The Guardians of the Galaxy Animated Series is Marvel Animation’s Phase Two

The Guardians of the Galaxy animated series launches an unofficial “Phase Two” for Marvel Animation

If you already caught Disney XD’s sneak preview of the first episode earlier this month, you know that the new Guardians of the Galaxy animated series functions as sort of an alternate timeline to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As was the case with Avengers Assemble, the series effectively begins where the movie ended, then paving its own path through the mighty Marvel Multiverse. For instance, the new series’ Peter Quill (voiced by Will Friedle) seems to have his extraterrestrial origins tied much closer to the Marvel Comics version than Gunn has hinted the big screen Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 will skew.

Where the continuity really does lie from here on out, however, is in line with the other animated XD series. Just because these Guardians don’t exactly line up with the versions we saw guest star on Ultimate Spider-Man and Hulk and the Agents S.M.A.S.H., doesn’t mean that they’re completely divorced from a larger animated universe.

“I think the way that it works,” smiled Marvel Animation VP Stephen Wacker, speaking at a recent press day for the new show, “is that, if you squint and accept that this is the beginning of the team, then, as it goes on, it will all line up.”

In fact, this Guardians of the Galaxy animated series launches what Wacker unofficially dubbed “Phase Two” of Marvel Animation.

“We’ve worked really hard over the last year to sort of bring a new energy across all our shows,” he announced. “We’re not marketing it as ‘Phase Two’ or anything, I’m just talking wise. We are trying to up our game, though. That’s for sure.”

“I think we’re upping our game in our approach to animation,” added Animation Development Head Cort Lane. “Obviously, tonally, this is a little from the other shows… It’s a real hybrid of character animation with a lot of CG assets and a lot of visual effects working together.”

Work on the new animated series began even before the feature film was released. Although both men had seen rough cuts of the feature, Wacker wanted to get the cast in place before the movie versions became a part of pop culture. There is some continuity, however, in the return of David Sobolov as Drax the Destroyer.

“I’ve been living with Drax for awhile now,” Sobolov said, noting that the producers referred to them as “feel-likes” rather than “soundalikes” “…I don’t really have a bag of tricks. I don’t have 40 voices up my sleeve. I don’t think of them as ‘voices.’ I’m acting a part. I’m trying to be Drax as much as I can.”

Fried, however, admitted that he made a conscious effort to stay as far way from Chris Pratt’s performance as possible.

“After watching the movie and knowing I was going to do this, the only thing going through my head was, ‘You can’t be Chris Pratt,’” he said. “I knew the best I could hope for would be a bad Chris Pratt imitation.”

“I wanted to stay as far away from the feature as possible,” Kevin Michael Richardson agreed, noting that it was surprisingly hard to work a range of vocal performances into Groot’s three little words. “I wanted to see it, but didn’t want to do a Vin Diesel impersonation.”

In a completely different approach, Vanessa Marshall (who also shared Guardians of the Galaxy comic books with her cast mates) tried to let Zoe Saldana’s take on Gamora work its way into her performance.

“Zoe Saldana is brilliant in the role,” she said. “Now having seen it, I try to pay homage to her energy and her curiosity as an alien… Luckily, these Marvel characters are so strong and it’s a clear archetype. It’s easy to plug into them and be of service to them to the point where it’s really not even about us.”

As fans saw in the pilot episode, “Road to Knowhere,” we’re seeing the return of Baby Groot and, yes, that is Richardson doing the voice. Apparently, we’ll see a number of Groot transformations throughout season one and Richardson will be voicing each and every one.

“Wait till you hear baby Drax!” Sobolov joked.

Although James Gang’s “Funk #49” is seemingly part of “Awesome Mix, Vol. 2” in the animated reality, don’t expect that to hold true in the MCU proper. The Guardians of the Galaxy animated series will have its own distinct soundtrack.

“Nothing’s easier than licensing a pop song!” Wacker beamed with mock enthusiasm.

“I was given a library of 1000s of songs to comb through and then it was a process of elimination,” Lane said of the selection process. “Which songs fit the show and the stories we were trying to tell? Which songs had lyrics that were appropriate for young audiences? Which songs did the licensors think would be easy to license? We came up with a really amazing list. There were a couple that I can’t even say today that I desperately wanted and we got.”

As far as teases for what’s ahead go, Wacker revealed that, despite the animation format, there’s no chance of seeing Galactus or any of the other characters not directly owned by Marvel Studios, although the Marvel Cosmic Universe is otherwise ripe for the picking.

“We’ve talked about Howard,” he teased, also confirming that we will see other Guardians from the comics at some point. “Nothing to announce yet.”

Wacker also wrote off the appearance of the Badoon, calling them “the most boring” of Marvel’s alien races.

A crossover is also in the works between the Guardians of the Galaxy animated series and the different Marvel animated XD series, although Wacker says that they’re going to be careful to limit the interaction between shows on the whole, not wanting to force young viewers to have to watch everything just to keep up. In fact, while the episodes throughout the first season of Guardians of the Galaxy keep a strong through-line, they’re designed to serve as completely self-contained episodes.

“There’s a chase — a scavenger hunt — that we’re on throughout the whole season,” said Wacker. “That said, we’ve worked very hard to make sure each episode stands on its own… There’s plenty of one-off adventures. There’s a cowboy story… By the end, we get to a big, dramatic change for the entire team. We get to a moment people have been demanding for a long time.”

Look for the Guardians of the Galaxy animated series’ one-hour premiere on September 26 at 9:30pm ET/PT.