Disney takes the unknown country road with Big City Greens

Shane and Chris Houghton discuss the inspiration behind their animated series and why Disney took a big gamble on the original property.
June 15, 2018

Disney is taking an alternate route on Big City Greens, greenlighting the original animated series from newcomers Chris and Shane Houghton for a second season before the first episodes have even aired.

“When we finished writing season one Disney was really happy with what they saw and asked us to keep going, so we just kept on rolling into season two,” says Chris Houghton.

Usually that’s a risky practice Disney Channel saves for series with a built-in and loyal following, guaranteeing the success of the extra episodes and justifying time spent on animation. Recent second season orders include Big Hero 6, an adaptation of the 2014 movie that grossed  US$650 million worldwide, and the rebooted DuckTales on Disney XD, which capitalizes on the success of the original 1987 series that ran for 100 episodes. Disney Channel did order a second season from new series Fancy Nancy just last week, before its premiere, but even that series is based on a New York Times bestselling book series by Jane O’Connor and Robin Preiss Glasser, which has sold more than 28 million books to date.

The 30 x half-hour Big City Greens premieres on June 18, with season two coming in 2019. It follows the adventures of 10-year-old Cricket Green and his family as they move from the country to the city. The series is executive produced by the Houghton brothers and Rob Renzetti (Gravity Falls), and directed by Natasha Kline (South Park) and Monica Ray (Harvey Beaks). The voice cast includes Bob Joles (Puss in Boots) as Bill Green, Artemis Pebdani (Scandal) as Gramma Alice and Marieve Herington (How I Met Your Mother).

The Houghton brothers have worked together for the past 10 years on various projects including writing and illustrating comics for The Simpsons, Adventure Time and Peanuts. Previously, their biggest project was a 10-issue comic book series entitled Reed Gunther, published by Image Comics. Chris served as the illustrator and Shane as the writerThe brothers first pitched the idea of a Reed Gunther series to Disney, which caught the studio’s attention, opening the door for a future partnership.

“Disney said they really liked the comic but it wasn’t necessarily the best fit for the studio, so they asked us to keep sending them different ideas,” says Chris.

While in the midst of developing concepts, the two gained experience on Nickelodeon’s Harvey Beaks where Shane served as a staff writer and Chris as a storyboard director. Chris then worked on Disney Television Animation’s Gravity Falls as a storyboard revisionist and artist. The pair continued to pitch ideas to Disney, but it was Big City Greens they felt most passionate about and decided to push ahead with.

We classify Big City Greens as a fish out of water series,” says Chris. “There is such a relatable feeling to being an outsider and there is fun to be had with that.”

The risk paid off not just with a series greenlight, but the pair was also recently named one of Variety’s top 10 animators to watch this year along with Nickelodeon’s Niki Lopez.

Beyond Disney’s propensity for sticking with its tried and tested hits, the story was even more of an unlikely pickup from the House of Mouse because it fell outside the usual realm of characters and locations it explores. When the Houghton brothers started pitching the series the kidcaster was all about fantasy, while Big City Greens is very much anchored in the realistic and is even based loosely on their lives.

“When we were first pitching the show back in 2013 there was a lot of wish-fulfillment shows on TV, meaning kids living in mansions, having a lot of money and high-status friends,” says Shane. “Something about that never resonated with us.”

While exaggerated in many ways, the show and its characters are inspired by the brothers’ personal experience growing up in a farming community before moving to L.A. In fact, Chris himself voices ten-year-old Cricket.

Additional shorts will begin rolling out ahead of the main series on June 16 on Disney Channel and Disney Channel YouTube. To drum up a new dedicated fan base, Disney is also launching the multiplayer game Big City Battle! on June 18 for the DisneyNOW app. The game allows players to compete against each other to earn a place as a member of the Green family.

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