X-MEN ’97 Director Jake Castorena On Big Surprises, Anime Influences, Spider-Man, MCU & More (Exclusive)

The first two episodes of X-Men ’97 are now streaming, exclusively on Disney+, and ahead of yesterday’s astonishing premiere, we were able to catch up with director Jake Castorena (The Death of Superman; Reign of the Supermen) to talk about some of the exciting developments and what’s to come for our favorite mutants this coming season. 

He breaks down in detail how they were able to meld the classic ’90s influence with modern animation styles, while also bringing in all new kinds of influence, including a very anime-esque take on some of the X-Men’s action scenes. He also tells me more about what to expect from a few key characters, including Wolverine, Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Storm. Plus, we also get into that Daily Bugle Easter egg and whether or not a certain wall-crawler – or other Marvel characters – could pop in this season.

We were able to preview the first three episodes, so we did briefly talk about that jaw-dropping third installment, but we didn’t get into any spoilers, so continue on.

Watch our full interview with star Jake Castorena below and/or keep scrolling to read the full transcript! Plus, please remember to subscribe to our YouTube channel for more exclusive content!

ROHAN: The show is awesome, so wanted to start off by asking what was the process behind blending the obvious ’90s influence from the original series with a modern animation style? 

JAKE: Yeah, man, I love answering that question. So, yeah, luckily, when I was brought on board, the decision to stay in that sandbox, to be in that ‘90s sandbox was well decided before I was brought on board. My job was to figure out how do we make it work? How do we make this work? You know, so working in tandem with the stories, the overall vision, you know, crafted in the Bible, and the scripts by Beau DeMayo, I’m working in tandem with our in-house team – which I got to give a shout out to our production designer, Anthony Wu, our lead comp artists, Ashley Phillips, our lead animator, Jeremy Polgar, and our lead effects artists, Chris Graf – they along with all of their teams, and all of us working together, that’s where the look comes in. Everybody brings their A-game, everybody carries their weight and more, to keep us, what I like to say is fresh but familiar, right? It’s got to be the show you love and remember, but it’s got to feel like the show you love and remember, but it’s got to be relevant and high octane to match the audience and, you know, the techniques of what the industry is doing today. So, a lot of it, for myself, it was doing research, as you know, what were they doing in ‘96 through ‘98? What were the lenses that they were using? How were things being directed? What was being done in feature? What was being done in TV animation? What was being done in live action? What was being done in anime? What were all of the techniques at the time, and what were the common denominators of all of that, and then finding out, oh, when you see this, it has this, you know, X makes you realize it’s a dated thing, and so finding all of those commonalities, figuring out what those were and starting from there, and then you know, each of the team having their marching orders from there to figure out how to make it work, and at the end of the day, it comes down to the leads that I mentioned and myself sitting in a room on a big couch, looking at a big TV for hours, you know, manipulating, fixing, fine tuning, pushing, plussing every frame. The look and the feel, this is not an accident. This is all planned, meticulously hand done from the script phase, the Bible phase all the way to final picture. So, yeah, to hear that’s what the audience is reacting to, that it’s the show they love and remember, but it also is fresh and current, that’s the absolute goal the team and ourselves, that we set out to do.

ROHAN: The action scenes are really on another level and seem to have a decent amount of anime influence. What was the process behind crafting these amazing new sequences that really let the X-Men be the X-Men we know and love?

JAKE: I love that question because it seemed like if you’re of an era, you know, there’s Dragonball Z, X-Men: The Animated Series, etc. There are just certain things ingrained in our culture, in our self as audiences that we’ve grown over thirty years. Choreography has changed, our sensibilities have changed. Gone are the days of just haymakers and uppercuts, right? Combinations are a big thing. So, when it came to the action versus the dialogue, and you know, that’s where we had a lot of fun visually, when you’re on those impactful emotional moments, don’t be afraid to get that X-Men ‘90s close-up of the eyes, play with that to show character’s emotion, get in there, using compressed lenses for dialogue scenes, figuring out who’s staged next to who, but when it comes to the action, that’s when we can have a little bit more, what I like to say hog-nasty, wild fun when it comes to it, because so many of our peers and fellow co-workers and friends in this industry are just raising the bar of what it is to have the visual medium of animation. Not only what it can do visually, but also that it’s not just a children’s medium. It’s another form of storytelling, and to that point, action is also another form of storytelling. So, to not only just have high octane action in the show, but to also do action that further encompasses the narrative and pushes the story forward. That was also a big deal, and also a big thing that that the team overall focused on, and, you know, again, shout out to that stuff just being ingrained in the scripts from day one. But, yeah, there really is just a monumental conglomerate of team effort to bring all this stuff to screen.

ROHAN: After episode three, there’s a really interesting new dynamic brewing between Wolverine, Cyclops and Jean Grey – what can you tell us about that triangle moving forward and what to expect the rest of the season?

JAKE: Yeah, to be quite honest, you’ll just have to go watch the rest of the show to figure out where that stuff goes, but to the core, look, X-Men is and always has been, and always will be an allegory for prejudice. The minute you take that away from X-Men, it’s no longer the X-Men, but also with the X Men, it’s a family dynamic. It’s a found tribe, it’s multiple personalities coming together, clashing together, working together, falling in love together, you know, the melodrama is thick, and it is real with the X-Men, and that was a real thing of the OG show, and that is a real thing of this show from the vision of the Bible, and the way Beau was writing these characters, you know, he just understood that, and then giving us that roadmap to be able to carry that on visually, and push the storytelling even further. I’m pretty proud of that, I’m grateful I get to work on this with the rest of the team too.

ROHAN: The trailer featured a very fun Daily Bugle Easter Egg, so what are the chances we see Spider-Man or other Marvel characters pop in throughout the season?

JAKE: Great question. What I will say is, look, our show, we are a spiritual successor, right, we’re a revival, it’s not a reboot, we’re picking up right where Graduation Day in season five ended. So, in order to be in tandem with the original show, we need to follow certain things that were ingrained in the original show’s DNA. The original show was the MCU before the MCU became the MCU, right? So cameos and expanding the overall lore of the characters and side stories and team derivatives, that’s all part of the show. If we want to honor the show that came before us, we should probably honor some of the things that they did in that show. So, I would urge eagle-eyed viewers to just keep watching.

ROHAN: Storm has an awesome omega-level moment in the premiere and then, episode two sets her on an interesting path for the rest of the season. What can you tease about where her journey will take her?

JAKE: Again, luckily, a lot of that was decided well before I was brought on board, that was in the Bible from day one, written by Beau. The type of path and journey that Storm was gonna go on over the course of this series was definitely more than decided before I was brought on board, but to get to be a part of that and to help visually elevate those facets of her journey and to help visually represent what was written in the script or how to visually bring it all together, you know, to the end, that’s something that I enjoyed as well as the team. And what I can say is we’re really looking forward to seeing how everybody else reacts to watching the rest of Storm’s story play out, because anything else and I may give it away.

Marvel Animation’s “X-Men’97” revisits the iconic era of the 1990s as The X-Men, a band of mutants who use their uncanny gifts to protect a world that hates and fears them, are challenged like never before, forced to face a dangerous and unexpected new future. The all-new series features 10 episodes. The voice cast includes Ray Chase as Cyclops, Jennifer Hale as Jean Grey, Alison Sealy-Smith as Storm, Cal Dodd as Wolverine, JP Karliak as Morph, Lenore Zann as Rogue, George Buza as Beast, AJ LoCascio as Gambit, Holly Chou as Jubilee, Isaac Robinson-Smith as Bishop, Matthew Waterson as Magneto, and Adrian Hough as Nightcrawler. Beau DeMayo serves as head writer; episodes are directed by Jake Castorena, Chase Conley and Emi Yonemura, and the series is executive produced by Brad Winderbaum, Kevin Feige, Louis D’Esposito, Victoria Alonso and DeMayo. Featuring music by the Newton Brothers, Marvel Animation’s “X-Men ’97” begins streaming on Disney+ on March 20, 2024.

X-Men ’97 is now streaming on Disney+!