Something magical happens when you combine NASA and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). First of all, you can solve most of your basic word puzzles on Wheel of Fortune, but you also get an educational and entertaining mix of space, science, and, considering this concoction is being mixed on Disney Junior, a healthy dose of that wonderful Disney storytelling. As an added bonus, your kids will love it.
Miles from Tomorrowland is a new Disney Junior series full of non-stop excitement that premiers on Friday, February 6 (check local listings). It stars the voice talents of Olivia Munn (The Newsroom), Tom Kenny (SpongeBob SquarePants), Fiona Bishop (Sofia the First), and Cullen McCarthy (Mr. Peabody & Sherman) as the Callisto family, a tight-knit bunch working for the Tomorrowland Transit Authority, as they travel through space and endless adventure.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Sascha Paladino, the creator and executive producer of Miles from Tomorrowland, about the show, his inspiration(s), and, as dads are prone to do, our kids. We can’t help it.
Whit Honea: First, congratulations on the new show. The title “Miles from Tomorrowland” is quite a clever play on words. I’m a fan of the wordplay.
Sascha Paladino: Thank you. I like to play with words, too, and luckily we get to do that on the show. We make up words. We get to make up planets, aliens, and all of that stuff. It’s a lot fun.
WH: The Disney Channel networks and the huge variety of shows they carry allows for kids to watch and grow at their own pace, and to move on to topics and characters that they can better relate to at any given point in their life. However, and this is a good “however,” Miles from Tomorrowland looks like it may stretch the aging out process a bit, that it may retain its audience longer—I’m basing this on my own boys who are 8 and 11, and frankly they don’t watch as much Disney Junior as they do XD and the like, but they were drawn to this.
SP: That’s great.
WH: Do you see that? That the show might interest a wider range of age groups? And if so, what do you think gives Miles from Tomorrowland its broader appeal? The space? The science? The blending of both with the staples of empathy and life skills that Disney shows are known for?
SP: It wasn’t something I thought of at first, but coming up with the stories, Disney encourages us, and pushed for them to be a little on the older end of preschool, and as we developed them they became pretty complex. Especially compared to some of the other shows I’ve worked on . . . it just felt right. You know, they’re adventures and I see each episode as a mini action movie, and stories got kind of complex and let us explore the characters a lot more and get them into really interesting scrapes. I would be thrilled if this show appealed to older kids as well. There’s definitely action and excitement that I hope will snag kids of any age.
WH: Right. And I think you touched on it with the depth of character. It’s not something you normally see in that level, aimed at that demographic, of show.
SP: Well, I mean, one of the things that was really important to me was getting that family dynamic right. You know, this family is living together, but also working together in kind of an extreme situation, so their true colors are going to come out.
WH: (laughs) That’s true.
SP: There are certain situations where it’s like, well, this is a family having breakfast together, but what would that be like in outer space? That could be fun. And that everyone in the family works together as a team. They’re like a well-oiled machine.
The mom is the captain, which was very important to me, and the dad is the pilot, Miles has his specialty, Loretta, the sister, has her specialty, and you know, they need each other . . . and the parents have enough confidence in their kids, and trust, that they let the kids do some of the mission themselves. That was important, too, that these kids feel empowered.
WH: That’s great. It’s great for the audience to see that the kids have responsibilities.
SP: Exactly, they all work together. The mission of the Tomorrowland Transit Authority, which the family works for, is to connect the universe, so it’s about literally connecting the universe by building highways through space, but also making connections with other cultures.
WH: Love it. Let me ask, I assume you are a fan of science fiction . . .
SP: I am, very much so.
WH: Do you have the opportunity to have a little fun with nods toward sci-fi and pop culture?
SP: One of the things that is so amazing, we’ve been so lucky to get some of these voice actors: Mark Hamill (Star Wars) is doing a voice, George Takei (Star Trek), and Wil Wheaton (Star Trek: The Next Generation), and that, I would say, is our nod to classic sci-fi. That’s what inspired me, and it feels like a dream come true that we have some of the DNA of Star Wars and Star Trek mashed up into our show.
WH: Don’t you love it when you get to realize some of your personal dreams through work?
SP: (laughs) I have to pinch myself.
WH: As a parent I can’t help but feel a bit of nostalgia for the programs that my kids leave behind once they age out. Do you find that as well? If so, what’s harder, the creation of new characters or leaving the old characters behind?
SP: That’s a really good question. You know, there are certain shows that my kids are starting to outgrow, and I guess because I’m always thinking of new shows that I don’t think about the old shows as much. To me, the great challenge, and what I enjoy doing, is coming up with new stories and new characters, so that’s really what I spend most of my time thinking about—and relying on my kids and their crazy imaginations to help me come up with things I could never think of. My son the other day thought up a planet made of marshmallows. I don’t know if we’ll do it, but we might.
WH: I was going to ask you if any of your real life parenting scenarios find their way into the show—it sounds like they do.
SP: Definitely, yeah. There’s a surfing episode called “Surfing’ the Whirlpool” where Miles and his dad go on a father and son trip, like an outer space surfing trip, and that really came out of the idea of having alone time, one on one time, with your kids. I have twins, and it’s real important, I’ve found, to have separate time—special time just to be with one of them. That idea of going on a trip with your parent and getting to know them in a way that is different than the family dynamic. That was inspired by my own experience.
On a more specific level, the boys have come with ideas that have been really great and useful for the show. For example, they had the idea to have a police force in outer space. They love police cars and they said “Can we have one in outer space?” And I said, “Actually, we can.”
WH: As fathers we are constantly creating worlds for our children, regardless of what we do for a day job, but you are in the position of creating something more akin to a universe, literally a universe in this case, something that goes beyond the confines of a blanket fort and backyard shenanigans, and well into the world that your kids share with others. You create things with your kids that their peers will have access to— does that come with greater responsibility?
SP: Oh, man, it’s a huge responsibility. When I first started working in TV, the first show I worked on was Blues Clues, a show that a lot of kids watched and had a lot of influence and impacted other shows, and even at that point, it was so clear because I joined the show after it was already a hit and the backpacks were everywhere, the fact that millions of people are watching these things that we’re writing, it’s a huge responsibility. So, you know, to model behavior that I feel is appropriate and that I would want my kids to emulate, it’s such a huge responsibility and I take it seriously. I see what happens when my kids watch shows that are meant for older kids and there is fighting and things like that, or shooting, and they emulate it. And I don’t want them doing it. (laughs)
SP: I really strive in my shows, in this show especially, to just make it something that, if they’re going to play Miles, that I want to be able to play with them, you know?
WH: Yeah. I get it.
SP: I want it to be like a little action movie, but without the shooting, without the conflict, or at least the fighting. I want them to feel the excitement of it but without those negative things that I don’t want them doing as 5-year-olds.
WH: I don’t know if they gave you any background on what I do, but the whole parenting topic . . .
SP: Yeah, I read some of your blog. It’s great.
WH: Oh, thank you, very much. But so much of what I write about is parenting. . .
SP: Yes, like your book . . .
WH: Right, it’s all parenting and empathy, and so it’s nice to talk about this stuff and I apologize if I’m getting too far off the Disney path.
SP: Oh, no, I’m happy to, it’s all good. You know, it’s interesting, and I read about, I’m sorry to hear about your mother passing. It’s interesting, my father passed away while I was working on the show and there was, it affected the show, too. I was trying to find a way to work that in. So, Captain Joe is named after him.
WH: Ah, man, I’m sorry, but that’s nice—the name.
SP: My dad was someone I looked up to, and so that’s a character Miles looks up to.
WH: There’s a whole different perspective on this side of life, isn’t there?
SP: Oh, man, yeah. It changes everything.
WH: Assuming my math is correct you were working on some very popular shows for children long before you became a father. Did the experience prepare you in any way for parenthood or the way you approach your work now?
SP: Yeah, I was really lucky to work on shows, great preschool shows, that had educational consultants before I was a parent. I spent a lot of time with child psychologists talking about parents and parenting, and what works for kids. A lot of shows I worked on, we would do research where we would actually bring a storybook version of an episode into a classroom and test it out, to get real feedback from kids, and it was so useful for the show, but I also felt it was useful for me in my path to becoming a parent. That’s definitely been a big part of my life as a parent.
Now? My boys continue to inspire me in all sort of surprising ways and I hope the show inspires other kids.
WH: Yes. I love what I’m hearing. Okay, last question, Disney is well-known for its synergy, so what’s going on with Miles from Tomorrowland and Tomorrowland the movie both coming out around the same time? Is there some sort of conspiracy theory that you can throw out there?
SP: I cannot confirm or deny a conspiracy. I will say that I think what we share is sort of the original vision that Walt Disney had for Tomorrowland, the idea that Tomorrowland is a place of innovation and progress and advancements in technology leading to the betterment of the world. Like I said, the goal of the Tomorrowland Transit Authority in our show is to connect the universe, and the Callisto family reaches out to other cultures, and that, that is very much in line with Walt Disney’s original conception of Tomorrowland: an ideal place where progress is used for good.
WH: Well done. You know, I thought I was being so clever, but I get the feeling that I’m not the first person to come up with that. Thank you so much, Sascha.
SP: Thank you, Whit.
Photos: ©PHOTOGRAPHER/DISNEY JUNIOR