With veteran voice actor Corey Burton turning on a variation of his unmistakable “Grindhouse voice” to narrate the action, the vibe is set for FUTURE-WORM!, the colorful new series following 12-year-old Danny Douglas (voiced by frequent Dirt Nasty collaborator Andy Milonakis), creator of a lunchbox time machine, and his companion, a worm… from the future. The result of when Future Scientists placed an ordinary worm into a Genetic Escalator to increase its intellectual capacity by 900,000% and infuse it with an insatiable need for adventure, FUTURE-WORM! (voiced by James Adomian of Comedy Bang! Bang!) is prepared for whatever challenges that time travel may bring, with the addition of a Photo Receptor Visor, Titanium Reinforced Abs and a Bullet-Proof Beard. As the duo engages in self-serving time travel packed with pop culture nods, along the way audiences will enjoy appearances by folks like Neil deGrasse Tyson as himself, and former STAR TREK “Number One” Jonathan Frakes as “Steak Starbolt,” in addition to numerous guest stars (the legendary Paul Williams!) known by this writer, but not-yet-announced. On a recent visit to DisneyToon Studios in Glendale, I had a chance to check out the first full-length episode of FUTURE-WORM!, followed by a conversation with Emmy-winning SOUTH PARK alum Ryan Quincy, creator and executive producer.
Launched last year as a series of animated shorts on the Disney XD YouTube Channel, FUTURE-WORM! in large part was spawned by a feeling that I know well myself – having a body of work that you can’t show to your own younger children. For Quincy, that was nearly 20 years of making cartoons for adults, 14 of it with SOUTH PARK following the feature-length SOUTH PARK: BIGGER, LONGER & UNCUT.
“I have two kids — my daughter is eight, and my son is 12,” explains Quincy. “A lot of times growing up, they’re like, ‘Dad, we want to see what you’re working on!’ Ah! We can’t, no. We’re not showing any SOUTH PARK episodes to the kids. So I always wanted to make a show for my kids, that I could watch with my kids, and that is FUTURE-WORM! It’s a fun time travel show but it’s not a show that is time travel in the sense of going back and seeing who knocked the nose off the Sphinx. It’s absurd, it’s silly, and it’s the most fun I’ve had in animation.”
With a desire to “hit the ground running” instead of getting into lengthy backstory, the origin as you need it was featured in last summer’s shorts – essentially exactly how I opened this article: Danny sent his lunchbox to the future, and a worm was sent back. Neil deGrasse Tyson is one of the many surprises in the series, showing up as a cartoon version of himself affectionately called “NdT!” at times, sometimes dropping his usual suit in favor of something flashy enough that both Lando Calrissian and Mr. T should be impressed.
“He’s been all game for everything,” says Quincy, letting us know that Neil is in the fold as a bit more than self-referential comedy at this point. “His big thing when we asked him about it, he said, ‘Well, I’d just like to make sure that there’s some, you know, science education in there,’ so we tried to do some of that. But he always corrects it — he’s our unofficial science consultant!”
Outside of the main Q&A, Lead Character Designer DVO (BOB’S BURGERS) threw down some custom art on the back of a FUTURE-WORM! lunchbox for me, busting out a vibrant image of “Danny” just before Ryan worked his magic, adding FUTURE-WORM! to the side. After experiencing the first episode (consisting of three stories told in 11, 7 and 3-minute segments), I told the creator that I could definitely feel that this series was something spawned from the mind of a child of the 70s/80s. After mentioning THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN, Ryan surprised me by bringing up something very near and dear to my heart… KNIGHT RIDER, otherwise known as The Greatest Show the World Will Ever Know™ (take that GAME OF THRONES and stuff!). As he finished up his drawing, we discussed why the mighty David Hasselhoff and K.I.T.T. have not yet made the leap to the big screen, something I fear will be far-off following the death of KNIGHT RIDER creator Glen A. Larson back in 2014. Funny enough, while FUTURE-WORM!‘s young Danny insists on eating a hearty serving of Captain Cakerz while watching episodes of STEAK STARBOLT, that could’ve very easily been a young (or nearly 40-year-old) version of me eating Cap n’ Crunch while watching episodes of KNIGHT RIDER. But this Cakerz fellow… he’s important. A throwback to breakfast cereal mascots of the past…
“He’s kind of like Cap’n Crunch, or you can pick any of ‘em – but we thought it would be funny if it was a cereal that tasted like birthday cake. Sorta like Cookie Crisp, or anything like that — so ridiculously bad for you,” Quincy details of his genesis. While the cereal plays an important role at times [SPOILER – it can even save the world!], Ryan is careful to avoid over-doing the delicious Captain, but promises he’ll remain a fixture. “There’s callbacks to it, and there’s an upcoming episode where they go into the future and visit the haunted Captain Cakerz factory, and you see the ghost of Captain Cakerz.”
So of all things, why FUTURE-WORM!?
“I tapped into my own nine year old brain, and was like, what was the show that I would’ve loved to see on Saturday morning? I started with just the name, Future-Worm! That just sounded funny to me,” he states. “If his name is Future Worm, he has to be a time traveler. So it just started there, and I started thinking about the stuff that I loved as a kid, like I loved pro wrestling, I liked Hulk Hogan, Macho Man Randy Savage, The Ultimate Warrior, Mr. T., Chuck Norris — so all that stuff got thrown into the suit”
“That was all the DNA of all that, and also just wanting a sidekick – that Chewbacca, that E.T. that would be by you, walking down the halls at school, or just having your back. I just started drawing worms with beards and weird hairstyles, and then I just started to think of myself as a, as a kid. I was a little bit on the chubby side, but also I had a weird confidence that I wanted Danny to have — he’s just comfortable in his skin. And, I used to wear a captain’s hat that I got at Disneyland, so that kind of inspired that look. I wasn’t so much into the science side of things. I was more into art, and drawing, comic books, and making movies, but I thought it’d be fun to have a kid that’s really into science. Drawing those characters, it just felt very natural, very organic, how they, how they came to be. “
And the Lunchbox?
“The metal lunchbox — I had so many of those, like, the STAR WARS ones, and the G.I. JOE, and you name it, I had every one. That was so exciting. So I thought that would be a fun vehicle for them to travel in, is a lunchbox.”
As a kid who also had those, along with TRANSFORMERS and HE-MAN and THE MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE, I can completely relate.
FUTURE-WORM! makes its series debut on August 1 at 11am ET on Disney XD.