Now The TV Writer’s Son Is Honored On The Popular Cartoon, Firebuds

Jeremy Shipp, a writer for the Disney Junior cartoon Firebuds, has written an episode titled “Cleft Hood” to improve the representation of people with facial differences, inspired by his son Henry’s experience of being born with a cleft lip and cleft palate. Shipp noticed that people with facial differences are often portrayed as villainous in TV shows and movies, which made him feel bad for his son, who is a joyful kid. Shipp wanted to create a positive and happy character for the show that looked a little bit like his son, who is now a fifth-grader. After getting approval from Henry, Shipp pitched the story introducing a new car character, Castor, who has a cleft hood.

In “Cleft Hood,” Castor is not treated differently because of his facial difference. Shipp focused more on the mental and emotional aspects of having the condition and missing out on certain moments while undergoing medical procedures. Shipp added a therapist character who could introduce the concept of empathy to the other characters in a kid-friendly way to help them and the viewers at home connect with Castor when he runs off just before his final surgery. Shipp hopes his episode will help kids like Henry feel similarly seen.

Shipp cast Henry to voice Castor and included his favorite childhood doll, Anya, in the episode. Shipp’s wife ordered a doll that looked like Henry, which became his treasured keepsake. The character of Castor carries “Anya,” a stuffed car with a cleft lip. To help viewers connect with Castor when he runs off just before his final surgery, Shipp credits the show’s creator, Craig Gerber, for suggesting a therapist character who could introduce empathy to the other characters in a kid-friendly way.

Shipp’s episode is part of Firebuds’ efforts to improve representation and visibility for people with disabilities. Firebuds consults with the disability rights organization RespectAbility on its episodes and has won praise for featuring diverse characters from multi-racial and LGBTQ families. Firebuds will also introduce a wheelchair car character, Gliderbella, voiced by Broadway star Ali Stroker in its April 7 show, which will center on the main character Jazzy, who has spina bifida.