Buddies to the End
Teen boys’ authentic relationship grounds the lunacy in Disney XD’s new series
When Disney gave the green light last year to Pickle and Peanut and released a crude early image from the series, the reception online was brutal with comments indicating the show signaling “the end of ideas” and even the start of the End Times.
Those comments are enshrined on a billboard in the production office of the series at Disney TV Animation in Glendale, Calif., and frequently referred to by executive producers Noah Z. Jones and Josh Tressler, and the show’s staff, as they work on completing the show’s 20 half-hour first season.
“It’s so easy to tell everyone — literally every single human being in the world — that you hate something,” says Jones.
But underdog status suits Pickle and Peanut, a plucky, unpolished buddy comedy that mixes animation and live-action techniques and is set to debut Sept. 7 at 9 p.m. ET/ PT on Disney XD.
“When we pitched the pilot, nobody really knew what we were doing,” says Jones, who previously created Fish Hooks for Disney. “At the first pitch, we were like, ‘It’s the end of the road but we had a really good time.’ So then they said ‘Oh, we like it.’ And we said: ‘Really? Are you guys sure?’”
The show is about Pickle, voiced by Jon Heder, and Peanut, voiced by Johnny Pember- ton — two teenage boys in the final year of high school in an anonymous suburb of Reno, Nev., who are looking to have as much fun as they can before they have to grow up.
The show is “low-fi, kind of scrappy; an authentic description of two teenage boy best friends,” Jones says. “They don’t have secret handshakes and call each other ‘bro’ and highfive all the time. We said that we wanted to do something that’s different. They’re not going to say ‘I love you, man’ and ‘Let’s hug it out.’”
The duo mostly hang out and interact with the town’s oddball cast, which includes their problem-solving friend Champion Horse, sometime friend Lazer, annoying friend McSweats, rival kid Wayne, Mjart Mart coworker Spedacular Donkey, troublemaker Sneaky Patty and the fake 9-year-old doctor Dr. Pamplemousse, MD.
The look of the show is scrappy — the town is as drab and boring as can be, with a big box store, a cemetery in the middle of town and even train tracks that run between the lead characters’ homes. The idea was to reflect Jones and Tressler’s own experiences growing up in Rochester, N.Y., and Knoxville, Tenn., respectively.
Production on the show is outline driven, with outlines turned over to the show’s two directors and three permanent storyboard artists to flesh out into 11-minute episodes. It’s then turned into an animatic that Jones and Tressler help polish before it’s sent to Copernicus Studios in Halifax, Canada, for animation.
“We are a scrappy crew,” says Tressler, acknowledging that the crew is small and the board artists in particular carry a heavy burden.
But Tressler, who developed the show and previously directed and produced music videos and TV series such as Yo Gabba Gabba!, says they found that as long as they kept the boys’ relationship authentic, they could tell any kind of story they wanted, from having a crazed mutant zit run through town to Pickle learning to swim.
“They’re making bad decisions and doing bone-headed things, but they’re not doing it out of malice. They’re not doing it because they don’t like people. They’re just trying things out,” adds Jones. [
Think of your favorite episode of your favorite cartoon… Got it? Well, guess what – the perfect plot, the ingenious jokes: those grew out of a humble springboard! A springboard is the bare-bones idea of the script you hope to “sell” to a producer, who will then hire you to write it. At just 3-5 sentences long, it has to grab the producers’ attention and convince them your concept will lead to a great script that suits their show. It has to be original, “hook-y” and fit well to the show rules. This month, we’ve asked Baboon’s writers to shed a little light on the simple, yet elegant process.
— Claire Stenger Joe Vitale ( Angry Birds Toons, Felix the Cat): I always start with the hook; the one gimmick that’ll drive the story. “Character X pretends to be a member of the enemy gang!” “Character Y finds a jetpack!” or “Character Z gets amnesia!” None of these are an actual story, but they’re enough to start building a story around.
I love springboards because they don’t require you to have all the answers. You just need a hook, and if that hook gets a bite, then you can figure out the rest later.
John Fountain ( The Fairly OddParents, My Life As A Teenage Robot): For example, I’ve written springboards about two characters in a staring contest, and another where the entire plot revolved around making a bowl of cereal for breakfast. Anyone can write a springboard that ends with a line like “…and then all hell breaks loose and everyone in town riots in the streets…” [But] I love the comedy that comes from unexpected places, like that little web of skin between your pinkie toes. Vitale: Yes. But that’s the second step. Coming up with that hook is first, and is either the easiest or hardest part of the whole process. Sometimes it’ll just come to me whether I’m looking for it or not. Other times, I have to spend a lot of time and energy thinking one up. When the latter happens, I find it helpful to leave it alone for a while and come back to it later. Restart the brain, if you will.
Then it’s simply a matter of filling in the rest with very broad strokes. If your character finds a jetpack, what’s he going to do with it? How will that affect the other characters? Will it help or hinder their overall goal? How will it
create conflict? Fountain: I try to turn it into a game where I come up with the most impossibly, drastically, ridiculous idea imaginable, and then force myself to make it work. Similarly, if it’s a comedy show, I’ll start with a topic that is unfunny, and then go spelunking to mine those hidden gems in the deepest nooks and crannies of an idea for what’s funny in it. Vitale: In action-oriented series, it’s especially helpful if you can come up with a “ticking clock,” something that has to happen in a certain time or else something bad will happen to your hero. Maybe the jetpack only has so much fuel, but your character needs to get to a far-off location. Will he make it? If not, how does he get around that and still save the day? Vitale: Springboards can be left open-ended (well, for most clients), which frees you up to try out as many crazy ideas as you can think up. End it with something like, “Will he make it across the Atlantic Ocean, or will the radioactive Puffer Fish catch up to him?” Of course he’ll make it — but I have no idea how. Not until the network buys the pitch and I’m obligated to figure it out in script. Coming soon in Part 2: More tips from Jymn Magon ( DuckTales, Winnie the Pooh) and Mike de Seve ( Monsters vs. Aliens, Peg+Cat).
This month, over 850 industry professionals from 30-plus countries will convene on the ancient trade hub of Toulouse, France, for Europe’s premiere pitching and co-production event as the 2015 edition of Cartoon Forum kicks off. Having celebrated its 25th installment last year, the Forum continues to bolster local talent and international collaboration. To date, the event has helped a staggering 594 animated series projects gather roughly 2 billion euros in financing — and toon fans the world over are the richer for it.
This year, the organizers at Cartoon have selected 80 projects to be presented to potential buyers, co-producers and financiers. These were culled from a record 150 submissions. Of the 80 selections, French projects Animanimals Studio Film Bilder ( Germany) Preschool | 26 x 4 Digital 2D, Cross- Platform Betty and Yeti A Productions ( U. K.) Preschool | 52 x 11 Digital 2D Bottle Pirates Sacrebleu Productions ( France) Kids 6-8 | 26 x 11 Digital 2D, Cross- Platform Dickie De Hofleveranciers/ Beast Animation ( Belgium) YA & Adults | 104 x 1 Digital 2D, Cross- Platform
Saban Brands and ZAG Entertain-
Original concept by American Greet-
IMAGE © KORKY PAUL