I think we’re alone now… but are we?
Halfway through the first episode of The Umbrella Academy, five of the seven Hargreeves siblings — Luther (Tom Hopper), Diego (David Castañeda), Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman), Klaus (Robert Sheehan), and Vanya (Ellen Page) — all find themselves reunited in their childhood home for the first time in years. They’ve been brought back together by the only event that possibly could, the death of their adoptive father, Sir Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore). But after scattering their father’s ashes and bringing up various old grievances, they all find themselves back in their old rooms: reunited, yet still alone.
And then the music kicks in. Music is a big part of The Umbrella Academy, dating back to its origins as a comic written by former My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way (and illustrated by Gabriel Bá). There is even more music in the show itself, ranging from the casting of singer Mary J. Blige to the eccentric soundtracks for fight scenes. In this moment, it’s Tiffany’s cover of “I Think We’re Alone Now” that starts playing over the house speakers, inspiring each sibling to start jamming out without realizing the others are doing the same thing.
“Everyone can relate to the moment when you shut the door of your room, and maybe you haven’t been in your childhood home for years, and it brings you back to being a kid,” showrunner Steve Blackman tells EW. “They think they’re so different, but in that one moment, with that one song playing, they’re all dancing. They think no one else is, but they’re all doing the same thing. Deep down, they’re all desperate for the same thing, which is acceptance and being a part of a family again. If only they could just take a minute to tell each other! But they won’t, and that’s the fun of the show, seeing if maybe one day they’ll figure it out and also possibly save the world.”
When the dance sequence begins, the camera alternates between rooms, giving us a sense of each sibling’s dancing style (as well as their personalities: Luther’s room is full of toy airplanes and rocketships from even before he went to the moon, while Allison’s colorful boas seem to have predicted her career as an actress). But then, slowly but surely, the camera pans out, and Umbrella Academy headquarters starts to resemble a dollhouse that we’re peering into, watching each member dance by themselves.
Blackman explains the camera angles and special effects that created the dollhouse shot.
“I’m very proud of that shot,” he says. “When I was rewriting the pilot script, I put that in. No one understood it, but I just said, look, it’s one thing to see them dancing in their own rooms. But when you sort of put it in the perspective of a dollhouse, where you pull back and see that they’re all doing the same thing, it brings a micro back to a macro. They’re siloed off, but they’re all together in the same house. It’s a fully VFX shot. We shot them all individually in their own rooms in green screen, and our VFX people did an incredible job of creating that shot, which is fully CG and animated. It just does something to see them from the dollhouse perspective, it brings you into a new perspective of how this family works. In my mind it shows you they’re all together, but they’re alone, but somehow they’re gonna make this work. I really loved it and I pushed hard for it. It wasn’t until people saw it they understood what it did. It’s just a beautiful perspective of a family, apart yet still together. It’s a very tricky shot to do, and it took a lot of extra effort. We also threw in lots of extra bits and Easter eggs that you might notice when you watch it a second time.”
Season 1 of The Umbrella Academy is streaming on Netflix now.