Best-known for parodying hit songs over the past 30-odd years, musician Weird Al Yankovic’s next gig is working on an animated series based on his children’s books, which will see him spoofing his younger self—well, sort of.
The upcoming series is based on Yankovic’s books, New York Times Bestseller When I Grow Up and My New Teacher and Me!, which both star an imaginative eight-year-old boy named Billy. Helping to transpose Billy from print to television is producer The Jim Henson Company. While still in the very early conceptual stages, the yet-to-be-named series will consist of 11-minute episodes that take place primarily in a school setting.
“Billy is more like the kid I wish I could have been at that age,” says Yankovic. “I was pretty shy and withdrawn as a child,” admits the three-time Grammy Award winner. “Billy’s got a huge personality,” he adds. “He’s fearless, he’s extremely imaginative and creative. He’s empowered by his weirdness—I might go as far as to say he is an alter ego.”
Yankovic’s love of Shel Silverstein’s rhyming style inspired his writing. “At least that’s what I was attempting to do,” he chuckles. “I just kind of drew on my knowledge and my love for children’s literature and gave it my best shot.”
As creator and executive producer, Yankovic will be hands-on with the new series. And there’s a good chance he’ll loan his voice to one of the characters, too. “I certainly would like to try to wedge my way into my own show,” he laughs. “But I’m not exactly sure who it would be at this point.”
The series will target four- to seven-year-olds, but Yankovic hopes it will appeal to a much broader audience. “I think the best children’s entertainment can be enjoyed equally by people of all ages,” he contends.
And so does The Jim Henson Company, according to its longtime Weird Al fan and EVP of children’s entertainment, Halle Stanford. “What I love about Billy is he reminds me of everybody here at Henson. Kind of the way we all think outside the box and are always challenging ideas,” she says. She adds that the books have a very Henson-y feel. “If you imagine Jim Henson as a little boy and you look at Billy, you think ‘Yup, there probably were some similarities!’”
Wes Hargis’s illustrations from the books will be used as inspiration for the animated look-and-feel of the production. And as with any Weird Al project, you can bet there will be plenty of humor, music and mixed-media involved. Henson’s goal is to deliver the series for fall 2016.
For now, Stanford and her colleagues are content to enjoy the creative journey, led by a man who is continually evolving and rousing generation after generation to use their imaginations.”What I have discovered since starting to work with Al is how many people he inspired in some way, either as a kid or a songwriter,” says Stanford about her son’s idol.
Photo: Weird Al hangs out with alter-ego Billy, the star of his picture books and upcoming animated series
The lightning round… with Weird Al Yankovic
“Defying Gravity” (from the musical Wicked)
Song he wishes he had parodied
“Ice Ice Baby”
Biggest word crime
I don’t have any problem ending a sentence with a preposition.
Favorite cartoon character
Marvin the Martian
Favorite breakfast food
This article originally appeared in the February/March 2015 issue of Kidscreen