 15.

BatwheelsDar: Duke Thomas, who’s a relatively new character within DC Comics, is featured in the Batwheels cartoon as Robin. Obviously there have been a number of different Robins including Duke. I’m curious how the idea came to feature Duke Thomas as Robin came about? Likewise, what’s it like for you AJ to be one of the first actor to portray him media outside of comics and how do you approach the character? 

Stern: It started with us realizing that we had an opportunity to add diversity to Batman that maybe hasn’t always been there. And because this is show for really young kids who are super impressionable at that age it’s the perfect time to show them what the world is really like. Robin is one of those characters as you said who has been a number of different people and aliases.

AJ Hudson: As far as how I approach it, the main thing is I have two little brothers so I know the kinds of shows that they watch and what they’re interested in and what gets them laughing. So I put that into my performance. I’m just myself for the most part.

Dar: Xolo, from what I’ve seen your character Snowy doesn’t seem as villainous as his teammates in the Legion of Vroom. How would you describe Snowy? 

Maridueña: There’s really not much evil about an ice cream truck. I think the ice cream on top of the truck fully encapsulates who Snowy is. He’s someone who’s just a little outside of his comfort zone. It seems like he found his tribe and maybe he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I think there’s something really humbling and charming about getting to play the runt of the supervillains. And he’s got a lot of heart. I’m really excited to see where the character goes. I’m really grateful that these guys were able to take this character who was for lack of a better term a small character and find some depth and humanity in him.

Stern: There’s nothing small about Snowy. He’s got the biggest heart.

Dar: What roles do Bam and Batwing have on the team?   

Bertrand: Bam is the fearless leader and loves his siblings. He’s a super fun loving guy. I love scenes with him and Redbird because you get to see the older brother dynamic between them. He’s the leader of the Batwheels and they support him but when he’s feeling down they really lift him up. There’s an emphasis on teamwork.

Lilimar: What I love about Batwing, and I’ve noticed this about a lot of characters throughout my career, is teaching kids that just because someone may be upfront or direct doesn’t mean they’re any less lovable. Confidence in yourself and your abilities is not a bad thing. I feel like TV throughout the years, especially for girls, has villainized that a little bit. Knowing your strengths is not a bad thing. It’s nice to teach kids to have that confidence in yourself but also be aware that you can work with other people. I like that she brings that and it’s always nice to have a sassy one.

Dar: I’ve definitely seen a growth in shows aimed at young viewers in the past decade. Sophia the First, which Michael worked on, had pretty sophisticated storytelling for a Disney Junior cartoon.

Lilimar: I loved watching that growing up by the way. I would watch it in the mornings even though I was way too old for it!


Dar: That perfectly segues into my question on what’s the key to working on a show for young kids.

Stern: My philosophy is that a lot of these shows treat this youngest audience like they’ve taken a blow to the head. They haven’t. They’re just young. They aspire to learn and they want things to be interesting and exciting. Why not give kids at this young age the ability to enjoy a superhero story the way everybody does? Why should we change it for them? Why can’t they enjoy Batman for who he is?

Smith: I have two kids and I learned as a parent not to underestimate them. We wanted to make sure that we weren’t underestimating them and treat them as normal growing brains.

Batwheels cartoonDar: Final question, what are you looking forward for viewers to see in upcoming episodes of the Batwheels cartoon?

Bertrand: There’s some really good reoccurring characters that I got to film with that I think are absolutely hilarious that I’m really excited for people to see.

Lilimar: I’m just excited to see the reaction in general. With kids I never know even though I’ve done so many kids shows. I like seeing kids’ reactions. They have very specific points of views on stuff. I keep obsessing over the fact that it’s a nighttime aesthetic.

Smith: There will be lots of surprises that’s for sure.

Stern: I want to see if kids really love Bam and the Batwheels as much as the Bat Family and I really think they will. They’re super compelling characters brought to life by this bunch.

Batwheels airs on Cartoon Network’s Cartoonito preschool block and is streaming on HBO Max.