Grant Moran

Year of Graduation: 
Grant Moran

“Our team played a key role in [Barbie's] recent evolution as a contemporary empowering icon for young girls.”

Grant Moran ’74 exudes enthusiasm, humor and grace — qualities that have made him a respected writer and producer of children’s and family content for 30-plus years. Known for his contributions to animated shows such as “Rugrats,” “Jimmy Neutron,” and “Guardians of the Galaxy,” the Emmy Award-winner has earned accolades and respect from his peers. But it’s his role as founder and president of Kids Entertainment Professionals for Young Refugees (KEPYR) that has been, he says, most rewarding.

In 2015, Moran was deeply moved by the tragic stories of Syrian children escaping that country’s civil war. A self-professed “softy” when it comes to kids, Moran says, “Until then, I had no idea the crisis of displaced children was so huge — over 38 million children worldwide have been forced to flee their homes, the highest number since WWII.” Eager to do something tangible, he looked for a kids media industry-based charity focused on refugee children to support. “And it turned out there wasn’t one,” he says. “I was shocked. I figured it was up to me [to create one]. It was a classic ‘put up or shut up’ moment.” He founded KEPYR in partnership with UNICEF to rally his industry to support young refugees around the world. The grassroots organization has raised nearly $300,000 to date, including $20,000 in one week from an emergency appeal in March, created in response to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.

Exeter foundations

Moran’s non sibi ethos was shaped, in part, by his Exeter experience. One of four Morans to attend the Academy —his late father, Bill ’40, and brothers Reed ’69 and Richard ’71 are also alumni — Moran quips that he was “the least qualified” in his family to be an Exonian. Unprepared for Exeter’s rigor, he found his emotional footing and friendships in the school’s drama program; Fisher Theater was his safe space. “I spent my life there,” he says. “I think that was partially a function of my unhappiness. Exeter was a struggle for me.” In addition to acting, writing and directing (including his own plays), Moran was president of DRAMAT. Exeter’s writing program helped him strengthen his own work, as did the listening skills he developed around the Harkness table.

After receiving bachelor’s degrees in drama and philosophy from Dartmouth College, Moran returned to Exeter as a teaching intern in the Theater Department. “I wanted to be a warm presence on campus because I understood how the school could be difficult for some students,” he says. “I also knew instinctively that high school students will give you amazing performances if you inspire them and you know how to speak to them as a director. They’ll take inspiring risks.” He became a dramaturg at Portsmouth’s Theatre-by-the-Sea, a behind-the-scenes role supporting play development and an experience that led him to a graduate program at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art

Early career

Moran worked in professional theater as a director and dramaturg for a decade before transitioning to screen-writing. He co-wrote scripts with his brother Reed, an author and successful television screenwriter. In the early 1990s, a spec script he wrote for “The Wonder Years” television series, based on a seriocomic childhood incident with his brother Reed, turned into an opportunity to write and produce animated programs for Warner Bros. Animation. A lifelong fan of “Bugs Bunny” and other classic Warner Bros. cartoons, Moran was thrilled. His first project was collaborating with Warner Bros. and with Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment on “Tiny Toon Adventures.” “It was a wonderful time to be in animation, a real renaissance period,” Moran says. “Suddenly, with no background in the field at all, I found myself working on high-profile programs with the most talented people in the business.”

His work with Warner Bros. led to projects with nearly every major animation studio producing children’s programming, including Nickelodeon and Marvel Entertainment. While at Nickelodeon, Moran was head writer and co-producer of “Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius.” Under the auspices of Global Monster Media, his creative consultancy, Moran has produced, developed or written such shows as “The Wild Thornberries,” “Marvel’s Spider-Man” and “WordGirl,” a PBS KIDS show that earned him a writing Emmy in 2015. He even helped iconic Barbie make her animated series debut, developing and serving as head writer on “Barbie Dreamhouse Adventures” for Mattel Television. “I’m particularly proud of that one, believe it or not,” he says. “Our team played a key role in the character’s recent evolution as a contemporary empowering icon for young girls.”

Supporting children in need

KEPYR, however, is perhaps Moran’s most important passion project. He draws on his extensive network of children’s programming professionals — from artists to executives — to support the nonprofit’s work and highlight the world’s ongoing refugee and migrant children crisis, efforts that took on new urgency with the Russian-Ukrainian conflict (over 1 million children fled Ukraine in March alone). All of the money KEPYR raises — through online fundraisers, live events and special appeals — supports UNICEF’s refugee relief efforts. As KEPYR became more visible, thanks in part to social media outreach and Moran’s participation in industry events, more and more people have stepped up to help. “We’ve drawn support from across the kids media industry, from games and comics to animated television, publishing and feature films.” In 2021, the organization was honored with the President’s Volunteer Service Award for “dedicated service to children around the world.”

In a sense, Moran’s career has come full circle: thousands of people in the industry he loves support a cause benefiting its young audiences. “Children’s entertainment found me and I didn’t want to let it go,” he says. “I’ve learned from my years working among them that the people drawn to the children’s entertainment field tend to cherish childhood. I felt confident that once they knew what I’d come to know about the refugee crisis they’d be moved as I am and be motivated to act. And that faith’s been borne out."

— Debbie Kane

Editor's note: This article first appeared in the spring 2022 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.