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SYFY WIRE gremlins

SDCC Surprise: Zach Galligan to return to 'Gremlins' franchise in new animated series

"Billy!" Actor Zach Galligan returning to the Gremlins franchise for Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai.

By Mike Avila
Gremlins Secrets of the Mogwai

Gremlins fans received a most welcome surprise during day two of San Diego Comic-Con when it was revealed that Zach Galligan was returning to the franchise. The actor, who starred in the original Gremlins as well as the sequel Gremlins 2: The New Batch, appeared at Friday’s panel for the upcoming animated series, Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai. It was announced he’ll have a recurring guest role on the show, which will debut on HBO Max in 2023 and then air later on Cartoon Network. While details on his role are being kept under wraps for now, since the series is a prequel, it appears he won’t be reprising his role as “Billy Peltzer” from the movies.

For Galligan, the announcement is a huge weight off his shoulders. In an interview with SYFY WIRE shortly after the panel, the actor admitted it was not easy sitting on the secret of his Gremlins return for over two years. “If I’m being honest, no, it wasn’t,” Galligan says. “When you're excited about something as an actor, you want to share the good news, you really do. And you simply can't and the number of times I've lied to people? I mean, especially at conventions where [fans are] like, “are you doing anything with the animated series?” And I just like, I lied through my teeth hundreds of times.”

Galligan even fibbed to our colleague Josh Weiss two years ago when we asked about any involvement with the series. He was so careful, that he didn’t even spill the beans to his own family. “My nephew is freaking out. He's like, 'How long ago did do you do this?'” Galligan says. “I was like, 'Two years.' He went, 'Two years?!' But at least now I can finally let out that I'm in it.”

He wasn’t the only surprise news related to the show. Sandra Oh, Randall Park, George Takei, and Bowen Yang were announced as series guest stars, joining a star-studded cast of Asian-American actors lending their voices to the series which includes Ming-Na Wen, James Hong, BD Wong, and Izaac Wang. Showrunner and executive producer Tze Chun says when he set out to bring the show together, assembling a representative production was essential. “I think we're all really proud of being able to create something that is so inclusive and showcases so many like OG Asian American actors and with new talents,” says Chun, who most recently worked on Fox’s Gotham. “Not just in terms of the actors, either, but also…we had a very diverse crew and a lot of Asian-Americans behind the camera as well.” 

Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai is set in 1920s Shanghai and centers on 10-year-old Sam Wing (voiced by Izaac Wang), who years later would be the shop owner, Mr. Wing, in the original 1984. The show is a serialized action adventure that’s also the origin story of the friendship between Sam and the Mogwai named Gizmo. Chun shared that the show really came together with a lightning-quick pitch made to none other than Steven Spielberg, the executive producer of the original film.

“It started with the Animaniacs, which was a production of Amblin and Warner Bros. Animation and Sam Register from Warner Animation had this idea of doing a Gremlins animated prequel and went to go pitch Spielberg,” Chun recalls. “And I think Spielberg said something like, 'You've got three minutes.' And he was excited about the idea of like taking the original Mr. Wing character and telling a prequel series focused on him.”

There are several additions to the Gremlins mythos, including the teenage street thief Elle (voiced by Gabrielle Neveah Green), who encounters Sam and Gizmo on their quest to get Gizmo back to his family. There are villains on their tail every step of the way and we can expect to see more than a few evil Mogwai appear. Chinese folklore served as inspiration as the series came together.

“Every episode incorporates, spirits and creatures from Chinese mythology,” says Chun. “That was an important thing for me. To be able to bring the stories and the ghosts and the spirits and the creatures that I grew up kind of hearing about from my parents into the Gremlins universe.”

Creating an animated version of 1920s Shanghai is a considerable task. Luckily, art director Tara Rueping is no stranger to ambitious animated storytelling, having spent years working on Star Wars: The Clone Wars. “We wanted to make a show that was kind of a hybrid show that used 3D and 2D animation,” Rueping says. “So it's like an 'Art of' book, where you open up a book and see those beautiful illustrations. We utilize, 2D backgrounds and we use 3D sets and stuff like that. So it's a hybrid show in the sense that we use those elements, but we did it purposely because of the epic quality that we wanted in the show.”

The production also went the extra mile to capture the period-piece vibe. “It’s the Gremlins universe in the 1920s, but we wanted to still be culturally accurate so we had a historian that we worked with,” Rueping says. “We even had a calligrapher that did Chinese calligraphy for a lot of our stuff.”

“One of the things we love so much about Tara's work is that it's just so much more epic and scope than we had imagined as we started working on the show,” adds EP Brendan Hay. “In the writers' room, we really talked a lot about doing something really cinematic, like Raiders of the Lost Ark or Goonies or Kung Fu Hustle. We kept looking at things that were a really big epic adventure, but also had genuinely funny, hilarious moments.”

Part of the genius of the original 1984 film is that it was a mix of several genres. Hay stresses that Secrets of the Mogwai follows a similar formula. “There are genuinely horrifying, scary moments, too,” he says. “There's the big epic action, but then also tender small heartfelt moments as well.”

The two actors voicing Sam and Elle had never seen the original film before being cast on the show. “I had no idea what Gremlins was before I did the audition,” Wang admits. The young actor says playing horror video games prepared him for his first viewing of the original movie. “For me, it was less scary and more unsettling in a way. It just made me feel weird in certain scenes. But don't take that outta context!"

Green felt it was important she check out the original once she landed the role of Elle. “Once I booked the job, I was like, 'Okay, I'm going to be a part of a franchise that people love so I need to kind of do my research and do this right,'” she says. “I did watch it, very tentatively because I am not a lover of horror films. But it was great. It was a good starter horror film because it mixed scary with humor, which I thought was really brilliant.”

Veteran voice actor AJ LoCascio is handling Gizmo’s voice in the series, and he’s no stranger to voicing iconic '80s characters. He’s voiced Voltron’s Prince Lotor, Han Solo, and even Marty McFly in his career. He says the adorable Mogwai may be a career highlight. “I mean, it has to be at the top,” LoCascio says. ”Getting to do Gizmo is surreal. It’s surreal to be able to put a voice to such an iconic character. One of the things I wanted to bring to this as much as I could is his sweetness. Like you want to cuddle him because when you watch the movies, he's the thing that gets you through it. He's the heart of the movies.” 

Click here for SYFY WIRE’s full coverage of San Diego Comic-Con 2022.