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Percy Jackson director looked to the Muppets to faithfully adapt the books

The Disney Plus show has a lot to live up to

Percy (Walker Scobell), Annabeth (Leah Sava Jeffries), and Grover (Aryan Simhadri) standing on a beach Photo: David Bukach/Disney
Zosha Millman (she/her) manages TV coverage at Polygon as TV editor, but will happily write about movies, too. She’s been working as a journalist for more than 10 years.

After two Percy Jackson movies that skimped on the specifics of what fans loved about Rick Riordan’s books, the team behind Disney Plus’ new series reboot made a point of getting even the smallest details just right. But there are some things that James Bobin, who directed the premiere episodes of the show, wanted to be a bit ill-fitting.

“I like that in episode 2 Percy’s armor doesn’t really fit him,” Bobin tells Polygon. “He’s new, and so he’s got some old, borrowed armor.”

Bobin worked closely with Riordan, an executive producer on the series, to litter his two premiere episodes with items from the books in order to delight fans — everything from how Riptide looks to the type of tree Talia was transformed into — but also wanted to be sure the references were all building to something. And so, even when it doesn’t seem like it, Percy Jackson and the Olympians is planting details for who that character is, why they are in future books, and for what comes next.

“The first time you meet his mom [...] she’s outside just communing with the rain. Even if you know the books at all, that’s an interesting character — like, Why is she outside in the rain?” Bobin says. “By the time you get to the end of this episode with the minotaur it’s raining heavily. And so that was a very important part of the presence of his father in the show, [which] was a totally symbolic one for the presence of water in this show, and the growing presence of water throughout the show.”

Percy (Walker Scobell) and Annabeth (Leah Sava Jeffries) sitting in a boat in a tunnel Photo: David Bukach/Disney

Building that groundwork early on felt key to Bobin, even if the payoffs weren’t coming soon. Early scenes with Grover and Percy’s mom, Sally, needed to feel like a relationship that could propel a whole season, with emotional ties that could believably make his quest feel true.

Bobin, who co-created Flight of the Conchords and directed other big IP reimaginings like Dora and the Lost City of Gold and Alice Through the Looking Glass, says these impulses for Percy Jackson actually came from elsewhere on his directing resume: the Muppets movies.

“It’s like a national treasure. And so everyone has a real sense of ownership with it; it’s a personal relationship with the material,” Bobin says. “And in both cases — the Muppets and with this — I always led upon the things that I loved about this book. And my job is really just to channel that, and then hopefully we reflect how other people feel about it too.”

The first two episodes of Percy Jackson and the Olympians are now streaming on Disney Plus. New episodes are released on Wednesdays.

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