EW’s TV critic Ken Tucker just reviewed Disney Junior’s Doc McStuffins, lauding the animated series for teaching little ones about the procedures around going to the doctor, which can be a scary prospect for children. The series — as Tucker explains in his review — follows the happenings around title character Doc McStuffins (Kiara Muhammad), a six-year-old girl who can “heal” toys, with a little help from her pals. And just who are those helpers? Well, for starters, one of Doc’s assistants is none other than Grey’s Anatomy staple and original Broadway Dreamgirls star Loretta Devine, who voices the role of Hallie the Hippo.
Devine, nominated for an Emmy this year for her Grey’s work, recently hopped on the phone to chat with EW about today’s release of Doc McStuffins: Friendship Is The Best Medicine DVD, which includes five episodes with two 11-minute stories each. (In a bit of serendipity, today is also Devine’s birthday. Happy Birthday, Loretta!) Devine chatted us up about what appealed to her about the voice role, what kids can learn from the show, whether she’d have watched it as a child, and much more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What appealed to you about voicing a character in Doc McStuffins?
LORETTA DEVINE: You know, it turned out to be far better than I ever dreamed it would be. I auditioned so much for voice-overs because it’s such a lucrative thing, and they keep telling you that once you can get rolling in it, it’s a good way to work. Sometimes you can’t get on-camera work. Doc turning out to be a little African American girl worked in my favor. I played the receptionist, Hallie the Hippo, and it was such a cute little part, and they liked my voice. I have a soft, tiny voice I guess — it blended in very well with all the rest of the kids, so it turned out to be a wonderful thing for me.
What did you like about the character? What tickled you about that character?
It’s a very positive script, and Hallie is so supportive to what this young girl is trying to do, and it’s all about the stuffed animals. They all have these little ailments, which are not true ailments, which makes it sort of playful. It’s such a great teaching tool for young kids, from two up to five. They won’t be afraid to go to the doctor. They’ll understand what a check-up is. They’ll understand how important a check-up is. If they have a bite, they’ll know to show their mom. I think it’s a very positive little show. It was so successful — I was very happy with that. We did like 52 episodes in the first year.
Was it important that the show have an African-American character? Or did that matter?
Like I said, I didn’t really know that Doc was going to be a little African American girl. That’s why I said I was so happy to find out that that was the way that they decided to go. I think they had to have the cartoon made outside of the United States because of some reason that I didn’t understand — it wasn’t fully explained to me. But the characters turned out to be so cute, and I think my little character, she’s just adorable. I was so glad she wasn’t some big, fat ugly hippo. Hallie is so cute! I love her. A lot of times you don’t know what it’s going to turn out to be until it’s finished.
You do never know what they could do.
I know! I’m very pleased that she’s so cute, and I love the little dress that she has on forever. So, those kind of things made me very happy. In initially taking the job, I didn’t go, “Let me see, I’m going to take this because the show features an African American character.”
Hallie is a nurse. Have you ever played a nurse before in all your various roles?
Oh, I think in a little show, way back, when I first came to Hollywood. It didn’t stay on the air. I have sisters that are nurses, so there are nurses in my family. My oldest sister has been a nurse her entire life, and a couple of my other sisters nurse off and on, so I do know what the nurses are like. It takes a certain type of person to be a nurse, I think. They are very good people, and they really care about people. They really love people. You don’t hear them say that about actors!
Would you have liked Doc McStuffins if it were on when you were a child?
I absolutely do because I love the theme song: “It’s time for your check-up! Time for your check-up!” They’re cute, and you remember them, and you can sing along. I have a godbaby who just loves it. I think I would have loved something like this, so I think they did an excellent job and that’s why it’s been so successful. The DVD is coming out on my birthday, and I think every mom should get one for their kids.
For more on Devine’s recent Emmy nomination and what’s happening with her Grey’s Anatomy character this coming season, check back to EW’s Inside TV blog on Thursday, Aug. 23.
Tanner on Twitter: @EWTanStransky