The new Disney Channel animated series Hailey’s On It is a bit hard to describe succinctly. The show follows 14-year-old Hailey Banks (Auli’i Cravalho) as she looks to complete a list of wildly impractical tasks with her best friend Scott (Manny Jacinto) in order to save the world because a professor from the future (Sarah Chalke) told her she needed to. It’s a little bit My Name Is Earl/100 Deeds for Eddie McDowd, a little bit Bill and Ted, and overall charming.
But you don’t have to take my word for it; the series is set to premiere on Disney Channel and Disney XD on June 8 and the next day on Disney Plus. Ahead of that, we had the opportunity to speak with creators and executive producers Nick Stanton and Devin Bunje all about what it was like crafting the show through the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the benefits of animation, and how making a difference can sometimes start small.
The following interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
GamesRadar+: What's the elevator pitch for Hailey’s On It?
Nick Stanton: Elevator pitch is a 14-year-old girl has a list of things she has always wanted to do, and then this crazy professor from the future bursts into her room and says, ‘that list is going to be your first step to accomplishing great things,’ hands her this list, and goes back to where she came from, leaving Hailey with… it's like a totally impractical list.
It's everything from ‘spend your old gift cards’ to ‘teach a cat to play the piano,' but she's got to check off every list item. And do it with her best friend, Scott Denoga, who's her next door neighbor. They’re best friends – and might be more than friends?
Now, I know this is your first time creating and executive producing an animated show, though neither of you are strangers to working on an animated series. What would you say is the biggest challenge associated with that shift, given you were most recently working on live-action TV [Prince of Peoria, Gamer’s Guide to Pretty Much Everything]?
Devin Bunje: The biggest challenge… I mean, there's a lot of benefits. A good story is a good story. And you can tell, in our minds live action or animation, if you have a good story, you can make a great show. And animation is great because we have the tools to do anything and everything we want as far as sets and locations and characters and stuff.
The one challenge, I guess, was our last show [Prince of Peoria] was actually filmed in front of a live studio audience. So it was great. Within a week, we would have two table reads, a runthrough, and then film in front of 500 people. And we'd get immediate feedback, if something was not working or was working so well we wanted to kind of bring it up again, et cetera, et cetera.
In animation, the process is sort of stretched out a lot longer? Our pilot we worked on for three plus years. And every other episode is at least probably one year each. And we started in the pandemic, so even the writers’ room was sort of on Zoom, and it was pretty hard to kind of get that immediate feedback of what's working and what's not.
So, we've just found we had to kind of stretch that process out. We would do table reads with everybody on the crew, just to read the scripts, and then we would try to do animatic screenings, and then we would do early color screenings. The process would go over and over and we’d go over each episode, I don't know, dozens of times until we were confident that we had the same level of… everything was funny and working and all that as well. Just a much longer process, I guess I would say.
For a Disney Channel animated show – and this is no offense meant, it is what it is – the cast is quite stacked. How did you go about casting the show? And how did you convince these incredibly talented people to come along with you?
NS: Well, we got lucky. [laughs] I think the right people were available at the right time. Because from top to bottom, we really got our wish list. We sort of made a dream list in the beginning, and that's who we ended up casting. I think Auli'i auditioned, and I believe Manny did too. And, I mean, immediately they were it.
I listen to Scott now and Manny is… we were huge fans of his and we love The Good Place. And he's just funny. Now there's no one else I can picture voicing Scott, because his rhythms are so unique. And even though we write a line a way that's in our heads, but he'll come up with a totally different way but that's super funny. That was a dream.
And then Sarah Chalke was available. I mean, a lot of it was we were doing a lot of this during the pandemic and a lot of actors were available then to our benefit. It really was just a kind of wish list kind of thing. And even throughout the first season, we've got some great, great cast and we just really lucked out, I think.
The main conceit here is that Hailey has to complete a list of things. Do you already have a full list in place? Or is it more of a, ‘If we come up with some cool idea to make an episode about,’ suddenly that's on the list?
DB: Yes, we have actually gone through and made a huge list, some of it because we have to kind of design pages and there'll be stuff there, some of it just the writers, as story generating, like, what are all the things you guys would have put on your list when you are teenagers? That kind of thing. But we certainly aren't 100% committed to exactly what's on the list now and can't adjust if we still need to.
Speaking of the construction of the show, any kind of time travel is inevitably narratively complicated. Did you try to implement a set of rules as you were going about that? Or is it really more ‘rule of cool?’
NS: I would say it's more ‘rule of cool.’ But the template that we're kind of working on, at least in my brain is, and we think it's a formula that works well, is the Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure kind of idea, right? I mean, that obviously was a movie about time travel. But at the heart of it, it was about these two normal kids who really just had to pass their history test, and it goes to these crazy places. And that happened to be a favorite movie of both me and Devin's growing up. So, we kind of applied that.
And the truth is, we don't do a lot of actual time travel throughout the series, because it gets kind of complicated. And I think honestly, the formula that works best in our minds is just kind of a grounded, real world, real characters, regular kids, but then these fantastic things happen to that world as opposed to them going into the future or their time traveling. We kind of like the idea of a grounded world.
A common refrain from literally everyone I interview, regardless of medium, is that it's kind of a miracle that anything ever gets made at all. Were there any particularly difficult bumps in the road that you had to overcome to get Hailey's On It across the finish line?
DB: I mean, the biggest one was probably the pandemic. Literally right after we’d gotten the auditions and had circled Auli’i and Manny as the two we wanted, the pandemic happened, and we weren't able to record them, because they didn't have home microphones at the time.
So we had to, to move forward, we had to do scratch, which is like, have someone fill in to do every character on the show. Luckily, we got some super talented people to do that as well. And were able to sell the idea and, even better, that’s when we were able to get Gary Anthony Williams in as Beta. He happened to have a rig, and he was on our shortlist for Beta anyway, but we hadn't fully cast that yet. But he did such an awesome job. After his first record, it was immediately clear that, ‘Oh, this guy's Beta, now it can't be anyone else.’ So that was a sort of a happy accident.
Hailey's On It, from the looks of the screeners, seems to typically be an 11-minute show with the occasional 22. What do you find to be the benefit of both formats? Is one more difficult than the other?
DB: There's pros and cons to both. The 11s, you can tell a slightly simpler story kind of just get right to the meat of it and kind of resolve it quickly. 22s are nice because you can get a more in-depth story, you can kind of have multiple characters doing multiple things within that 22 minutes. The 11s are also tough because you just have to come up with twice as many stories. [laughs] So it ends up kind of being twice as much work in a story-generating sense. But it's also a lot easier to write them too.
There are pros and cons to both. We definitely enjoy being able to do both. We might start doing more 22s as our kind of stories become more involved, and we start hitting more of the sort of tent poles of the emotional and character arcs that we’re gearing towards.
I have to say the throwaway gags that I've caught are pretty inspired. You know, I've only seen a couple episodes, but I'm fairly certain I saw and/or heard Hamilton, Rent, Endgame, and even a B-52’s reference very briefly. Do you have a favorite gag that managed to get into the show?
DB: We do have a lot. The Hats musical that I think you're referencing is probably my favorite. We just had a full montage of different musical types. We have an incredible pair of composers and songwriters, Matthew Tishler and Andrew Underberg. They came on early in the pilot stage, and we found they had the exact same sense of humor, and they're incredibly talented, and like the same kind of music. So when our writer Kevin Yee, who wrote the musical episode and is also a lover of Broadway musicals, kind of threw in, ‘Oh, let's do this montage of different parodies,’ they came up with the greatest little snippets of all those different genres in a way that we all just fell in love with.
NS: And I'll say my favorite, I don't know if it's a parody or what, there's this potato chip called ‘Dingles’ in our world. And at one point, they end up getting a factory tour of the Dingles factory, inspired by a Willy Wonka kind of thing. We meet the eccentric owner, Chip Dingle, and we got Weird Al to play that character. And we both grew up, you know, UHF was, I think independently, both of our favorite movies growing up, and to work with him, and he sings a song… It was super fun.
Anything you hope that people take away from the show as they do get to view it?
DB: The sort of theme that we kept going back to is just the idea that anyone can make a difference in the world. We start with a character who's super in her own head and nervous and like everybody second guesses their abilities and embarrassments and things like that – and quickly finds out not only is she capable, but she's destined to do great things. And then we still get to go along with her on the entire journey to get her to that point. And we just think that's a fun kind of inspirational story for everyone.
Hailey’s On It premieres June 8 on Disney Channel and Disney XD, next day on Disney Plus. While you’re there, maybe check out some of the other best shows on Disney Plus.