X-Men '97

‘X-Men ‘97’ Executive Producer on Bringing the ‘90s Animated Hit Back to Life for Disney+

If Marvel Studios Head of TV, Streaming, and Animation Brad Winderbaum wanted to make a continuation of X-Men: The Animated Series, his boss—Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige—told him he needed two things to secure a greenlight: the original theme song and original cast.

According to Winderbaum, getting them both “was the easiest thing in the world.”

“Everyone was thrilled to come back,” said Winderbaum, “and we were thrilled to have them back.”

The result is X-Men ’97, streaming exclusively on Disney+ on Wednesday, March 20.

X-Men ’97 isn’t a reboot, nor is it a remake of the original show. Rather, it’s a continuation, picking up immediately after the final events of X-Men: The Animated Series.

The series begins after the death of the X-Men founder, Dr. Charles Xavier. “Even though Xavier is no longer with the team, his message and his influence looms large,” said Winderbaum.”

“Much of the story in those early episodes is about characters wrestling with how to fulfill Xavier’s dream of coexistence in his absence,” Winderbaum explained. “Scott [Cyclops] certainly struggles with that. Magneto certainly struggles with that, and everyone’s got a different point of view on how to how to best continue his legacy.”

But, why was 2024 the right time to bring these characters back to the screen?

“Because it was the first opportunity we had to do it,” quipped Winderbaum.

Following the success of What If?, Marvel saw an appetite for more animated series. Winderbaum jumped at the opportunity to reunite the X-Men with audiences.

“The original X-Men: The Animated Series has been secretly influential for so many creators of our generation,” voiced Winderbaum. “It comes up all the time, comes up as often as Star Wars comes up if you were born at a certain time.”

According to Winderbaum, “The plan was never going to be ‘Let’s make a new X-Men show that takes places in 2024 and we’re going to redesign them and make them cool for today.’”

Instead, the more exciting opportunity was to work within the parameters of the nineties, which “makes it feel like new, even though it’s old. It’s fun to have superhero stories told in a time before the Internet, before cellphones,” said Winderbaum. “It’s just a different rulebook that the players have to abide by.”

“We spent all of our time and all of our creative effort trying to emulate our memory of this thing, which is why it was so important not only to get the cast back, but to get [original series co-creator] Eric Lewald back and [original series director] Larry Houston back to tell us how the original show was made and to help us come up with our parameters,” said Winderbaum.

The benefits of technological advancements in animation over the last three decades were actually a challenge in producing the show. “We needed to create our own rulebook based on the limitations that Larry and Lewald were under when they made the original show,” noted Winderbaum.

For Winderbaum, that meant “staying in a nineties aesthetic locked in flat space storytelling with big bold colors, staying on the x/y axis as much as possible.”

“Now, we broke those rules,” noted Winderbaum, “but we broke those rules in really specific times when the drama of the story demanded it.”

Part of the rule breaking meant fulfilling some of the ambitions that the original creators wanted to achieve but couldn’t due to hand-drawn technological constraints of the time.

For instance, in the opening credits there is a shot “where Rogue flips that bad guy over her that—if you watch the original opening—that’s a much shorter shot,” Winderbaum explained. “We extended it and did this shot that matched [Houston’s] original storyboards from the nineties.”

“One of the things that makes Marvel storytelling unique is that we’re always standing on the shoulders of giants,” said Winderbaum.

Winderbaum namechecked Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Jim Lee, and of course Eric Lewald and Larry Houston as among those who have expertly stewarded the X-Men across the page and screen.

“This is our opportunity with our new team to carry that torch,” stated Winderbaum.

Winderbaum also found the parallels between his team and the characters carrying on Xavier’s legacy: “In a way, the narrative kind of mimics the creation of the show. There’s this idea of upholding legacy that’s inherent to the DNA of the project.”

And as for what Winderbaum is most excited for fans to experience in X-Men ’97?

“I’m excited for fans to… be reminded about the dramatic depths that the X-Men can go to. And I’m excited for new audiences to be surprised at how impactful some of these stories may be when you see [them] on screen.”

X-MEN ’97, exclusively on Disney+. © 2024 MARVEL.