“It’s a kids’ cartoon about a magical man who’s everyone’s uncle and grandpa and he’s a magical man who drives around in his RV with a gang of friends, Mr. Gus and Pizza Steve.” That’s “Uncle Grandpa” creator Peter Browngardt explaining the oddball assortment of characters populating “Uncle Grandpa,” his new Cartoon Network series which premieres tonight at 8PM ET.
It’s the kind of show that has a character named Giant Realistic Flying Tiger and can get away with having “Workaholics” star Adam Devine play shades-wearing slice of pizza. It’s also the latest in a steady stream of strange and surreal cartoons Browngardt’s had a hand in either as an animator (“Venture Brothers,” “Chowder,” “Adventure Time”) and writer (“Flapjack,” “Secret Mountain Fort Awesome”).
The show is on the cusp of fantasy and sci-fi that the wildly popular “Adventure Time” embraces, albeit for a slightly younger audience. But its hero, the fanny pack-wearing title character, is a far cry from the rambunctious, adventure-seeking Finn, and he’s not an aimless wanderer like “Regular Show” protagonists Moredecai and Rigby. Instead, Uncle Grandpa (voiced by Peter Browngardt) is a gentle, albeit a little addle-brained, problem solver who stumbles upon solutions to the galaxy’s problems from his talking belly bag, Belly Bag (voiced by Eric Bauza).
Browngardt singles out Pizza Steve as his favorite among the characters, describing the pairing of Adam Devine with Steve as “a match made in heaven.” He describes Steve as a cool slice of pizza that’s “super egotistical.” “What I like about him is that he’s such an egomaniac that he can kind of come off as a jerk, but in this world, Uncle Grandpa is so naive that he doesn’t get some it.”
The half-hour series is broken into one long and one short story, with the shorter ones allowing “Uncle Grandpa” to get a little more experimental. Browngardt promises one episode in a comic book style, and his crew–which he boasts is well-versed in different animation styles–will be adding more variants to the traditional animation used in the series going forward.
Browngardt tells me he’s been making animated films since he was seven on a Super 8 camera. With the help of his brothers, he learned how to shoot, and by the time high school rolled around, he got the art bug, enrolling in drawing classes, ultimately making his way into Cal Arts. From there, he landed a gig as a character layout artist on “Futurama” early in that series’ run before a detour into computer animation at LucasFilm took him away from drawing.
At LucasFilm, he strained against the CG work, saying he’d spent a life learning to draw and his skills weren’t being used there. Browngardt says he prefers the animated platform as a way of telling tales of the impossible. He leans towards traditional, hand-drawn animation rather than CG because the latter, because the style lends itself to more surreal storytelling. Part of that comes from Browngardt’s belief that the work done in CG animation is traditionally very specific to the production being created, leaving very little room for experimentation.
“[CG] wasn’t a good fit for me. I really missed drawing, I really missed cartoons.”
After college, it was on to New York, where Browngardt landed a job working on “The Venture Brothers,” discovering that if he wanted to stick around in the industry, he’d have to become a jack of all trades in the competitive industry.
It was around 2006 that Browngardt began pitching to Cartoon Network, and his ideas earned him a storyboarding job on “Chowder” as well as a chance to create the pilot for “Uncle Grandpa.” The network has been his home for the last seven years, allowing him to bounce between some of the more popular series like the aforementioned “Adventure Time” and “Flapjack.” He says he’s appreciated his time creating traditional animation for Cartoon Network since the pace of productions means that he and his teams typically have to find an idea and commit to it–“You can’t over-think it,” he adds.
He’s also been able to mix media in ways that CG series can’t. Giant Realistic Flying Tiger, for instance, is a photograph, added as an intentionally crudely-drawn photograph throughout the series (Browngardt says the crudeness and low fidelity is part of the joke).
It seems like the goal is the series is to tell stories that are one-offs and standalone jokes, avoiding the loose continuity of some of the other series currently popular on Cartoon Network. Browngardt says he’s a big fan of keeping things standalone because they allow fans to jump in anywhere. While some characters will recur throughout the series, Browngardt says he’s attracted to the simplicity of keeping things accessible to new viewers.
You can get your first look at “Uncle Grandpa” when it premieres tonight on Cartoon Network at 8PM ET.