T.O.T.S., Disney Junior’s new animated comedy series, is all set for its series debut this Friday, June 14th at 9:00 A.M. EDT/PDT on Disney Channel and DisneyNOW. The show, designed for kids ages 2-7, follows the adventures of best friends Pip and Freddy, a tenacious penguin and a kind-hearted flamingo, who are the only non-stork delivery birds in-training at Tiny Ones Transport Service (T.O.T.S.).
If you haven’t heard the good news, Disney Junior has already ordered up a second season of the animated series ahead of its debut. I had a chance to chat with series creator and co-executive producer Travis Braun (Vampirina, Fast Layne) and executive producer Vic Cook (Mickey Mouse Clubhouse) about how T.O.T.S. came about, selecting the show’s particular visual style, crafting an original song for every episode, and how the Season 2 order affected their approach to the storytelling.
My interview with Braun and Cook follows below, but to get into the spirit of T.O.T.S., here’s the “Bringing This Baby Home” music video that acts as the show’s theme song:
Travis, where did the idea for T.O.T.S. originally come from? And how long have you been waiting to turn that idea into an animated series?
Travis Braun: As a child of the 90s, it seemed like every cartoon featured a delivery stork bringing a baby to its parents at some point. And, every time, it was that classic regal stork. I remember wondering…why do only those birds get to deliver babies? So the idea for T.O.T.S. had been percolating for many years before I even realized it.
Vic, how did you come aboard T.O.T.S.? What was it about the show itself that made you want to get involved?
Vic Cook: I read an early T.O.T.S. script. I loved the characters, the heart warming, buddy comedy adventure and that within all that fun was a message of diversity. I was hooked!
You’ve both worked on some incredible shows for audiences of all ages. What is it about T.O.T.S. that sets it apart and makes it unique?
Braun: There is something for the whole family with T.O.T.S. It’s a truly unique combination of high-flying adventure and cute cuddly babies. But most of all, the thing that sets the show apart is the relationship between Pip and Freddy. Pip can’t fly without Freddy, and Freddy can’t navigate without Pip. Together they’re the perfect duo. They have a little motto “Anything is possible when we do it together,” and I think it’s never been a more important time to hear that message.
Cook: I’ve been fortunate to have worked on many shows with fun characters over the years, superhero ducks, aliens in Hawaii, and a friendly neighborhood web-slinger amongst a few. Like T.O.T.S., they have been a joy to work on and I am proud of them all. One of the many things that makes T.O.T.S. special is the friendship and teamwork of Pip and Freddy working together to achieve their dream of bringing families together.
How did you settle on this particular approach for the characters, world design, and other visuals for T.O.T.S.?
Braun: We brought on Vic Cook and Chris Gilligan! I’ll let Vic take this question.
Cook: Supervising Director and Co-Ep Chris Gilligan led this with a short animation test he directed during development. We fine-tuned the look from that once production started. The color of the pins on their uniforms designate what level of flyer they are. Because the animals in our show are anthropomorphic, the babies had to be designed to move like animals and have human-like qualities. They needed to be able to sit, hold a rattle, wear diapers and speak baby babble. The environment of T.O.T.S. is its own universe and we wanted it to look friendly and stylized rather than photo realistic. The geography of this world is a fun one with places like The Far Away Forest, Iceberg Alley, Sunny Savannah and The Specific Ocean. The architecture in those locations are a fun blend of natural and built. The look of T.O.T.S. was also visualized with Art Director Geoff Taylor and an amazing team of designers, painters and CG artists. Lead Character Designer John Jagusak designed all the characters and babies.
Although our show is CG, the animation style is inspired by classic, traditional squash and stretch animation. Which means the models had to be rigged much more than usual to give the characters and props many points of articulation. This extra rigging gives Animation Supervising Director Andrew Poon and our team of amazing animators the ability to exaggerate and push the in-between poses. The acting, expressions, action and gags all benefit from this.
Every episode of T.O.T.S. has an original song. What was the collaboration like with composer Rob Cantor to match the songs with the themes of each episode?
Braun: We could not make this show without Rob. It literally wouldn’t happen. Rob is completely immersed in the process so there is no divide between the music and storytelling on the show. Rob has as much impact on the story as any of us in the writers’ room. Whenever we get stuck on how to handle a particularly emotional moment, our first call is to Rob.
Cook: Rob is a blast to work with! His songs also inspire great visuals from our team of storyboard directors, storyboard artists and animators.
I love that T.O.T.S. is both educational and entertaining for young viewers. How did you find the balance between the two in writing the episodes? And how did you keep the language accessible for pre-school and grade school audiences?
Braun: I grew up on everything Disney, and have always admired how they put such value on storytelling. That is incredibly important to me, and is baked into the DNA of this show. Story is king, no matter who your audience is or how young the demographic. Everything we do, from character designs to storyboards to music and sound effects, is in an effort to tell great stories that captive our audience. The fact that our show also has strong positive messages is really a testament to the strength of Pip and Freddy’s characters.
What will T.O.T.S. have to offer older viewers, namely parents and caretakers, who will watch along with the little ones?
Braun: At its core, T.O.T.S. is just one heck of a fun ride. There’s adventure, there’s silly comedy and there’s tons of heart. I think parents will find the comedy particularly relatable. Every week, Pip and Freddy are tasked with delivering a new baby to his or her family. And anyone who’s tried to fly cross country with a toddler understands just how hard of a task that can be. Hopefully parents can enjoy a few laughs.
Cook: T.O.T.S. is beautifully animated and funny with heartwarming stories and great songs. The show features a fantastic cast which includes Vanessa Williams as a pelican named Captain Beakman, Megan Hilty as a koala named K.C., Jet Jurgensmeyer as Pip the penguin and Christian J. Simon as Freddy the flamingo.
Congrats on getting an early Season 2 pickup from Disney! Did that change how you approach the storytelling at all?
Braun: Thank you. Disney has been all-in from the very first day I pitched this series. The support is incredible, and knowing we have that means we can focus on doing what we love – telling more great stories about our team of delivery birds.
Cook: It inspires us to push the visuals even more with fun animation and cinematic staging.
What’s up next for the both of you?
Braun: I have some projects in the hopper, but T.O.T.S. is everyone’s main focus right now. We are so excited for the world to meet Pip, Freddy and the entire crew on June 14!
Cook: More T.O.T.S.! The team and I have a lot more babies to deliver!
T.O.T.S. premieres Friday, June 14th at 9:00 A.M. EDT/PDT on Disney Channel and DisneyNOW. Chris Gilligan (Goldie & Bear) is co-executive producer and supervising director, and Guy Toubes (The Stinky & Dirty Show) is story editor. Rob Cantor (Disney Junior Music Nursery Rhymes) serves as the series’ songwriter and composer. The series is produced byTitmouse in association with Disney Junior.
Each episode features two 11-minute stories that highlight the use of creative thinking, teamwork and problem solving to model for young viewers that there is more than one way to achieve a goal. T.O.T.S. stories suggest themes of positively interacting with and nurturing others while celebrating each other’s differences. Every episode has an original song in addition to the recurring delivery anthem “Bringing This Baby Home.”
The series voice cast includes Vanessa Williams (Ugly Betty) as Captain Beakman, Megan Hilty (Noises Off, Wicked) as K.C. the Koala, Jet Jurgensmeyer (Last Man Standing) as Pip the Penguin and Christian J. Simon (Sydney to the Max) as Freddy the Flamingo.