‘The Rocketeer’ Returns: A Q&A with Billy Campbell

In case you haven’t heard, The Rocketeer is coming back!

Rocketeer Returns
THE ROCKETEER – Coverage. (Disney Junior)

That’s right, the 1991 film is getting a reboot, of sorts, when a new animated series, The Rocketeer, premieres on Disney Junior this Friday, November 8 (11:00 am EDT).

The Rocketeer in animated form reimagines the famed flying superhero as a young girl named Kit Secord, but original Rocketeer Billy Campbell is still on board! He voices the role of Kit’s father, Dave, and also provides the voice of his original character, Cliff Secord, in some flashback sequences.

Set in the idyllic small town of Hughesville, each episode of The Rocketeer is composed of two 11-minute stories that follow Kit as she embarks on a high-flying adventure to help save her community and its residents from trouble — usually brought on by the many comedic villains who will be featured throughout the series. As with most superheroes, Kit has a team to help her pull off her heroic adventures and keep her identity hidden from the masses. Her best friend, Tesh, serves as Ground Control when Kit takes to the skies and is also the inventor of the hi-tech gadgets and upgrades for her rocket-pack; and her grandfather, Ambrose Secord, works at the Hughesville Airport and serves as her mechanic. Also along for the ride is Kit’s loyal bulldog, Butch.

Here’s an exclusive sneak peek at the show, which debuts this week:

We had a chance to sit down with Billy Campbell to chat about the original film, its’ lasting popularity, and the new series.

GeekDad: The comic book superhero landscape was a lot different when The Rocketeer premiered in 1991. How do you feel about the current superhero boom and do you have a favorite superhero?

Billy Campbell: It’s really just always been about the artwork for me. I think my gateway drug into comics was Jack Kirby. [I liked] Kamandi: Last Man on Earth.

GeekDad: Wow. That’s a deep cut! If The Rocketeer movie would have been released today, do you think it would have been received differently?

Campbell: Well, I don’t know. I don’t know. Maybe? It wasn’t received poorly in its day, it was just sort of sandwiched between two huge summer hits without any discernible box office stars. and I think the advertising campaign was a maybe a little mistaken. I think it could have done really well in its day. As far as how it would do today, I really don’t know.

GeekDad: One last question about classic Rocketeer and then we’ll move on to the new series. I’m really excited about that, but I have a friend who is the biggest Rocketeer fan. He’s got a giant tattoo on his forearm of the Rocketeer and he wanted to know if you were able to take anything from set as a memento?

Campbell: I did. I took one or two tiny things. Nothing big. No helmets or clothing or anything like that. I took one of the menus from the Bulldog cafe, and that might have been about it. And then years later I gave it away!

I met a guy. It was down in a pub in San Diego. There was this table of big brawny guys that were awfully loud, and we just had them on our radar because that’s what you do. You just kinda watch out for the table. [It was a] couple years later [after The Rocketeer movie] and I was dismayed to find one of them standing right behind me with his hand on my shoulder looking down at me. I was like, “Uh oh. Can I help you?” and he said, in the sweetest voice, “Are you The Rocketeer?”

With great relief, I said, “Yes. Yes I am.” Well, he said, “I just want to say I’m a Navy SEAL because of you and all my pals are Navy SEALs as well and can we have autographs?” So I got to know those guys and hung out with them a little bit while I was in San Diego doing a play, and I ended up giving that menu from the Bulldog Cafe to that guy on his birthday. So I officially now have zero memorabilia from the movie.

GeekDad: Since The Rocketeer first premiered, I’m sure there has been a lot of talk about potential sequels or reboots. What was it about this new Disney Junior version of the Rocketeer that got it a green light, and what was it about this project that made you say yes?

Campbell: I think it got a green light because it’s a great idea. I think it lends itself perfectly to a cartoon. I mean, it was a comic to begin with. I love what they’ve done with it to give the lead to a young girl. Disney is good that way.

What made me say yes? I’ve always wanted to do voice work! This was the one and only job that ever came along voice work wise. Well, jeez! I’m the Rocketeer! They’re bound to give me this! So I signed up. But I also signed up because I have such a soft heart for that film. It’s not just a film I did. It’s a major part of my life and an entirely wonderful part of my life! So I have a huge soft spot for it.

GeekDad: What can you tell our followers about the character you play and how he fits into the new show?

Campbell: I play the father of the new Rocketeer, and I am the grandson of the old rocketeer, who I will also play in flashbacks, which is kinda fun! I’m the new Rocketeer’s dad, and I gave her her love of flying and then she of course discovers the rocket.

GeekDad: The original movie took place in 1938, while the new series is set in the present. Do you have an imagined backstory about what happened to Cliff Secord in the intervening decades?

Campbell: I don’t have an imagined backstory for the intervening decades, but I did write a backstory for Cliff Secord at the beginning of The Rocketeer. But its an interesting question. No. I don’t have a backstory for that character post that film, but I do have a backstory preparatory to that film.

GeekDad: You mentioned that this is your first voice over work so far. The cast list on this is impressive. I know most voice work these days takes place in a solo booth, but I wonder if legendary voice actor Frank Welker imparted any wisdom to you for this project?

Campbell: I haven’t met Frank yet. I look forward to it. When I do, I will twist his arm for whatever help he can give me. But, no. I haven’t met anyone yet. On rare occasions when I’m in session I get to hear somebody doing a line. Normally, I don’t even hear that. It is kind of lonely. It’s lonely work. It’s certainly not being on a film set! But it is fun, and it’s fast, and it’s a different thing than I’ve grown up doing and I look forward hopefully to doing more of it.

GeekDad: Speaking of imparting wisdom, what advice would you offer up on taking up the Rocketeer mantle to your costar, Kitana Turnbull, who plays Kit?

Campbell: I’m not sure there’s any advice I could give her aside from personal advice. Don’t let anything go to your head and just have fun!

GeekDad: I’ve seen the first episode and I love the energy and humor, what do you hope young viewers enjoy the most from the new Rocketeer?

Campbell: Just the spirit of the thing. The one thing I can tell so far from seeing what I’ve seen of the series: It has the same kind of friendly and sweet spirit, and that’s really worthwhile in this crazy world of ours.

GeekDad: Have your own children gotten to take a peek yet?

Campbell: No. Not yet. One’s too young. Well, [they] haven’t seen any of it yet since it’s not out yet. I will let the older one see it as soon as I can arrange for him to.

GeekDad: You spoke previously about how important it is for there to be a new female lead and I’m just wondering if you could speak a little bit more about that and what new take this will bring because of that change?

Campbell: I was listening to a podcast today, the Freakonomics podcast, and the guest was Geena Davis. She’s an Oscar-winning actress from mostly the 80s and 90s, and she’s done a study on the parts for women in Hollywood. Even those folks who feel that things have changed are shocked to find how much they haven’t. I’m sort of in the camp who agree it should be 50/50. It should be more than 50/50, at least for a while!

It’s such a good thing that the Rocketeer is a young girl. It’s a wonderful thing. It’s something that my children will see and will have a feeling that anybody can be anything. You don’t have to be restricted to one thing or the other because of your sex. That’s probably the most valuable thing about something like this.

GeekDad: Is there anything our readers to know about you or any projects you have coming up?

Campbell: I’ve been doing a Canadian series called Cardinal, which has done quite well in its native Canada but also around the world. It’s showing in over 100 other countries including those in Scandinavia. And other than that, I’ve got nothing going on. I’m trying to raise two kids and having a great time. I’m practically retired. I’m not really, but sometimes I feel that way. Yeah, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

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