Team Zenko Go, DreamWorks’ new animation series, presents its disabled main character with “authenticity, depth, humanity, and equity.” It is an example of how prioritizing accessibility when creating can result in entertaining and disability-inclusive works.
Team Zenko Go is a series about a secret squad of young children who want to make their town “the happiest town in the world” by performing acts of goodness. One of the squad members is Ari, who, as Keely Cat-Wells purposefly puts it, “happens to be a wheelchair user.” Ari is new in town and is welcomed in the squad after he catches them in an act. He asks to join the group in their mission. Executive producer and showrunner Jack Thomas explains the reasoning behind this way of introducing Ari in the series: they wanted to instantly point out that all these children are equal and equally welcome in the group. He also comments on the fact that they agreed that there was no reason to mention Ari’s wheelchair throughout the series, unless at some point it became relevant to the plot, to which he commented “I don’t think it ever was.”
Getting It Right
To ensure they approached Ari’s character in the best way, the creators of Team Zenko Go hired Disability Consultant Kirsten Sharp. Sharp made sure that Ari’s movements and interactions were realistic and truthful. The creators also prioritized authentic casting, which is why they chose Hartley Bernier, a 14 year old actor who lives with chronic illness, to voice Ari. The team made sure that Bernier felt supported, safe, and heard throughout production. Bernier commented on the accommodations provided for him during production as well as his excitement about this role and the common interests he shares with Ari.