Buddy comedies never go out of style — especially when they’re animated and they center on a couple of mismatched friends. Disney TV’s new, brightly colored series Kiff , which centers on the hilarious adventures of an optimistic but accident-prone squirrel and her mellow rabbit pal, follows some of the belove traditions of the genre. The brainchild of South African creators and exec producers Lucy Heavens (Space Chickens in Space) and Nic Smal (Caillou), the show was inspired by the people and places the duo experienced when they were growing up in Cape Town.
Heavens and Smal met at an animation studio in Cape Town in 2017 and quickly realized that they spoke the same comedy language. “We have quite different sensibilities, but a very similar sense of humor,” says Smal. “There aren’t really any opportunities to work on this kind of comedy in South Africa (as yet!), so we just decided to create a series that would be the most free, fun world for us to sink our teeth into in terms of story and comedy — and just enjoy that process.”
A Quick Turnaround
According to Smal, they were very surprised when their show was optioned by Disney only five months after they created it. “Development can always be a long road,” he explains. “So, we really appreciated the fact that we each had a co-creator to walk that road with, and we poured ourselves into a pilot animatic and animation test. It has been, and continues to be so, so fun! Throughout the process we have found a very collaborative way to work, and the voice of the show really comes alive when we are working together. We have always enjoyed feeding into each other’s primary disciplines in a really productive way. Lucy is a writer, who’s an art person.”
“And Nic is an artist (and comedian and musician!) who’s really great at story. We wanted to create a show that we’d have a blast making and that we’d love to watch, and we think Kiff delivers on both of those!” says Heavens. “Both of us get a kick out of exploring human nature and finding the funny stories that originate from the more humdrum parts of life. Because of that, all our inspirations come from, just, being alive! Relationships, embarrassing moments, societal expectations, love, bureaucracy, boredom, joy — we just love telling stories that reflect what it is to be a person.”
She also points out the they had a very free space for all kinds of stories to be told. “Musically, it is so fun to write songs and play with every musical genre imaginable, and in a way that doesn’t speak down to kids,” says Heavens. “We write the songs together, but Nic is the really accomplished musician. And of course our characters are hilarious to us. We sort of see them as different parts of the human psyche; the lust for life, the sensitive and vulnerable parts of ourselves, the self-centered, ego-driven parts of ourselves — they are all represented, and intersect in interesting ways.”
The duo began putting the pitch deck for the show together back in December of 2017. “Our team is divided between New York and LA [the show is produced by Titmouse in assoc. with Disney Channel],” says Smal. The show is hand-drawn on paper, then scanned into Toon Boom Harmony. “In terms of visual style, we wanted to reference Cape Town, where we’re from, along with its flora and fauna, its warm colors and unique geography. Because our hometown is at the foot of a mountain, everywhere has a mountainous backdrop — just like Table Town!”
Smal and Heavens are huge fans of The Simpsons and you can see that show’s influence on their creations. “We’re millennials, so we communicate solely via Simpsons references,” says Heavens. “But we’re also children of 1990s Disney films, TV and (not animation but) Monty Python as well. Matt Groening, Genndy Tartakovsky and Stephen Hillenburg are three of our all-time heroes. We also love Clone High, SpongeBob SquarePants, Monty Python, Futurama, Animaniacs and Bill Nye, the Science Guy!”
So, what were their biggest challenges as they set out to make their show? As South Africans, we had little to no experience with US studios, or relationships with people who did have that experience,” says Heavens. “It was expensive and difficult for us to invest in trips to the U.S.A. and Europe to pitch our show and figure out how the industry works.” Adds Smal, “Working across three time zones isn’t the most sustainable way to work as showrunners. We’re based in Cape Town and production is happening between L.A. and New York. It is such a collaborative medium; there aren’t enough meeting hours in the day.”
When it comes to lessons they have learned from their creative journey, Smal responds. “Persistence is the lesson of our lives. Don’t wait for other people to create opportunities for you. Just make, create, do!” Heavens chimes in, “Development is a long road, so make sure you’re making a show that you really want to watch!
The duo can’t wait for audiences to discover their characters and their hilarious adventures. “What do we hope they take away from the show?” asks Heavens. “Be kind because everyone you meet is fighting a great battle! That … and some LOLs!”
Kiff premieres on March 10 at 8 p.m. on Disney Channel and March 15 on Disney+.