Animated is an adjective often used to describe entertainment legend Rita Moreno.
And with her latest role as Abuelita Yolie in the Sprout original cartoon series "Nina's World," the description can be now used literally: Morena, 83, provides the voice of six-year-old Nina's kind and inspiring grandmother on the new children's show the actress describes as "extraordinary" and "authentic."
The series is very invested in diversity, even to the point of casting actors who correspond to their characters in real life. "Every actor who plays a nationality is of that nationality. There's a little deaf boy – for real – who plays a deaf boy," Moreno explains, adding that there are no crazy special effects employed on the series and "people don't talk in funny little voices. It's just this wonderful neighborhood where there is a little child and her abuelita (which means little grandmother) and a mommy and a daddy who own a bakery, and it's about the very tiny adventures her grandmother takes her on.
"I say tiny because it is not huge or big. For instance when a museum is closed Nina is very disappointed and her grandmother says, 'Well, why don't we look in the garage and we can make our own museum?' And since her parents are from Mexico there are a lot of that country's artifacts there and so she is learning something. It's that kind of show - it doesn't hit you on the head and the characters are sweet and nice and authentic. ... I feel as if I am doing a community service as well. That's how I felt with 'The Electric Company.' It was not about salary so much as helping children either to read or understand things."
As well as launching the Sprout original series, Moreno – who, alongside her mother, left her native Puerto Rico for New York City in 1936 – is releasing her first all-Spanish language album "Una Vez Mas" on Sept. 25.
Moreno laughs when asked why it took so long for her to release a Spanish-language record. "Everybody asks me that as though I had a choice. They never asked me before. It happened just a little under two years ago when I met [producer] Emilio Estefan and he asked me to do it."
Made up of classic songs and favorites, Moreno describes the album as "gorgeous." One track she is particularly proud of is "Somewhere" from "West Side Story." "The song initially did not have a Spanish lyric so Emilio put words to it, along with his partner Nicolas Tovar, and the [Leonard] Bernstein estate is delirious because that is the one song that never had a Spanish lyric and it's beautiful the way it is done."
One of only a handful of entertainers to have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony, Moreno will receive the Kennedy Center Honor (alongside George Lucas, Carole King, Seiji Ozawa, the Eagles and Cicely Tyson) on December 6 for her lifetime of contributions to American culture.
"My feet haven't touched the ground," Moreno says of the honor. "Narciso Rodriguez is doing the gown for me. We looked up what the medallion necklace looks like – what colors and shape – and we have built the gown around the necklace. It's good because whatever you're wearing rarely goes right with the medal thing. This time you can bet that I'll be the one there who wears it just fine!"
News of the accolade had Moreno casting her mind back across the decades. "When something astonishing like this happens to me my heart and my mind go straight to Puerto Rico. I always see myself as a little girl playing with those teeny weeny frogs they have in Puerto Rico called Coqui. What a journey. What an astonishing journey it is."
"Nina's World" premieres Sept. 26 on Sprout. Check local listings for times.
(NBC and Sprout are part of the NBCUniversal family.)