Disney Channel shows have long featured Jewish characters — Louis and Ren Stevens from “Even Stevens,” Gordo from “Lizzie McGuire,” Ron Stoppable from “Kim Possible,” to name a few. But in recent years, the representation has gotten better and more detailed, with shows like “Andi Mack” and “The Ghost and Molly McGee” raising the bar.
Marvel’s “Moon Girl and the Devil Dinosaur” is the latest show to feature a Jewish character, Casey Goldberg-Calderon, who is also Puerto Rican, joining Isabella Garcia-Shapiro from “Phineas and Ferb” and Libby Stein-Torres from “The Ghost and Molly McGee” as Disney’s trinity of Jewish Latina characters.
The animated series “Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur” is based on the Marvel comic about Lunella Lafayette, the smartest person in the world. The genius is 9 years old in the comics, but her age was upped to 13 for the show. The series is worth watching for many reasons — its unique animation that combines comic book and graffiti styles, the catchy theme song and musical numbers in each episode, and content that’s appropriate for kids, but smart and entertaining enough that teens and adults can enjoy it too. The show doesn’t shy away from topics like racism, such as when a classmate insults Lunella’s hair, but it also focuses on Black joy, with a young, smart Black female who loves who she is and where she comes from at its center.
Lunella (Diamond White) lives in New York’s Lower East Side, which has a rich Jewish history that is acknowledged by the show from the very first episode, when Lunella becomes the superhero Moon Girl to help shops in her neighborhood stay open and to protect the LES, along with her pet dinosaur. One of the shops she saves is Bubby Bina’s Knish Niche.
As Lunella’s best friend and Moon Girl’s manager, Casey (Libe Barer, who is Mexican and Jewish in real life) is the only person who knows Moon Girl’s true identity. Casey’s bat mitzvah is the focus of the 11th episode, “Today, I Am a Woman,” which aired last Saturday and is available on demand on Disney+ and on YouTube. It is up there with “The Ghost and Molly McGee” episode “Mazel Tov, Libby!” as Disney Channel’s best bat mitzvah episode.
Not only is this episode great for its depiction of a bat mitzvah, but also of an interfaith couple. At the start of “Today, I Am a Woman,” Lunella has Shabbat dinner with Casey and her dads, Isaac (Andy Cohen) and Antonio (Wilson Cruz). For dinner, they have asopoa (a traditional Puerto Rican stew) de brisket, combining both their cultures (as Casey says, “It’s me, as a dish”). Isaac and Antonio show Lunella a photo of their wedding, underneath a chuppah at Sheep’s Meadow in Central Park, explaining that they got married surrounded by their chosen family. After they tell the story, they share a sweet peck on the lips, which is proof that Disney Channel has also come a long way in its LGBTQ+ representation from the days when “Gravity Falls” (which aired from 2012 to 2016, so not that long ago) could only hint at a same-sex couple.
Isaac and Antonio share their wedding story in an attempt to cheer up Casey, who is determined to have the best bat mitzvah in history, but is worried because her party will be “less of a party and more of a private bagel reception.” She is jealous that her rich cousins, triplets Lara, Laura and Laurel, had a huge reception with made-to-order gelato and prototype VR games. As anyone who went through the bar and bat mitzvah circuit in middle school knows, some kids get huge parties at fancy hotels and others have a bagel reception in the synagogue or no party at all, which can be difficult when you’re at an age where you start comparing yourself to others.
But even without an expensive party, Casey and Lunella decide to make Casey’s bat mitzvah the talk of social media by having Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur (Fred Tatasciore) promote the event and take photos outside the synagogue before services begin. Casey promises to let Lunella go to the service as herself, but she changes her mind when social media influencer Odessa Drake (Anna Akana), who isn’t what she seems, shows up and takes a liking to Moon Girl.
The main customs are explained for a non-Jewish audience, but there are also many details that only a Jewish viewer would recognize, and they are so specific that either the episode writer Maggie Rose or one of the other staff writers must have gone to Hebrew school. There is even a gag in which someone says “Sheket bevakasha” and two people appear behind her to clap their hands and say, “Hey!” If you know, you know.
We get to see Casey walk down the synagogue aisle holding the Torah as people reach out to touch it with their siddurs, a part of the ceremony not often shown on TV. She reads from Torah, gives a speech about her portion and gets candy thrown at her. There is a female rabbi, Rabbi Ryda, voiced by Jewish actor Pamela Adlon (her daughter, Gideon Adlon, voices Lara, Laura and Laurel). To top it all off, there is plenty of Yiddish and Hebrew sprinkled throughout the episode, including in the song “Altz is Gut,” written by Raphael Saadiq and Taura Stinson.
Technically, “Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur” isn’t part of the MCU, but this episode also features a cameo that connects it to the current Marvel characters, so I think it’s safe to go ahead and say that not only is “Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur” pushing Disney Channel’s Jewish representation forward, it’s also the best Jewish rep in a Marvel TV show.