Ron Holsey on Hatching Apple’s Charming ‘Interrupting Chicken’ (EXCLUSIVE CLIP)

***This article originally appeared in the December ’22 issue of Animation Magazine (No. 325)***

Ron Holsey
Ron Holsey

When Ron Holsey, executive producer of Apple TV+’s new animated show Interrupting Chicken, got together with animation producer Loris Kramer Lunsford (Johnny Test, StarBeam, Supernoobs) to develop the project, he had a feeling it was the perfect fit right away.

“Loris, whom I worked with on Johnny Test, was a fan of David Ezra Stein’s Caldecott Medal-winning book and thought it would make a great series that could teach kids about storytelling and literary devices,” says Holsey. “My first exposure to creative writing was in elementary school, and that’s what ultimately led to me working as an animation writer today. I was interested in helping to inspire the next generation of creative storytellers and this seemed like the perfect opportunity.”

“ A chicken who interrupts? What’s not to love?!” Holsey asks. “I came up with a take and Loris and I pitched it to the various networks and streamers. And it just so happened that Tara Sorensen, head of kids’ programming at Apple, was also a fan of the book and had already been interested in turning it into a series. She liked my take and we were off to the races.”

Interrupting Chicken
‘Interrupting Chicken’ features the voices of Sterling K. Brown as Papa (center), Juliet Donenfeld as creative chick Piper (right) as well as Maximus Tran as Benjamin (left), Sarah Elizabeth Thompson as CJ, Luke Lowe and Duckston, Jakari Fraser as Theodore, Mary Faber as Mom, LaNisa Frederick as Mrs. Slothworth and more.

Telling Tales

One of the aspects of the show that stands out for Holsey, whose numerous credits include Martha Speaks, Odd Squad and Curious George, is that it mixes the real world of the chicken and the other farm animals with a fantasy ‘Storyworld.’ “Because the educational aspect of the show is all about creative writing, we can have a lot of fun in Storyworld with physical gags, squash-and-stretch humor and otherwise wacky stuff that you don’t always see in a series tailored to this age group,” notes Holsey. “We also get to go to a lot of fun locations, like our fairytale kingdom, outer space and a jungle temple, among others. I love that every episode is so different and we get to see our main character in different situations interacting with different characters every time.”

The animation for the series is produced by Ottawa-based Mercury Filmworks using Toon Boom Harmony. While the show honors the book’s original whimsical, geometric visual language, it also puts its own special stamp on the characters. “Because we’re going between our ‘real world’ and fantasy ‘Storyworld’, the team at Mercury came up with a slightly different visual language for each,” says Holsey. “Our Storyworld design aesthetics and effects (like water effects, etc.) are a bit flatter and take some cues from the old Golden Books/Mary Blair style. I love that we’re doing a 2D show that has such a rich, eye-popping color palette.”

Interrupting Chicken
Interrupting Chicken

“A big task was building out our characters and backgrounds to go beyond the book,” says the exec producer. “That coupled with the fact that every episode features a different story setting means that we had a pretty big lift in terms of design. But that also gave us a lot of room for freedom and experimentation. We were able to re-imagine a lot of well-known fairy tales and turn them on their heads, both in terms of the content and the design. Another challenge was making sure our main character, Piper, could appear in both our real world and Storyworld without looking out of place against the slightly different aesthetic.”

Holsey, who’s a big fan of the Disney renaissance movies, Nickelodeon cartoons of the 1990s and Pixar films, says he would love to see the show’s audiences come away with the idea that they can all be writers and storytellers. “So much of creative writing is about experimenting with characters and ideas and situations and I hope the show empowers kids to try that for themselves,” he mentions. “Every episode explores a different aspect of creative writing whether it’s tone, setting, cliffhangers or confronting the blank page, etc. My hope is that kids come away inspired to come up with their own stories (or twists on existing stories) whether it’s by putting pen to paper or only using their imaginations.”

Interrupting Chicken
Interrupting Chicken

Holsey says he’s always interested in those who are pushing the boundaries and really exploring what animation can do. “I saw some fantastic features at the Annecy festival this year, including Nayola, a film about the Angolan Civil War that played with magical realism and the power of myth,” he says. “I see all of these great indie features at festivals and I’m always hoping that one of them will break out in a big way. I’m thrilled that people of my generation and younger love animation and are craving more and more innovative animated fare. I think the future of animation is bright and I’m excited to see what the next generation of storytellers has in store.”

Interrupting Chicken premieres on Apple TV+ on Friday, November 18. Check out an exclusive sneak peek at Episode 1 below:

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