This week sees the premiere of Hailey is on it!, the new animated series from Disney. The show follows risk-averse teenager Hailey Banks (voiced by Auli’i Cravalho) on a mission to complete his long list of tasks to save the future of the world. Along for the ride is Hailey’s best friend and secret crush Scott Denoga and Beta, an artificially intelligent OS from the future, voiced respectively by Manny Hyacinth And Gary Anthony Williams .
The series was created by the writer/producer duo Devin Bunje And Nick Stanton. Friends and creative partners since they first met while attending USC’s undergraduate screen and television writing program, Bunje and Stanton are no strangers to Disney. Previous projects include of the player Guide to almost everything, Phineas and FerbAnd Zeke and Luther. However, Hailey is on it! marks their first creation and executive production of an animated series.
Ahead of the show’s premiere, we had the pleasure of chatting with Bunje and Stanton about the development of the series, wrestling, and more!
Taimur Dar: I love time travel stories. It dawned on me how many of my favorites were from the 80s like The Terminator, Back to the futureAnd Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. I have a strong feeling that these films have influenced Hailey is on it!especially Bill and Ted. Is this the case?
Devin Bunje: One hundred percent! You hit the nail on the head. We all love these movies. When we were developing this, we realized that what worked so well was an ordinary character thrown into these extraordinary circumstances. Bill and Ted and Marty McFly were just normal high school kids. But then they’re put in these cool situations. We also liked the idea of comedy stemming from small actions that have huge stakes. In Bill and Ted, it was about passing this history test, but it meant that the future of the world would be saved. We wanted to use those elements in a whole new show.
Nick Stanton: Good grip on the Bill and Ted because it was a big influence for us! As Devin said, they are two children in this great adventure. And it’s just a really funny movie.
Dar: I was able to see some episodes in advance. Without a doubt, my favorite has to be the convention episode. It’s funny because I know you worked together on the Turbo fast cartoon that actually featured a convention episode that you two wrote. Can we assume you’re both comic book fans or at least regular convention attendees?
Stanon: [Laughs]. Good draw! We wrote the “Tur-Bros” episode of Turbo fast, which took place at a convention. Oddly enough, Devin and I have never been to Comic-Con. We want to go but the stars never aligned where we had that free week or a project.
Like that: We usually work! [Laughs]
Stanon: We relied on a lot of our other writers who do panels there and are big on Comic-Con culture. In this particular episode of Hailey is on it!we didn’t write but it was written by a very talented writer named Lindsey Reckis which is huge in cons. We think it will also be a fan favorite because we do parodies. There’s a pretty clear Avengers scene at the end that will be fun and surprising for the audience.
Dar: The music is an incredibly important aspect of the show. It incorporates a variety of genres like K-pop, pop-rock, and GED. The show also features original songs composed by Matthew Tishler and Andrew Underberg. Has music always occupied a prominent place in Hailey is on it! or something that grew as you developed the series?
Like that: A little bit. In the original pilot, we wrote the song “Tunnel of Love” which we thought was quite funny to have a song that tells exactly what happened during the ride. During the pilot process, Disney gave us a few options for different composers to tackle. Matt and Andrew’s version was just amazing and hilarious. We liked it so much. We met them and immediately clicked. Not only are they incredibly talented in multifaceted ways from different genres, but they have the same sense of humor. Knowing we had them gave us the freedom to see what else we could do. On top of that we have Auli’i who is one of the most amazing singers out there. Having it at our disposal certainly encouraged us to make even more music than expected.
Dar: That leads me neatly to my next question. You just mentioned Auli’i Cravalho who is probably best known for the title role in Moana and her superb singing skills. You also have Manny Jacinto as Scott Denoga, Hailey’s best friend and secret lover. As fans of The right place can attest, Jacinto is a brilliant comedic actor. How did you cast the voices?
Like that: Our entire cast is phenomenal. Cooper AndrewsSince The Walking DeadAnd Stop and catch fire, plays Hailey’s dad and he’s been awesome. We were lucky because on our first audition, the two names that immediately went to the top of my and Nick’s list were Auli’i and Manny. Like you said, she’s an amazing singer and she’s an amazing actress. Turns out she’s also a great comedic actress. I call Manny a unicorn because he’s so unique in his beats and the way he can sell punchlines. He is so friendly. They were the perfect fit for those with characters. When we put them together in a cabin for the first episode, they played together amazingly and made it even better. We have a bunch of fun guest stars.
Dar: Speaking of which, I know Mick Foley is a guest on an episode. A number of people on Rhythm team as well as our readers are huge wrestling fans. I don’t know how much you can reveal, but can you tell if he’s in a wrestling related episode and if he’s going to speak?
Stanon: It’s a wrestling related episode but it doesn’t play itself. He actually plays a character called Rowdy Russ Stanton, which is also my father’s name. Not the “Rowdy” part. [Laughs]. He plays a wrestler who is Beta’s favorite and they get to see one of his matches. Mick was so great to have in the booth. I was a big wrestling fan and a big Humanity fan. I saw him wrestle in person twenty years ago. He’s got that gruff wrestler thing but he’s also funny. He did stand-up. He was really leaning into humor and adding some inner struggle stuff that I didn’t even know about. It was a great experience for me as a wrestling and comedy fan. I think it’s going to be a fun episode.
Dar: I noticed a lot of your previous projects had a big sports or action component. I mentioned Turbo Fast earlier, but there’s also Zeke and Luther as well as Gamer’s guide to just about everything. Is it your brand and your style.
Stanon: Yeah, I guess it is. We’re both big sports fans and big physical comedy fans. It’s the bread and butter of children’s television, whether it’s live action or cartoons. Physical comedy is a staple of all these different shows. Skateboard spills are the common thread.
Like that: Competition naturally leads to conflict, so it’s an easy way to create fun and comedic situations. Gamer’s guide to just about everything was on the elite video game and in Zeke and Luther they wanted to become the greatest skateboarders in the world.
Dar: Something that has definitely changed in children’s animation and media since I was a kid is the increase in serialized storytelling. Obviously, the advent of streaming has played a huge role in this. TV comedies and sitcoms too, like Office, if not fully serialized have definitely embraced linear storytelling. Is there a serialized narrative for Hailey is on it! or is it more episodic?
Stanon: There is a serialized narrative. It was something that we thought was really interesting. Like you, we grew up watching cartoons that reset every episode. The characters haven’t really changed, but that’s how the shows were made back then. You also mentioned Office which I think is a good example. Our two main characters have the Jim and Pam kind of relationship in Season 1 of Office. Without spoiling anything, this relationship will change during the first season. There’s a lot of twists to come and we thought that was interesting. With a character who has struggled to come out of her own shell, her journey will go from there to doing great things. It was an interesting question for us. This character will grow and evolve. How is it going ? We have a lot of fun with it.
Dar: Finally, which item on Hailey’s list are you excited for viewers to see?
Like that: One of our favorites that we turned to early on was to spend all of her old gift cards. Not only does it have very low stakes, but it’s also a fun shopping spree. It’s also the perfect example of how the show doesn’t need to be formulaic. The twist of the episode is that he has one gift card left for a place called Butter Burger and is out of business except for a location in Flagstaff. So they have to go to Flagstaff and of course Scott invites his new girlfriend over and it becomes a “three way” road trip episode. The list item becomes secondary because it’s really about how to navigate the third wheel aspect of Scott and his new girlfriend.
Stanon: I would say that the item on the list that excites me the most is an episode where Hailey has to become “sheriff for a day” in this nerdy old west town. She put it on her list when she was 7 years old. She therefore presents herself as “Sheriff for a day” and has to face small children! But she enters the spirit and becomes “Sheriff for a day”. But then she realizes, in our twist, that you actually have to be sheriff if bad guys show up and this biker gang ends up showing up and trying to take over the town. It’s another episode that goes to a crazy place but that’s the kind of stories we love.
Hailey is on it! premieres June 8 on Disney Channel and Disney XD, and the following day on Disney+.