Series co-creators Devin Bunje and Nick Stanton discuss how ‘anyone can make a difference’ in their new 2D animated comedy-adventure series that follows a risk-averse but resourceful teen on her mission to save the world, debuting today on Disney Channel and Disney XD, tomorrow on Disney+.
Learn to play the glockenspiel, ride in a hot air balloon, pull a rabbit out of a hat, invent a new color, swim with dolphins, beat dad at badminton… all typical bucket list items for a young kid. But, for one California teenager, completing her to-do list will prove the key to saving the world.
“It’s a show about all the stuff you wanted to do as a kid but never thought you’d get the chance to do,” says Devin Bunje, co-creator with Nick Stanton of Disney’s new original animated series, Hailey’s On It! “We really liked the takeaway of, ‘Anyone can make a difference,’ even someone who feels they couldn't or can't do simple things like jumping off the high dive.”
The 2D series - which premieres today on Disney Channel and Disney XD, and releases Friday, June 9 on Disney+ - follows Hailey Banks, a risk-averse but resourceful teenager from Oceanside, California who is sent on a mission by a mysterious robot-slaying woman from the future to complete every item on a long list of challenging (and sometimes impractical) tasks in order to save the world.
Whether she's tackling every ride at the county fair, performing in a musical, reuniting a singing duo, or facing her ever-growing and complicated feelings toward her best friend, Scott, Hailey is always encountering new challenges and more opportunities to conquer her fears.
Check out the trailer:
Hailey’s On It! stars Auli'i Cravalho (Moana) as the lead character, Hailey; with Manny Jacinto (Nine Perfect Strangers, The Good Place) as Scott, Hailey's best friend; and Gary Anthony Williams (The Boondocks) as Beta, an artificially intelligent operating system from the future. Leslie Park and Cat Harman-Mitchell serve as first-time directors.
Despite their long portfolio as animation writers, working on shows such as Phineas and Ferb, The Emperor's New School, and Brandy & Mr. Whiskers, Bunje and Stanton are best known for their work in live-action TV, creating and/or executive producing Disney XD's Gamer's Guide to Pretty Much Everything, the Emmy Award-nominated Prince of Peoria, and Disney Channel's popular sitcom Zeke and Luther. Hailey’s On It! marks the first time either writer has created an animated series of their own.
“The last two shows we've done have been multi-camera live-action sitcoms,” notes Stanton. “There’s so much more you can do in an animation. It really opens up the world. The fact that we can have a little teddy bear smartphone from the future side character who's in every episode, and goes on all the adventures, that was really exciting to us.”
He adds, “Though, one drawback to animation is the process just takes a lot longer. Our last show was filmed in front of a live studio audience, so you'd immediately know if a joke was working or not, because the audience would laugh, or they wouldn't. You don't really have that in animation. We get to make all the same changes; it’s just spread out over eight months versus one week.”
Luckily, both creators had their unapologetically honest and, at times, merciless children telling them if their show’s scrips were hilarious or dull.
“We would do table reads with the writers to approximate that, but I also have a little test audience with my two young kids at home, and they're in the demo,” says Stanton. “I would show them things and they were very honest. If they thought something was funny, they would laugh, and if they didn't, they would brutally tell me.”
Bunje adds, “I also have my kids in the demo. They aren’t afraid to tell you what they think. It's also interesting how many adult jokes make it in there, which are mostly for us and for the older audience members. But the kids will still get it. I don't know if it's just the rhythms of it they like, or the fact that we have really funny actors, but, either way, we really don't try to dumb things down. We try to make it as funny as it can be.”
The original idea for the series was a humorous take on a crazed professor from the future bursting into a young kid’s room, revealing numerous impactful things that kid would do in the future while constantly breaking off on tangents. From there, Stanton and Bunje began to put together the puzzle pieces of a show that would elevate a much more serious mission: empowering kids to be themselves, face their fears, and show that alone can be enough to change the world.
“The animation style was also really informed by the concept of, ‘This is a world worth fighting for,’ so we wanted it to be a happy world,” says Stanton. “We both love the original DuckTales, and I think one of the reasons we liked that show so much was because it wasn’t just funny, but the world looked bright and positive, and we gravitated toward it.”
The creators explain that their passion for ordinary characters thrust into extraordinary circumstances - such as in Futurama – also influenced the team's decision to make the show 2D vs. 3D.
“When we were kicking the tires, we realized pretty quickly, especially with the way our show opens, we had too many ambitions to try to do it in CG,” says Bunje. “But we also wanted to keep the characters pretty grounded, and there's not any squash and stretch humor. If Scott fell off a bike, we wanted it to look pretty real and painful because we do feel like that’s what works so well with live-action stuff, you really can relate to being those people. So, the more we grounded the characters themselves in the world, these extraordinary things that come in and change it with the professor in the future and all kinds of stuff, really makes the audience feel like they've also been thrust into these crazy situations.”
Perhaps the most relatable of these situations is Hailey’s relationship with her friend Scott, who she’s secretly harbored a crush on for a long time and who she will have to kiss in order to save the world. Not surprisingly, it becomes her most challenging, and most procrastinated, list item.
“We thought it was such an interesting dynamic,” explains Bunje. “What if you had a crush on someone, and weren't planning to ever say anything, or do anything about it, at least in your mind, but then knew that, in the future, you end up acting on it? Your mind would go a million ways.”
“One episode for the list item ‘Spend all your old gift cards’ leads to Hailey and Scott going on a shopping spree, but then they realize this Butter Burger restaurant closed down in town and there's only one left in the whole country but it’s two states away and they've got to go on this road trip,” shares Stanton. “But then their friend Christine ends up going on the road trip with them and it becomes a ‘Three's a crowd,’ kind of story. We both like these stories that start in a very grounded place, but then can go in these crazier directions.”
A favorite part in the show’s production for Stanton and Bunje, they share, was tossing ideas back and forth in the writers' room with the crew. In addition to unpacking storylines that cater to the development of Scott and Haley's relationship, as well as other members of Hailey’s family, the creators note they would sometimes spend a whole day compiling bucket list items.
“We have one episode where she wrote ‘Become Sheriff for a day in an old ghost town,’ but she wrote it when she was like seven,” says Bunje. “We thought, ‘What if she went there, and it's her dominating against a bunch of seven-year-olds?’ Of course, the list item gets accomplished pretty early because it's easy. But the twist is, when she becomes a sheriff for the day, she’s stuck dealing with a motorcycle gang that comes to take over the town.”
Other episodes- more specifically, experiences and memories shared between two characters -are drawn directly from Bunje and Stanton’s own childhoods. “One thing that I took from my childhood that ended up in the first episode was where Scott mentions that burglars took his Halloween candy when, clearly, Haley was the one who took it,” explains Stanton. “That happened to me when I was a kid. My next-door neighbor and I were going to pool our Halloween candy and keep it in the secret stash. But then it was gone the next morning and I asked him, ‘What happened?’ He said, ‘Oh, yeah, burglars came and took the candy.’ As a seven-year-old, I totally bought that. And I was like, ‘Oh, burglars. Yeah.’”
But, amidst the humor and witty banter, Hailey’s On It! is still rooted in the question, “What it’s like facing your fears when you already know you can?” “Know you're capable,” says Bunje, directed toward anyone who watches the show. “Even if you don't have someone telling you, you will end up doing stuff that you don’t think you can. Just take it one day at a time, one list item at a time, one goal at a time, and you'll be amazed at what you can do.”