Behold the Star Darlings, the newest multiplatform franchise property from Disney. Initially conceived by designer Shana Muldoon Zappa and her husband, New York Times bestselling author Ahmet Zappa, Star Darlings was inspired by their daughter.
Star Darlings is starting out as a book series (the first two titles are available now) that follows 12 main characters–the Star Darlings–through stories intended to empower girls and give them hope and inspiration.
The story begins on Starland where a major crisis is afoot, and twelve unique girls from the prestigious Starling Academy are chosen to be the first student Starlings to venture to Earth. Rich with themes of friendship, confidence, leadership, and teamwork, the Star Darlings go on the most magical adventures of their lives. Determined to succeed, the girls show courage and ingenuity–plus a whole lot of humor–as they guide others on Earth to discover happiness and fulfillment.
I caught up with Ahmet Zappa (yes, he’s the son of Frank Zappa) to chat about the new series, where it came from, how it’s unique from existing Disney properties, and what we can expect to see down the line.
GeekDad: What makes Star Darlings unique? How does it stand out in a crowded market?
Ahmet Zappa: Well first off, I have a daughter and there isn’t a thing in this world that I wouldn’t do for her. I want her to grow up knowing that anything is possible. That she can do whatever she sets her mind to and can achieve great things in life by taking action, never compromising herself, respecting differences, and treating people with dignity, kindness, and compassion. That being different is rad, and that she should try to have as much fun in life as possible and, most importantly, never lose her sense of humor. When readers read a Star Darlings book, the kind of positive messages that we try to foster in my daughter are seeded throughout the book series. So I think the messaging in our stories is one aspect of what makes Star Darlings unique, but probably the biggest thing that makes us stand out in a crowded marketplace is the overall concept for Star Darlings: “The secret origin of how wishes get granted.”
GD: The themes of friendship, individuality, and making your dreams come true are familiar among Disney properties, especially. Aside from the target audience, how is Star Darlings different from the Disney Princesses and Disney Fairies?
AZ: First and foremost, Star Darlings is a completely original idea that isn’t based on or derived from any preexisting intellectual properties. Our goal in creating them was to have the Star Darlings be very relatable to today’s kids. The stories and events that happen in the books take place in 2015 and will continue to evolve within today’s world. The Star Darlings are diverse, unique, and have flaws just like we all do. Even though they’re otherworldly and hail from a slightly more technologically advanced star in the sky filled with vibrant colors, very different flora and fauna, vastly different modes of transportation and architecture, we think people will see themselves in our Darlings.
Everything is slightly pushed, yet all of the stories and elements are relatable. Also, our characters aren’t royalty and don’t live in castles and they aren’t around five inches tall, so that makes them different from Disney Princesses and Fairies. Each Star Darling has special wish magic abilities, strengths, and weaknesses, which also make them relatable but set them apart from other Disney characters as well. Technically, you might find a similar theme being addressed in our books such as friendship or even individuality, but it is how we use these themes, how we resolve conflicts, and how our characters overcome challenges in our stories that set us apart.
GD: I know you’re the father of a young girl, as am I. What do you think makes these books compelling for girls today?
AZ: Starland, the scope of the adventures, the humor, the wish fulfillment, the fashion, the fish-out-of-water moments, how relatable the characters are, the situations we tackle and all the fun trouble the Star Darlings are constantly getting into. I believe readers will find all of this compelling.
AZ: That she can believe in herself, that she is powerful, that she is supported and always has choices.
GD: The Star Darlings themselves are composed of 12 girls. What kind of supporting cast will there be? Will their parents play a role at all? Do any dads make an appearance?
AZ: This is a giant world my wife and I created, so readers should be prepared to meet lots and lots of interesting characters both on Starland and here on Wishword (Earth), including dads… oh and Glowfurs!!!! We can’t forget those adorable little Starland critters.
GD: Why did you decide to make the main characters magical? How will the message of empowerment be driven home for real girls who don’t have magical powers?
AZ: I love stories with supernatural components to them and always find myself creating worlds or characters with magic. My head just goes there. One of the things I am most proud of in the Star Darlings series is what we do in each story with “non-magical” individuals. Each “magical” Star Darling learns as much from a “non-magical” person as they would from anybody else; it’s reciprocal. We are big on readers understanding through our stories–that in real life, each and every one of us has the power to manifest their own wishes coming true by taking the necessary steps to achieving those goals.
GD: This will be a multiplatform property. What can we expect to see available now at launch, and what are some of your plans for the future?
AZ: Okay… it must be said that for my wife and me, Star Darlings truly is a wish come true… there are so many fun things on the horizon for Star Darlings that we are mega pumped about. It almost feels unreal. We have an album that we’re still writing with friends that is going to be coming out. The first single dropped on October 1 along with an animated music video. Woot! Woot! We are really into the app that is also coming out in October. We are doing animated shorts, we have apparel at Justice, and let’s not forget the dolls. They are amazing.
GD: I’m curious what your feelings are about the trend to finally do away with gendered labels in toy stores. Do you think Star Darlings is something that boys might find appealing?
AZ: I’m all for abolishing gender labeling. I think kids should be able to play with whatever floats their boats and gets their imaginations going. Do I think boys will find Star Darlings appealing? Yes I do, especially as more of the male characters are introduced, but I think girls will be the ones to gravitate to Star Darlings early on.