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Meet Hartley Bernier, Star of Inclusive Netflix Show 'Team Zenko Go’

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The hit Netflix animated series “Team Zenko Go,” featuring the character of Ari, wheelchair user and comic book connoisseur, is back for season two. Ari is voiced by 13-year-old Hartley Bernier, who lives with intestinal failure. Hartley first got involved in acting through his volunteer work with Sick Kids hospital in Toronto, appearing in TV and radio commercials for the hospital where he has been a lifelong patient.

We spoke to Hartley about the show and this groundbreaking role. A 2019 analysis of representation in film and television found that for children’s television, “less than 1.0% of leading characters have a physical, mental, or communication disability.”

Thankfully, shows like “Team Zenko Go” are working to have more accurate portrays of disability along with authentic casting. The show follows four kids and their superhero escapades, who use their good deed expertise and quick-thinking skills to help their Harmony Harbor neighbors. Ari utilizes his 3-D printer to outfit his wheelchair and the other kids with tools and gadgets on their secret missions.

As someone with medical complexities, Hartley has been in and out of wheelchairs himself. Kirsten Sharp also serves as disability consultant for the production.

Ari sitting in his wheelchair in the animated show "Team Zenko Go"

Season two of the animated show from DreamWorks Animation and Mainframe Studios is now streaming on Netflix. Here is what Hartley had to say:

The Mighty: How did you become involved in “Team Zenko Go”?

Hartley: I am a professional voice actor and my agent sent me the audition info. I auditioned for it and was so excited to be cast in the role of Ari.

The Mighty: What was the coolest part of working on this show?

Hartley: The coolest part of working on this show was working with the team at Mainframe Studios, the amazing voice director, writers, and other actors. Another cool thing was that we were recording during the pandemic and because I am medically complex we set up a recording booth in my bedroom to help keep me safe.

The Mighty: As someone with medical complexities, what does it mean to you to portray the character of Ari?

Hartley: It’s really important to me for people to see representation of people with medical complexities on television because I never had that. It’s so cool for kids to see themselves in characters on tv and movies.

The Mighty: What do you hope viewers take away from seeing the character of Ari and someone who uses a wheelchair?

Hartley: I think people should see that just because someone has a disability it doesn’t mean they can’t do the things that other people their age can do. Being a wheelchair user doesn’t slow Ari down in any way!

The Mighty: What do you enjoy most about working as a voice actor?

Hartley: I really enjoy seeing the characters that I play come to life. It’s so special to me to be able to work on such big projects like “Zenko Go.”

The Mighty: What is your dream role to play in a cartoon or live-action?

Hartley: Because I’m early in my career as an actor, I’m excited to play all different types of roles. I grew up loving shows like “Adventure Time,” “We Bare Bears” and “The Amazing World of Gumball.” I would also really love to work with Dreamworks again since this was such an amazing experience.

The Mighty: Is there anything you can share that viewers can look forward to in season 2?

Hartley: All I can really say is that you should be ready for some awesome adventures with Ari, Niah, Ellie, and Jax. Ari has some pretty cool inventions in season 2.

"Team Zenko Go" season two poster with four main characters swinging from ropes above town

The Mighty: What’s next for you?

Hartley: I’ve been working on a couple of other projects during the pandemic that will hopefully be coming out soon. I’m looking forward to starting grade 8 in the fall and I can’t wait to keep auditioning for new roles.

The Mighty: What else would you like to let our disability, chronic illness and rare disease community here at The Mighty know about your experience?

Hartley: I had such an incredible experience working on this show. And although I do have a complex chronic illness, I don’t let it get in my way.

Thank you, Hartley, for sharing this amazing experience with us. We look forward to seeing your next project!

Images via DreamWorks Animation

Originally published: August 8, 2022
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