Star Wars: The Mandalorian creator Jon Favreau and director-producer Dave Filoni had an uphill battle trying to "ugly up" Baby Yoda, formally referred to as the Child, when presented with cutesy early designs for the Force-sensitive foundling belonging to the same species as Jedi Master Yoda. Wanting to avoid "Bleep Syndrome" — referring to a fluffy pet alien sidekick from early 1970s Hanna-Barbera cartoon Josie and the Pussy Cats in Outer Space — Favreau pushed for a design that was heartwarming enough without losing the weird quirks associated with a hairy, sharp-toothed alien creature belonging to the wild west corner of the George Lucas-created Star Wars galaxy.
"We wanted to make sure the Child wasn't just going to be a comic relief," Favreau told Vanity Fair. "What George had established with Star Wars was that no matter how fantastical these characters are, how weird they looked, the characters within the world always treated them as normal citizens of the world."
Lucas-created characters like rounded astromech droid R2-D2, Favreau added, are "just cute enough," an approach Favreau wanted to apply to the Child. Resisting designs that leaned into classic "Disney proportions" — a cutesy look modelled after a baby, with typically large eyes on a big head in relation to a pear-shaped body — Favreau recalled conceptual designs that were "very cute."
"Even with the merchandising, they were always trying to soften the rough edges on him. We really tried to look at how much we could ugly up all the different individual features," Favreau said, noting he and Filoni pushed for the 50-year-old baby character to have "weird little hairs growing out of him" and teeth jagged enough to snack on wild creatures plucked from the grass.
Filmmakers also called on sound design to keep the Child weird enough, treating the cuddly creature as less of a baby and more of an animal who sometimes does "gross things" like frog-slurping.
"It's like a stray dog or having a little baby alligator or something," Favreau noted of the fan-favorite Baby Yoda, a viral sensation who inspired a growing line of merchandise.
All episodes of The Mandalorian Season 1 are available for streaming exclusively on Disney+. Season 2 of the live-action Star Wars series remains on track for a late 2020 premiere on the streaming platform.