When producers Joaquim Dos Santos and Lauren Montgomery found out that Dreamworks had acquired the media rights to “Voltron” and were planning to release a new version on Netflix, the two frequent collaborators instantly began contemplating how they would revamp the classic 1980s cartoon if they were ever to get their hands on it.
Having previously had success on animated shows such as “Justice League Unlimited” and “Avatar: The Last Airbender” with Dos Santos as director and Montgomery as his storyboard artist, both remember frequent lunches where a reimagined Voltron universe was the main topic of conversation.
The only problem was they’d yet to be handed the keys to the “defender of the universe.”
Eventually, Dos Santos found himself in a meeting with Dreamworks’ Mark Taylor. They mostly talked about the future of animation at the company, but the moment Dos Santos saw Taylor preparing to say the V-word, he was ready to react.
“Let me do it!” Dos Santos excitedly told Taylor. “We’ll make it cool!”
Dos Santos shared he and Montgomery’s vision for a new “Voltron,” and a desire to bring in the crew they’d used on previous animated success stories.
The five robotic lions that merge to build the universe’s ultimate defense were about to be reborn.
One of the first major decisions the duo made after getting the gig was sticking to “Voltron’s” ’80s Japanese-anime animation style. While re-watching the old episodes in preparation for their new project, Dos Santos and Montgomery agreed that while they didn’t want to move away from the classic look, there was room for improvement when it came to story lines. They reached out to the current “Voltron” fandom and found that people could instantly remember the robot lions, the Paladins (otherwise known as the pilots of the lions) and the formation of Voltron, but when asked about specific plot points, most drew a blank. The shows brought about nostalgia, but the adventures the robot defender starred in didn’t — with the exception of Voltron always saving the day from a giant robotic beast with his blazing sword.
“It was kind of the best of both worlds. The series was edited from two different Japanese anime, so as a result, it felt disjointed when you go back and watch the show with adult eyes,” Dos Santos told The Post’s Comic Riffs. “Having spoken to fans and people in the industry who grew up with [Voltron] as well, we felt more and more confident that we could be given a little more leniency with some of the [stories] because we all had this weird gray area where we remembered very specific things and not others.”
Montgomery says trusting their guts as fans of the original cartoon was the best thing she and Dos Santos could do. It allowed them to try and bring the series back to life while not diverting from the source material so much that it was unrecognizable to old fans.
“Just looking at it not only as fans, but as storytellers… we had to follow our hearts,” Montgomery said.
Many things remain the same in Netflix’s iteration of the show, with slight modernized tweaks. The aesthetic basics — the color scheme of the lions (black, red, green, blue and yellow) and the Paladins’ suits — will bring back memories of the original show. But hardcore “Voltron” fans will notice the differences.
Sure, everyone on Team Voltron looks the same: Keith with his long, dark hair; Lance and his comedic arrogance; Hunk and his girth; Pidge, the youngest and tiniest of the bunch. But in this version, Keith is not the leader of the team and does not pilot the black lion. That designation goes to Shiro. (Many fans will see Shiro and think of Sven from the original series). Dos Santos and Montgomery suspect many fans probably assumed Shiro would die as Sven did in the original series, and Keith would leave the red lion, take over the black one and become Team Voltron’s leader. That didn’t happen in Season 1, a sign that Dos Santos and Montgomery are telling the best Voltron story they can without being handcuffed to what happened in the original iteration.
“Ultimately, we just kind of want the fans to know that we’re trying to do what’s the best for our story,” Montgomery said. “We’re not trying to upset anyone, we just need to make sure that our story works for itself. We’re taking our time with it.”
“We all come to ‘Voltron’ from very similar places,” Dos Santos added. “We’re not doing it out of disrespect. I think we’re just generally trying to service the story as best we can.”
One of the major plot changes Montgomery asked for in initial production meetings was to make Pidge, the young, tech-savvy pilot of the green lion, a girl. The gender reveal doesn’t happen until midway through the first season, as the first few episodes see Pidge — having cut her hair — succeed in passing off as a boy.
“Pidge was literally the very first thing that I asked for,” Montgomery recalled. “As far as her being disguised as a boy upfront, it was my need to show those [passionate] fans that this character can occupy that space regardless of whether it’s a a girl or a boy. When she reveals that she is a girl to the team it changes practically nothing. And it’s kind of a statement on action-adventure animation in general. It’s not that difficult to have more female characters in it. You don’t have to change anything. You don’t have to treat them differently because they’re female. They can occupy that same space.”
Since “Voltron’s” 10-episode debut on Netflix on June 10, Dos Santos and Montgomery have enjoyed the reactions from both longtime and new fans alike.
“It makes us emotional at times to see people talking so positively about it and, then coming up with their own theories and doing cool art on their own,” Dos Santos said.
As to whether or not fans can expect a second season of “Voltron,” both producers hope to be back for more robot action.
“There’s nothing official on the books but I can say that we are actively pursuing continuing the story and we’re so excited by the reception that the first season has gotten that we’re literally firing on all cylinders,” Dos Santos said. “The crew is fired up. The studios are excited by the reception Season 1 has gotten. That’s as far as we can tell you.”