Matt Braly Interview – A Deep Dive Into The Amphibia Finale

“I’m feeling every kind of emotion all at once right now,” Amphibia creator Matt Braly tells me ahead of the show’s upcoming finale. “I am just now putting the finishing touches on the hardest thing, which is like our last, last episode and it’s so emotional for me to work on this thing because it’s been such a long road.”

Braly is a source of beaming smiles and enthusiasm as we meet together on Zoom to talk about the show, but not before sharing our cats on camera and joking about the fantastical ridiculousness of Elden Ring and the brilliance of losing ourselves in fictional worlds. But enough video games, we’re here to talk about something very serious – cartoons. With Amphibia’s extended finale only a few days away, the mood right now is one of bittersweet nostalgia as Braly looks back on everything it took to reach this point after so many years.

“Our production started in 2016-17, but my first pitch document for this show was from 2015. It’s been so long, and I can’t quite believe it, and I’m so relieved and grateful because this is a hard job that takes so much out of you because you’re putting so much of yourself into it. I’m so proud of the team and what we’ve been able to accomplish. There’s also a lot of season one stuff coming back which makes me so happy because I love season one. The first season has some of my happiest memories working with this team just having fun, and seeing these characters come back, and seeing them become a part of the story again is very gratifying to me.”

Connecting the disparate past to the cohesive present is a natural part of any show’s eventual conclusion, but with Amphibia it feels especially poetic. Anne Boonchuy, Sasha Waybright, and Marcy Wu’s incidental journey into this magical world is one that begins with comedic hijinks and fun without consequence, but alongside all the wholesomeness has spawned a narrative that isn’t afraid to delve a little deeper.

“You get to a point in a story where it feels like this is a point of no return,” Braly says. There’s a part of the show where it wants to end, it wants to resolve. For example in Gravity Falls when Stan’s brother comes out of the portal – spoilers by the way – for me, I was like, ‘Shit just got real! It’s going down!’ and it was really fun to do that for Amphibia. I’ve seen a lot of comparisons between season one and season three, specifically 3A, but like there’s a terminator robot after them and it’s trying to kill Anne. There are choke points where we need to introduce these urgent elements and these antagonistic forces otherwise it just wouldn’t feel right. For us it was the Cloak Bot, Mr. X, and this urgency to get [The Planters] home. We even have an entire episode dedicated to Anne’s burnout where she’s been working and cooking too hard on getting them home and that’s something we never could have done in season one. Even in season two there wasn’t the same sense of urgency. True Colors really did change the story, for the better for me, because now we can build towards the real climax of the show, which is what we’re about to get into.”

True Colors was an episode that changed everything for Amphibia. Leaked ahead of its original release, the season two finale follows Anne, Sasha, and Marcy as they reunite with King Andreas about returning home as they finally learn of his true intentions. The show gets dark, with Marcy seemingly being murdered, Sasha betraying her friends, and Anne finally returning to the human world at unimaginable cost. It even has a warning when you watch it on Disney+, a fun and completely unique thing for a kids show. Before delving into the finale and where our main characters are poised to go later this week, I had to pick Braly’s brain on the reception to this moment and how it changes things forever.

“True Colors was our Empire Strikes Back moment,” Braly tells me with a laugh. “The good guys lose, and there’s something about us as viewers where we love that stuff.” I compare the situation to Final Fantasy 6 and our mutual love of JRPGs immediately springs to life. “Yes! Marcy’s infamous scene is 100 percent inspired by Aerith from Final Fantasy 7. 100 percent! As a kid growing up in the 1990s there is no way that image wasn’t burned into your brain. But those are the moments we all shoot for as writers now. Those grand, romantic sweeping gestures of epic gravity. I remember seeing that, and looking back they were kind of goofy and low poly CG characters but it just hits and it’s so bold and I loved it. I’ve always been after that kind of feeling which is a real story with real stakes. Even though it’s a kid’s show, I’ve always loved Final Fantasy and that moment is so inspiring.”

Circumstances behind the disclaimer are rather comical too: “Everyone keeps asking like, ‘When is Amphibia going to have another one?’ or ‘When is The Owl House getting a disclaimer?’ and guys, the disclaimer is for when the process broke. Assuming all good things you will never see a disclaimer again. The [True Colors] disclaimer was a band-aid on a situation, and it’s really important that everyone is in lockstep creating this content.”

I won’t be giving away any specifics of the finale here, but Braly promises me it will bring the individual arcs of the Calamity Trio full circle, cementing their relationships and carving a path forward to the future. “You can expect really, really high stakes and high octane action that brings all three girl’s character arcs to a kind of culmination,” he says. “So ‘All In’ splits up those character stories and by the end all three girls will have arrived at their destination. That’s my broad pitch for [the episode] which has all this bombastic action, giant anime robots and Itano Circus-level stuff, but I think it’s really important not to lose sight of the character’s story in there.

“There’s a very powerful, intimate story, especially about Anne and self-respect and self-esteem and self-love that comes to a climax. Something worth pointing out from my point of view is that Anne has two character arcs in Amphibia and this is something tracked over the entire three seasons. She has an obvious character arc, the surface level one where a bratty, irresponsible girl is kind of becoming responsible. Learning to be a more responsible, more adult person who stands up to folks. But there is another more nuanced character arc about self-love that is going through this story. In the beginning of season one you look at Anne and think, ‘Why is this person letting other people walk all over them? Why is it that they aren’t putting their foot down and doing the right thing?’ It isn’t until ‘Reunion’ that you realise it’s because Anne doesn’t have enough self-worth to do it. It’s only by interacting with [The Planters] that she realises there are people who do love her and show that she’s worth it and worthy of self-love that she’s finally able to put her foot down.”

The dynamic between Anne, Sasha, and Marcy has endured throughout the show’s entire lifespan, with fans embracing them as worthwhile heroines with their own distinct flaws, quirks, and motivations. Their individual journeys in Amphibia have changed them forever, and as the trio are set to reunite in the final weeks, it’s fascinating to delve into their evolved friendship with Braly and whether the wreckage can be salvaged. Let’s kick things off with Sasha Waybright, a bratty mean girl with an attitude problem. Get it, queen.

“I don’t know why I always do this to Sasha, but I love setting things up for her and being like, ‘Well, we won’t be seeing you for 10+ episodes!,’ Braly explains. “But what I liked so much about ‘Commander Anne’ is that when she and Sasha are reunited for the first time you as an audience member are able to see this big change from Anne’s point of view. Her outfit is different, her role is different, she’s leading the resistance for good, for justice. You’ve never seen Sasha like this before and I think you need some distance for those moments to play. We need to not have seen her so we can see from Anne’s point of view that it really is a big change, but is she still the same?”

A moment shared between Anne and Sasha ahead of the finale is almost tragic. Marcy is responsible for trapping all three of them in Amphibia, throwing away their lives in favour of a permanent adventure to escape responsibility. So now the Calamity Trio are left with a difficult question – is this friendship even one worth saving?

“That conversation was so tricky because a lot of people were waiting for it, and I think they’ll find the conversation is more difficult and nuanced than simply needing to save her because [Marcy] is our friend,” Braly tells me. “The circumstances at the end of True Colors are very complicated. Marcy did in fact get them stuck in Amphibia on purpose. Now she didn’t know it would work so there’s some plausible deniability but boy, she hoped it would. I really do think that ‘Beginning of the End’ is about forgiveness and what it takes to forgive, and how that comes about. What I love so much about it is that Anne, who is the heart of the Calamity Trio, is being generous with her love and forgiveness. This is only possible because of the difficulty she has with Hop Pop in the first temple. In that episode, if you recall, when Sasha makes one final pitch of, ‘Okay, well Anne I’m going to tell you why this is so difficult for me’ because is she just supposed to forgive her and it’s that easy? Then Anne gives Hop Pop a look because she knows that, yes, forgiveness is difficult, but my goodness it’s worth it. I have this relationship that I’ve rebuilt and now it’s stronger, and of course she turns it around on Sasha to say look at what we have. That episode really is all about how the girls feel about Marcy going into this climax that she is inextricable from.”

Anne, Sasha, and Marcy all come from vastly different backgrounds, but are close friends in spite of it all. Their individual circumstances have become a huge factor in the show’s unfolding story, even if smaller details have only ever been hinted at. Braly is always impressed by the fandom’s dedication to unearthing what makes each character tick, even more so when specific explanations are seldom broached upon.

“Very early on we had discussed their families and backstories and really what made them,” he says. I think it’s a Hayao Miyazaki quote that describes characters as icebergs and how you only ever see the top of them. I think with the [Calamity Trio] it’s important to know them in that way before you even start their adventure. We did a lot of work discussing their families and how Marcy’s dad is very career oriented, and how when this big opportunity comes up he was definitely going to jump at it. We talked a lot about Sasha’s parents and how there was this split and now there are two families and how this is when she felt she lost control, and that’s why she’s all about control. We made sure to thread all that stuff into their stories and their characters, but we also wanted to leave some things up to interpretation and imagination as well.

“I’ll be honest, I did try really hard to write a scene where Sasha was telling Anne, ‘Maybe this is why I pushed you around and I think it was this and I think it was that’ but it always felt like she was making an excuse and I didn’t like this look for them. Sasha is here taking responsibility for her actions in the present and there was something in that scene I was trying to write where it felt weird, and it’s true because we should just let her actions speak. She’s trying to show that she’s responsible, and she’s taking it upon herself, and I think that’s what is so nice about Sasha and why she’s one of my favourite characters. It’s a trope that she’s a mean girl, she’s blonde – it’s a whole thing – but I do think Sasha is a deep reservoir of a character and her turn was one of my favourite things to look after on the show.”

I’ve touched on this briefly in a piece I wrote revolving around Anne’s parents, but one thing I adore about Amphibia and its three heroines is how each of them eventually opens up to vulnerability, finding themselves as a part of found families in the absence of their own.

“It’s all about missing pieces,” Braly notes. “Everybody has missing pieces, and they can find ways to kind of complete themselves with these found families and these connections, whether it’s your friends, people you’ve met on the internet or school, I feel like we’re all looking for those missing pieces and it’s something Amphibia has always prioritised. In ‘All In’ there is a moment that makes me tear up because it is a culmination of what you were talking about, that scene in ‘Hopping Mall’ where Spring reveals to Anne this very intimate and vulnerable detail that I really think comes to a climax in a very particular scene and you will know it when you see it, and it will make sense as to why and what pieces it felt like Sprig and Polly were missing.”

Anne, Sasha, and Marcy have also been subject to plenty of shipping, with fans placing them in romantic pairings with the hope that perhaps one of them will be made canon in the coming finale. It’s a sensitive topic, but one filled with so much passion that Braly is more than happy to delve into how projecting these feelings onto his characters is almost an honour, and showcases how much the universe of Amphibia means to so many people.

“I love shipping, I feel like it is the greatest expression of love for characters,” Braly admits. “You’re really thinking about them romantically and what’s best for them. We have canon couples that get together in the show but specifically, with our three leads, we have worked very hard to keep things very open and never commit because the last thing I would ever want to do is ruin somebody else's headcanon or ship for no reason. That’s destructive for me because oh my gosh all the fighting and the arguments. So for me, especially in this story that is ultimately about friendship, and their friendship dynamic is to end the show in a way that is constructive and open. That’s basically what I’ll say to that is how we’ve worked very hard to have empathy for the people who are shipping these characters and at the same time do right by the show and its themes. So, knock on wood!”

Braly builds upon this with how as a showrunner words can often be pushed to the forefront or taken in a certain way that were never intended, which brings with it a lot of pressure. “I once did an interview a couple of years ago where I said something that involved some insight into Marcy’s character, Sasha’s character, Anne’s character and their dynamic and I didn’t realise how it could be interpreted. Ever since then I’ve been very nervous about what I put down as canon or what I confirm or don’t confirm.”

While some fans might be disappointed by the lack of a canon romance amidst the Calamity Trio, Braly assures me that there will be some worthwhile intimacy across the main cast to be found in the coming finale. So keep an eye out for that if you’re a hopeless romantic like I am. For now I am sworn to secrecy. After probing Braly about shipping I offered an even harder question – to pick one game and one anime that describes each of his main characters.

“Oh my god this is a hard one! Oh boy. Marcy is Wind Waker for the GameCube, that’s absolutely her. Anime is Inuyasha. She loves herself some Inuyasha. Anne’s favourite anime is Nichijou, a fun slice of life show that is so kooky and bananas. Anne’s game is definitely The Sims because she loves to feel like a god and to know how much she can play around. Sasha’s favourite game is Doom (2016) where she’s stomping on heads and watching gore going everywhere. She loves some hardcore anime, she’d really be into something like Berserk.”

Amphibia is a product of the pandemic in many ways, with so much of the show being developed in a global situation where the production crew and cast weren't able to see one another. This was brought to an end at a panel in April that saw so many creators and fans band together as they celebrated Amphibia before it comes to an end. Please send me a poster.

"It was wonderful because all of our events have been cancelled. Whether it was Comic Con or we were going to head over to Annecy in France which would have been so nice," Braly says. "To have one more great gathering of these wonderful fans to discuss the show, and to have the actors who I haven't seen for a year either all in one place and to remember what a great time we had making this show was really meaningful to me. The fans are incredible too, there's something about Amphibia and The Owl House fans in how they're all just whip smart. They're all writers, artists, and just really incredible. To have that much talent and enthusiasm in one place is always so great because it just energizes you so much."

You can catch the start of Amphibia’s finale this Saturday on Disney Channel.

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