Animated series Firebuds premieres on Disney Channel and Disney Junior Wednesday, Sept. 21. The show features a crew of first-responder kids and their talking vehicle sidekicks.
Craig Gerber created the show, and the inspiration came from his son Beau. Beau was 3 when the idea was first hatched.
“He was obsessed with fire trucks,” Gerber told B+C. “He’d carry around a toy fire truck like it was his best friend. It got me thinking, how excited would he be if a fire truck came to life?”
One of the children on Firebuds is named for Beau, though the character spells his name Bo. Bo, Violet and Jayden are all children of first responders. Each kid has a toy vehicle, known as their roommate, that they keep close to them. Bo has fire engine Flash (“wears his heart on his fender,” Gerber said); Violet has ambulance Axl (“a bit reckless,” Gerber said); and Jayden has cautious police car Piston (“never met a rule he didn’t want to follow,” said Gerber).
Bo’s father is Filipino and his mother is Jewish. Violet is Japanese and is adopted, with two mothers. Jayden is Black and his parents are police officers.
Gerber’s other shows include Elena of Avalor and Sofia the First.
There are some big names in the voice cast, including Padma Lakshmi of Top Chef as Chef Pavani; Melissa Rauch of The Big Bang Theory (and NBC’s Night Court reboot) as Beth; Oscar Nuñez of The Office as Chef Fernando; José Andrés, who runs World Central Kitchen, which delivers food to people in disaster-stricken areas, as Chef Al; Pamela Adlon of Better Things as Principal Kagan; “Weird Al” Yankovic as Latch; and Lisa Loeb as Laura.
Regarding Laksmi, Gerber said he has seen every Top Chef episode. “When we started having characters that were going to be chefs and going to be food trucks, she popped into mind,” he said.
With respect to Yankovic, Gerber has been a fan since childhood (“I was one of those kids buying ‘Eat It’ on a cassette tape,” he said). He has long wanted to do a show about a traveling troubadour (“don’t ask me why,” he said), and the parts of an Airstream trailer and the musician who rides in it came up in Firebuds. “We wanted to find someone who can sing, and someone who could also be very funny, who inspires both laughs and pathos,” Gerber said. “Weird Al was the perfect choice.”
Yankovic is the pessimistic trailer (“an oil can-half-empty kind of guy,” said Gerber), and Loeb is the musician. “We have two folks who are actual, real musicians voicing these characters,” Gerber said.
The show’s music, with hints of rock and jazz and funk and some flute tossed in, is distinctive. Beau Black is the series songwriter and Frederik Wiedmann is the composer. “I always want to put forward songs that stand on their own as songs,” Gerber said. “I want the parents to be able to enjoy these as legitimate songs.”
Disney Television Animation produces Firebuds. Episodes can be streamed on Disney Plus.
Each episode features two 11-minute stories that showcase teamwork and volunteerism, and celebrate first responders. “I want kids, and adults, to be inspired by the selflessness that the Firebuds and their parents show,” Gerber said, “and then bring that out to the world.” ■
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Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.