C.H. Greenblatt is back with a new Nickelodeon series that’s a far cry from Chowder: Harvey Beaks is about mild-mannered young bird (Max Charles) who lives in a magical forest with a pair of rambunctious imp siblings named Fee (Angelina Wahler) and Foo (Jackson Brundage and Tom Robinson). Whereas Chowder was like a psychedelic trip, Harvey Beaks is more sedate but no less personal. The first two episodes premiered over the weekend and the series airs Sundays at 7:00 pm.
Bill Desowitz: How’d you come up with Harvey Beaks?
C.H. Greenblatt: You start thinking about what you’re going to do next. After doing a show about a sweet guy, I thought I’d do a show about a little mischevious guy. I drew a triangle-faced imp in the forest and I was inspired by walking these dogs every day and there are trees and you start thinking about what’s living in there. And then I usually start drawing different characters to see what sticks and feels like they connect, and I drew this big headed bird and I really liked him. I put a little helmet on him. It’s kind of funny…I started to realize he’s totally me. I’m the kid who always followed the rules. Basically, I’d build the LEGOS but never take them apart to build anything else. “Well, that’s what the instructions said.” And you start to realize that I was a strange kid — I did all these neurotic things and you see there’s a lot of comedy in that. And at the same time, you realize there’s some kind of universality in that.
Everybody wants to break free of their own restrictions, everybody wants to live a little bit bigger than they are. So thinking about this bird, I put the imp with him and added a sister because I needee a girl point of view, and having the twins became Fee and Foo. And I thought I have a lot of friends who were crazier than I was, in high school and college and further in life. You start to see that pattern where you have people who will go a little bit further and make the bigger mistakes, push you to be a little braver. So that was the core dynamic of the show. To me, it was about a kid who was happy with who he is. I think he’s just looking to get more out of life. And the twins get to be that for him and they get a home base and someone who doesn’t judge them.
BD: So what happens to him throughout the season?
C.H.G: Not every story is about him getting into trouble but about childhood and family and friendship and those things that you deal with. A little bittersweetness here and there, excitement and sadness and fear. All the things kids go through but something more fully formed.
BD: What are some of the stories?
C.H.G: One of the stories I’m really excited about is called “The Finger.” Harvey finds this giant stone finger in the forest, almost like the size of a short flag pole. And he finds out it’s alive and he’s worried that it’s trapped and wonders what he can do to help. Ultimately, I wanted a story where he can’t free it and he has to come to terms with the fact that not everything in life can be solved and not every problem has a solution. It came out of the Haiti disaster and everybody doing what they can. You can help the problem but can’t necessarily fix it.
But then we’ve got much lighter, sillier stories: Princess [the owl voiced by Andres Salaff] keeps winning all these trophies because her dad sets up a fake competition for her and all the other kids think it’s unfair so they try to steal the trophies from her. And Princess has to decide if her friends are more important than winning those trophies.
There’s a comet that comes through town every 25 years and Harvey and his dad and bunch of the boys hike out to the middle of the woods to see it and all this crazy stuff happens.
BD: It’s definitely not Chowder.
C.H.G: No, there’s nothing as crazy as what we did with the patterns. I wanted to focus it a bit more on the characters. If you look at the paint style, I always wanted this punk, poster, Winnie the Pooh world where it’s messy and there’s watercolor, an Impressionistic feeling and half-tone patterns. The idea was it was always supposed to capture the softness of Harvey and the wildness of the twins. But the animation itself is pretty traditonal and straightforward. Chowder was let me do everything I can do: this is the only chance I’ll ever have. And coming into this, I wanted to really tell stories and focus on the emotions and give a moodier world. So I think it’s less flashy in that way.
BD: But there’s still a fantastical element. In “Pe-Choo!,” the opener, there’s the giant swimming pool spirit.
C.H.G: The idea is that you can have magic in this world and fantastical things, but magic isn’t really used in the story to solve problems. To me, magic becomes an element: usually a gate keeper. But I wanted to keep the characters pretty relatable.