If you think it would be cool to have fairy godparents to grant you wishes all the time, imagine having one foot in the spirit realm so you can walk through walls, become invisible and fly at the speed of sound. That’s the idea behind Danny Phantom, the new Nickelodeon series from The Fairly OddParents creator Butch Hartman. The show premiered in primetime on Saturday, April 3. Back-to-back episodes will air Friday, April 9, at 8:30 p.m. when it falls into its regular timeslot.
Penned by Hartman and OddParents scribe Steve Marmel, Danny Phantom follows the adventures of Danny Fenton (voiced by David Kaufman), a fairly normal teen whose parents are in the very abnormal business of ghost busting. His father invents machines like the Ghost Portal, which accidentally makes Danny half a ghost.
We were able to pin down the very busy Hartman to learn a bit more about the mysterious Danny Phantom and what it takes to get a new concept on the tube.
AMO: Where did the inspiration for this show come from?
BH: Ghostbusters is one of my all-time favorite movies. A little bit of Buffy [The Vampire Slayer] is in there too. It’s about a kid talking about who he’s going to take to the dance and at the same time fighting a werewolf and stuff like that. It’s the kind of show I wanted to rush home and see when I was 12.
AMO: So how does this work? You have success with OddParents and they ask what else you have?
BH: I pitched this in October of 2001 to Albie Hecht, who was running Nickelodeon at the time. Fairly OddParents was doing really well, and he and I had dinner so he could announce that they were picking up more [episodes], which was great, and he asked me if I had anything else. I had this Phantom idea but I didn’t have any drawings. I usually like to show drawings and a script and all that stuff, but I really didn’t have anything. All I had were my words. I said, "It’s a show about a kid with ghost powers who fights ghosts and is in high school. It’s Jonny Quest meets Buffy meets Ghostbusters." And he went, "Let’s make it." It was a very good dinner.
AMO: How do you see this being different form other superhero shows out there?
BH: I think there’s more comedy in ours, and I honestly think we have a lot more character development on this show than a lot of other shows do. On a lot of the shows, the kids are superheroes and they fight the whole time, which is fine. Along with fighting in this, there’s also a lot of character comedy with the kids in school and with the parents.
AMO: Obviously, kids would like to have Danny’s powers.
BH: Oh, absolutely. If any boy had ghost power, I guarantee you the first place he’d go is the girl’s locker room [laughs]. Yeah, especially the kind of powers Danny has–he can fly really fast and he’s really strong. When he’s a ghost, gravity doesn’t affect him so he can lift really heavy things. He can’t control his powers all that well either. He’ll be in the middle of a fight and he’ll turn back into a normal kid.
AMO: Seems like a bit of a departure from Fairly OddParents.
BH: In a way. The difference between OddParents and Phantom is that every half hour of OddParents has two eleven-minute stories and Phantom is one long, 22-minute story. Also, I see it as the four-fingered world of Fairly OddParents and the five-fingered world of Danny Phantom. It’s a little more realistic show. OddParents is joke-joke-joke-joke-joke but this is joke-action sequence-joke. In a way, it’s an easier show to make, believe it or not. Not easy, but easier.
AMO: Who’s doing the animation?
BH: An overseas studio called Rough Draft is doing it and they’re great. They’re like the top studio in Korea. And we do all the pre-production here [in Burbank].
AMO: How is the animation different from Fairly OddParents?
BH: Danny Phantom has more of a noir kind of look, more of a brooding kind of feel. It’s not dark by any means, but it’s a lot more realistic in a way. In OddParents we’ll have a bedpost and the little knob will float above it, things like that. But Danny Phantom is a lot more three-dimensional.
AMO: Do you have any celebrity voices lined up?
BH: We have tons of celebrities on Danny Phantom. All the celebrities play a ghost. Like the Batman show back in the ’60s where every celebrity played a villain, I want everyone in Hollywood to play a ghost eventually. Right now we have Patricia Heaton from Everybody Loves Raymond. She plays an evil lunch lady. We also have Matthew St. Patrick from Six Feet Under playing a hunter ghost called Skulker; Peter MacNicol from Ally McBeal is a nerd ghost from the ’50s; Peri Gilpin from Frasier is a harem girl ghost; Martin Mull (Teamo Supremo) plays Danny’s arch enemy Vlad Plasmius and Freddie Rodriguez from Six Feet Under plays the mayor of Danny’s town.
AMO: How involved in the show are you?
BH: I’m pretty much hands-on with everything, 100% involved. I’m involved with story, storyboarding, character design–I have an unbelievable staff of artists but I have approval on everything. I’m really, really involved with the timing and the writing. That’s where’s I’m really hands-on.
AMO: And you’re still in production on OddParents?
BH: Yeah, in fact we’re wrapping up our 70th episode at the end of this year. We’re stopping at 70 for a while because there are a lot of episodes the network hasn’t aired yet, and we’ve got a bunch of specials coming up. We’re also writing a script for a feature film. So there’s definitely a lot of FOP in the future.
AMO: When do you hope to have the feature out?
BH: I’m hoping to have it out late 2005 or early 2006, but nothing’s been cemented at all.
AMO: What are some of the major considerations in bringing a TV show to the big screen?
BH: First of all there’s story. It’s a much, much bigger story. People have come to expect a big comedic feast when they watch OddParents– you’re just serving dinner for a lot more people. Also, with a movie we get to have a lot more big set pieces, and we can do a lot more with CG and make it more grandiose.
AMO: What can you tell us about the script?
BH: I can’t really tell you too much. It will introduce some new characters. That’s about all I’m going to say. It will definitely be Fairly OddParents amped up to 90 miles an hour.
Nickelodeon has ordered 20 half-hour installments of Danny Phantom, which airs Fridays at 8:30 p.m. Read more of Hartman’s insights on the series in the April issue of Animation Magazine.