DreamWorks Animation rebuilds the lionhearted robot — as you like to remember him
“Form feet and legs! Form hands and body! And I’ll form … the head!”
If you know what that means, congratulations, 1980s cartoon fanatic — you’re a step ahead. But for those who don’t remember the immortal words that marked the formation of the universe’s greatest defender, that’s okay — you’re about to get a new primer.
DreamWorks Animation is bringing back the gargantuan robot formed from five mechanical lions with the series Voltron Legendary Defender, and EW has an exclusive look at the new trailer.
The show kicks off June 10 on Netflix with an hour-long premiere, followed by ten 22-minute episodes. Executive producer Joaquim Dos Santos and co-executive producer Lauren Montgomery say their goal was to remake the Voltron show fans remember — rather than the one that actually existed.
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The truth is, that 1984-85 Voltron: Defender of the Universe series was, to put it delicately, a huge mess. Back then, producers cobbled the show together from pieces of the adult-oriented Japanese animated series Beast King GoLion by cutting out some of the gruesome violence and redubbing the dialogue to create new plots that fit the action on screen (sort of).
“We wanted to make it closer to what we remember the show being versus what it actually ends up being when you go back and watch it,” Montgomery says.
“The nostalgia for the original show is what has carried it through to this point,” Dos Santos says. “People still reference it and people still talk about ‘teaming up like Voltron.’”
As fans of the American-ized version, the producers say they were surprised by how jumbled it was when they revisted it. “They were making the best of what they had,” Dos Santos says. “But what was there was a sense of teamwork and this amazing imagery. And our child brains filled in the gaps.”
But the producers were even more surprised by the R-rated nature of the source material. “We rewatched the original, and went back and watched GoLion. Although the imagery is the same, there are some pretty different themes in the [GoLion] stories,” Montgomery says. “It almost hews a little closer to Game of Thrones. There’s some crazy stuff that happens, and it’s pretty dark.”
“There were men slapping women, people being beheaded. It was crazy-times,” adds Dos Santos.
“But it also had higher stakes as far as drama,” Montgomery says. “So we cherry-picked those while trying to keep some of the fun lightheartedness of what Voltron was for us as kids.”
In the original American show, it was just a given that these five young space explorers were piloting robot lions as part of the Voltron team. In the new Voltron Legendary Defender, there’s a bit more explanation and backstory.
“Our characters are as unfamiliar as a new viewer would be to Voltron,” Dos Santos says. “They’re living on a version of Earth in the distant future that hasn’t made contact with alien life forms, but they’re going to the equivalent of space camp.”
They stumble upon adventure when Shiro, a senior pilot in their camp, disappears for a year after embarking on a deep space mission. He crash lands back on Earth babbling about an ancient super-warrior named Voltron.
“He has these PTSD memory flashes that are not allowing him to give the entire story away, but he knows they have to find Voltron, and some element of him is hidden on Earth, which is the blue lion,” Dos Santos says.
Many of the characters will be familiar to fans of the original show:
• Princess Allura – Kimberly Brooks (Ben 10: Omniverse, Justice League: War)
• Coran, the chief advisor to the princess – Rhys Darby (What We Do in the Shadows, Flight of the Conchords)
• Shiro, Black Lion pilot – Josh Keaton (Green Lantern: The Animated Series, Transformers Prime)
• Hunk, Yellow Lion pilot – Tyler Labine (Reaper, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil)
• Lance, Blue Lion pilot – Jeremy Shada (Finn in Adventure Time, Batman: The Brave and the Bold)
• Pidge, Green Lion pilot – Bex Taylor-Klaus (Arrow, Scream: The Series, iZombie)
• Keith, Red Lion pilot – Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead, The Legend of Korra)
The producers of Voltron Legendary Defender decided to simply roll with some of the more outlandish ideas of the sci-fi fantasy, rather than try to change or over-explain them.
“Our teens are reacting to the insane idea [that] there’s a giant intergalactic war going on, and now they’re going to pilot five lions that become a larger robot, and one lion will wear another as a … well, as a boot …” Dos Santos says. “Our characters respond to the notion that this is an absolutely crazy idea.”