Goode recalled first coming up with the idea for “American Dragon: Jake Long” around the year 2000 as a pitch for the people at Fox, who were looking for “a show that would appear to the ‘Harry Potter’ audience.” Originally, the show was going to be live-action and aimed at older audiences, with Jake being 18 at the start of the show.
“In the pilot, his parents are murdered by dragon hunters, and so the story was him adventuring across the country trying to find another dragon, and trying to meet magical creatures that lived in different parts of the U.S.,” Goode explained. We would meet the trolls under the Brooklyn Bridge one episode, and find the Sasquatch in Idaho in another. Goode described the tone as similar to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” And a big departure from what the cartoon became was that the Huntsman was not a villain, but Jake’s mentor, training him in his dragon-slaying ways while they found a dragon that could teach Jake to be an actual dragon.
As tends to happen, however, the show was not picked up by Fox, and Goode spent a year pitching it around to other studios — including Henson, who Goode said loved the premise but didn’t figure out how to make it work with puppets. Eventually, it landed at Disney, but not before several changes had to be made, starting with turning the live-action idea into animation and reversing the decision to kill the parents in the pilot. And rather than a road trip format, Jake had to be home every night, so the story was moved to New York City, a place big enough to house many different cultures and creatures.
Part of what made the show cool was its expansive mythology, which combined folklore from all over the world. Jake would encounter everything from leprechauns to djinn and eventually meet the Dragon Council, comprised of dragons from around the world. This allowed “American Dragon: Jake Long” to appeal to kids no matter where they were from, because they could see fantastical creatures from their cultures either directly represented in the cartoon, or imagine them existing and perfectly fitting this world.
Quickly, the world of the show became bigger, which made for some of the best episodes of the show as well as a few headscratchers for the Disney execs. “Disney wasn’t really interested in the World Dragons really at all,” Goode explained. “They wanted it to be about a kid in school and school issues. And so every time we had something at the Dragon Council, they would sort of roll their eyes and tell us, ‘We really shouldn’t be doing — there’s too many characters.’ But at the same time, they didn’t stop us.”