By George Bate and Julie Catherine
It’s difficult to avoid the seemingly endless number of superhero movies and television shows nowadays. The sheer volume of content in this genre places a demand on each and every project to make it stand out and be unique amidst all of the other tales of super-powered heroes and villains. Hamster & Gretel, a new Disney animated series from Phineas and Ferb creator Dan Povenmire, puts a spin on the superhero genre that proves to be unlike anything seen in the genre before.
Hamster & Gretel follows an older brother named Kevin and his excitable younger sister Gretel, the latter of whom is granted superpowers by aliens. While Gretel (and her pet hamster) become superheroes, Kevin is unlucky and is given no superpowers of his own. What ensues is a family-oriented comedy as Gretel and her pet hamster get into all sorts of trouble with their use of superpowers, while her overprotective brother tries to guide them.
At D23 Expo 2022, The HoloFiles had the opportunity to interview series creator Dan Povenmire, lead writer Joanna Hausmann, and actors Michael Cimino (who voices Kevin), Meli Povenmire (who voices Gretel), Thomas Sanders (who voices the half-horse half-man villain Neighslayer), Brock Powell (who voices the aptly named villain FistPuncher), and Venezuela pop star Karina (who voices the supervillian with perhaps the strangest origin story of all time, La Cebolla) as part of a roundtable.
Michael Cimino, known for his roles in Love, Victor and Annabelle Comes Home, voices Kevin, the unlucky older brother, in Hamster & Gretel. Cimimo discussed the specifics of voice acting and his thoughts on the show overall.
“When it comes to voice acting, it’s just very dependent on each voice actor being good at what they do. Then it will usually come together just fine…The show is very grounded…in how everyone’s performance just feels very natural, very true to life. I feel like sometimes, within a cartoon, you can kind of get into the, ‘Hey, this is just a cartoon.’ It’s not. It’s very grounded and real, and I feel like people of a lot of different ages can relate to that.”
Carolina Ravassa, who plays Kevin and Gretel’s mother, similarly noted the grounded nature of the series.
“I love that it’s so grounded. It’s showing a family that is a bicultural family, and that is really special to me because I grew up in a bicultural household speaking English and Spanish all at the same time. I just think it’s cool. We’re getting a little glimpse into a very normal family, and they know they fight crime on the side, some of them, not all of them…It’s outlandish, but the familial aspect of it is what I think is what makes it really special.”
Thomas Sanders, who voices the villain Neighslayer, spoke about his passion for voice acting and how he got his start working in this medium.
“I’ve been a fan of voiceover [for a while]. I was listening to podcasts on how to get into voice acting when I was in college…I’ve always wanted to be a cartoon character. Then Vine [the now defunct social media app] came around, and it felt way more possible for me at that point. I was still kind of trying to just have fun, make my own brand, use my voice in its own way, and then that led to meet-ups with Tara Strong and Jim Cummings. All of that snowballed into meeting Dan because his kids knew of me. It was a very wild ride that I hope I can keep going. I’m having a blast.”
Fellow cast member Brock Powell, who plays another villainous character, talked about the comedy at the heart of Hamster & Gretel and the fine line with the tone of the show.
“Comedy wins out. A lot of improvisation and a lot of trying things out…The scripts are just absolutely hilarious. Everyone in the room is just so funny, and even though we’re not recording together, we’re hearing each other’s takes and bouncing off… I think keeping it family-friendly is really important, and remembering that every villain is a hero in their own story.”
On the writing side, creator Dan Povenmire is a well-known name in the animation sphere given his work on the popular Phineas and Ferb. Povenmire outlined the beginnings of his new series and the role his other work played in this process.
“[To start], I drew this doodle of a hamster. A superhero hamster. Then over Christmas break in 2019, I did a little animatic for the cold open, so I could show the executive and say, ‘Hey, what about this show?’, because they were asking me for something new. Within a year from then, it got picked up. They loved that, so I did the whole rest of the pilot. Most of the pilot I did during the pandemic while we were finishing the Phineas and Ferb movie. That’s really how Meli got the role of Gretel. I said, ‘Meli, can you come in?’ I just needed a little kid’s voice on this presentation piece, and then it was hilarious. Everybody started falling in love with her voice as that character, and she just sort of survived through all the iterations.”
Speaking more specifically about Phineas and Ferb, Povenmire talked about the initial plan for that series and how it eventually grew into what it is today.
“I think the original pickup was like 16 episodes — I wondered if we could tell 32 stories. Then we ended up doing [200+ episodes], seven specials, and two movies. It made me understand we can do a big, long story. Ideas are not a barrel that is going to empty out. The more that you’re writing new ideas and coming up with new ideas, the more it’s like you’re flexing a muscle. The more you flex the muscle, the stronger that muscle gets. The more you do that, the easier it is to come up with new stories, new jokes, and stuff like that.”
Phineas and Ferb has remained popular for all of these years in part due to the absurdity of many of its most iconic moments, something Povenmire said he wanted to bring over to Hamster & Gretel.
“The one thing that I told the writers on this show…They’ll will pitch something, and I’ll say, ‘Okay, it’s a fine script. It’s funny, clever, but where’s the stupid? Where’s that ridiculous idea that you had that you didn’t put in here?’ The biggest thing I think I learned from Phineas and Ferb is that the things people latch onto are those dumb ideas that you wouldn’t even pitch in most writers’ rooms because it’s just too ridiculous. Those are the ones I call Monday morning gags. You see the show over the weekend, kids come in on Monday morning, and they talk about it at school. That’s what you want — to feed that part of kids’ brains because they will always gravitate to that, and that’ll stick in their brains.”
Head writer Joanna Hausmann agreed and doubled down on these sentiments.
“So we say, ‘Is this is too dumb to put on TV’? Then when we’re in the room, we try to build it out and make these characters feel very three dimensional. So, ‘La Cebolla’ has a very long backstory. A telenovela star couldn’t cry on cue. She tried to consume too many onions in order to make her cry. She got hit by a ray by a bunch of aliens, and now she can just speak to onions. That’s an example of the type of humor and characters we’re having a lot of fun with on the show.”
It’s clearly these bizarre, wacky ideas that the creators led with and wanted to be at the forefront of the show, hence why it plays such a huge role in a main character’s backstory. Speaking of Le Cebolla, performer Karina La Voz, a Venezuelan herself, praised the series’ inclusivity.
“It’s very cool because there’s a lot of Venezuelans already now here in the U.S. There’s always been immigrants here, families. But now it’s normalized.”
New episodes of Hamster & Gretel air Saturdays on Disney Channel. The first five episodes of the series are streaming now on Disney+.