Writer-director-producer Jeremy Zag always knew that the dynamic characters of one of the biggest animated franchises of the past decade had the huge potential to be adapted into a major animated musical feature. Zag, who also composed the music and co-wrote the songs for Ladybug & Cat Noir: The Movie, says he realized the project had the perfect ingredients for a movie when he began developing a stage musical based on the show.
Based on the global blockbuster TV series Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug and Cat Noir, which first made its debut in 2015, the much-anticipated feature adaptation centers on the origin story of star-crossed Parisian teens, Marinette Dupain-Cheng and Adrien Agreste, who become the powerful superheroes, Ladybug and Cat Noir, and join forces to protect the City of Lights from a dangerous supervillain known as Hawk Moth.
Zag says he wanted to create a fantastic experience for a new audience that perhaps isn’t familiar with the Miraculous franchise while pleasing the original fans of the TV show with a rich and intriguing origin stories for the characters.
“We set out to make new viewers fall in love with the characters and feel what the fans have felt about them and be swept away by the love story, the exciting action sequences and the songs and music.”
“The more I began to develop the songs and the musical adaptation, I realized that the property has a lot in its hearts to tell audiences” says Zag, a French entrepreneur and award-winning producer, director, writer, and music composer for films, television series and digital entertainment for Kid and Family, and serves as the Founder, CEO & CCO of ZAG, a global independent studio.
Zag says he grew up in the 1980s on a healthy diet of Japanese anime, Disney animated classics and superhero fare from the U.S., as well as beloved family movies directed by the likes of Steven Spielberg and Chris Columbus. “You can see all those influences in our movie,” says the director “The DNA of the movie is quite special, so the final result is a mix of mainstream adventures— it’s sometimes spooky and often spectacular with big action sequences like Marvel films and musical elements like everyone’s favorite Disney movies.”
“With music, especially, you can touch the hearts of everyone, both young and old. I could see the movie in my head and the other producers and I had this epiphany at the same that that we just had to make Ladybug and Cat Noir into an animated musical.”
Like the TV series, the movie explores the clever premise of the secret identities of Marinette and Adrien and how it impacts their relationship
“One of the great strengths of this franchise is that neither of the two main characters is aware of the other one’s superhero identity. It’s a Catch-22 love story that we wanted to push further in the movie. The TV show is for young audiences, so you can play with that theme, but we wanted to push the cursor to the max, and the feature allowed us to really explore the possibilities of this clever situation,” says Zag.
Zag points out that it was very important for him and his creative team to feature characters and themes that help audiences overcome personal doubts and explore their full potentials.
“It seems that the new generation prioritizes external validation over personal confidence,” he explains. “For me, it was very important to develop characters that helps people discover their true selves. They need to understand the true hero of the film is the real Marinette, the person behind the mask. She is someone who doesn’t believe in herself in the beginning of the movie, but she learns to stop thinking about what others may think about her. She listens to her heart and follows her real passions. That’s the big takeaway from the movie: To learn the importance of believing in yourself and understanding that you don’t need a superhero or a mask to reach your dreams and overcome fears.”
Writer Bettina Lopez Mendoza was excited to be approached by Zag to tackle the script back in late 2018
“I was part of the team at Jeremy and the team’s offices in Santa Monica, and at the time, they were developing other shows concurrently as well, so it was really cool to be part of the process from the very beginning,” she recalls. “It was a truly collaborative process, and we went from zero to hundred very quickly. Everything started out with Jeremy. He would give me and a few of the key people in the story sessions ideas about the story. It was my job to absorb all the notes he was offering the storyboard artists, concept designers or the musician. We had to go back and forth to really sustain the levels of excellence that Jeremy was looking for.”
Mendoza says she loved the fact that the movie reveals some of the big secrets from the popular series. “I always thought it was great that the movie offers a lot of narrative satisfaction and is not going to set up multiple sequels before it reveals the major secrets of this very special world and its wonderful lore,” she notes.
She adds, “I also love the fact that it communicates to the young audience this message that you can transform yourself to a better version of yourself even if you may not have the stereotypical things that make you strong or brave. I also love the fact that we get to play with this impossible love story between Marinette and Adrien.”
Mendoza, who grew up in Caracas and has lived in Mexico City and in different cities in the U.S., says she was already aware of the global popularity of the Miraculous franchise. “It’s phenomenal. I’d go to my friends’ kids’ birthday parties and everything would be Miraculous-themed or you would see Miraculous piñatas on the streets of Mexico,” she points out. “There was also a Miraculous stage show when I was in Paris. These characters have really captured everyone’s imaginations around the world, and I know the show has performed very well on Netflix.” She hopes audiences will have a lot of fun when they finally
see the movie. “I think we give them a little bit of everything in the movie. It has action-packed sequences, beautiful musical numbers that are uplifting and fun, and of course, the love story which is a huge part of the story.”
More importantly, Lopez Mendoza says she hopes that the young girls or boys in the audience who feel lonely or need a confidence boost, will find a source of inspiration in the world of Miraculous. “The story may be targeting young viewers, but I feel that it’s also a four-quadrant movie. Audiences of all ages should all find something in this world that will appeal to them and inspires them.”
Launching a Sweeping Parisian Musical
As Zag and his creative team set out to create the cinematic world of Lady Bug and Cat Noir, they knew that music and the eight features songs were going to play a huge role in conveying the emotions and the plot twists and turns of the animated movie.
“The team that worked know that that most of the time, I sing the sequence in the story room,” recalls the writer-director. “I play the songs on the piano and they really capture the emotions. remember how our first screening of the complete movie was only audio. We just listened to the movie in the dark room. It really helped us visualize the project.”
He adds, “It feels special to see the music come to life. Thanks to all of these magicians on the story, lyrics and visual team, the music has been elevated to a higher level. I’m overwhelmed by the special love everyone has given to this music. Listening to all the musicians playing these songs adds another level of magic to it. Every single player and musician brought something special to it. I am blown away by the final versions of the songs and the music.”
One of the unique aspects of this project is the way it seamlessly mixes the superhero, action adventure and musical comedy genres. Zag says he wanted the songs to really express the inner feelings of the main characters. “I wanted our songs to play a different role than what we usually expect them to play in animated musicals,” says the multi-talented director. “We’re used to seeing character singing as they open windows, but here we have songs to express what Marinette or Adrien feel and cannot say in day-to-day conversations. They also help us movie smoothly from one section of the movie to the next. You get what the characters are thinking, understand their motivations and move forward in the narrative.”
Zag points out that the Ladybug and Cat Noir movie is equally inspired by Sailor Moon and Spider-Man.
“She is a superhero with lots of power in her heart,” says Zag.
“Thomas and art director Nathanael Bronn brought this character to animated life about 15 years ago, and we were very lucky to bring Toei Animation along for the ride. We feel very strongly about these characters and I think everyone who worked on the movie really gave their hearts to it completely, because we all think it’s very special and that we are happy to tell Marinette’s story in this unique genre.”
As Zag explains, artist Thomas Astruc created the aesthetic direction of the series as a clever combination of manga and Marvel styles. He adds, “In addition, our background designer Jerome Cointre transformed Paris into a fairy tale world as the backdrop of the actions. That is another reason this franchise has so many fans around the world. People really enjoy seeing the Parisian neighborhoods and familiar landmarks, and we carried that through the movie. For the first time, we have this animated musical set in Paris. We don’t have the high scale of the skyscrapers of New York City, which is often used as the background for superhero movies. We have a lot of soul, history and heart in the architecture of the city.”
The film is produced by animation veteran Aton Soumache, who has been behind many acclaimed animated projects including The Little Prince over the past decade. He says he was thrilled when Zag decided to develop the property into an animated musical. “We were making this TV series that is enormously successful around the world,” he says.
“When Jeremy decided to make a live-action musical, he started to write the songs and the lyrics. It was so powerful that we both decided that we should definitely make a movie. But we didn’t want to just to make a movie version of the TV show, which we have six seasons on the air already. We wanted to make an action-movie, in which our heroes sing about their inner thoughts and emotions — you can see it as a cross between Frozen and Spider-Man. And of course, we didn’t want to make an average commercial movie. This was going to be a movie with heart and soul.”
Soumache says he is thrilled that the movie can introduce these wonderful characters and colorful world to those who perhaps are not familiar with the TV series. “The most challenging aspect of the project was coming up with a screenplay that would satisfy the original fans, while also making a four-quadrant movie that can be enjoyed by everyone,” he notes. “So, the great solutions was let’s create a ‘Miraculous Begins’ movie where fans can discover secrets about the brand and the characters that have never been revealed before while we introduce Ladybug and Cat Noir to the world at the same time. We had to be very careful with this beloved brand, so it involved many, many sessions of fine-tuning the story and screenplay. It was a really long journey, but I’m confident that we found a great balance in the final result.”
The producer says audiences are going to really love the new look and feel of the characters on the big screen.
“When you adapt a TV show to a movie, you want to make everything bigger and better. The feature is unique in terms of the quality of the lighting and CG rendering. We could do things that we weren’t able to afford on a TV show’s weekly deadline and budget. We’ve never seen Marinette and Adrien’s Paris like this before. Also, fans will obviously recognize the main characters, but they are animated in a new style, on a higher level. We have pushed the animation to be as good as Pixar and Illumination in terms of the lighting, rendering, hair, clothes and effects.”
The film’s executive producer Emmanuel Jacomet also believes that the movie is a perfect gateway to the world of Miraculous. “Jeremy took the time to really develop this feature and provide the fans with a rich and perfect origin story for the characters,” he says. “We wanted this movie experience to be special for the audience. Because Jeremy is also a great musician, who also wrote the songs and the music, he uses the songs to tell audiences what the characters really feel. It allows them to reveal truths about themselves that they couldn’t do through straight dialogue. This allows you to go deep into the souls of these unique characters.”
Overall, the movie sends a great message about overcoming personal fears. “We see Marinette going through this emotional journey,” he says. “Initially, she’s afraid of failure and scare of the world around her. But she learns to transforms her fear to perform great actions. By the end of the movie, she realizes that she doesn’t a need a mask to be herself or take heroic actions. The message is that we all have within us what it takes to overcome our fears, do heroic deeds and do good in this world.”