Miles From Tomorrowland debuted on Disney Junior in February 2015 and featured the adventures of Miles Callisto and his family living on a spaceship and working for the Tomorrowland Transit Authority. Set in 2051, the show focused on fostering curiosity about the universe and highlighting the power of teamwork whenever things don’t go as planned. After two seasons, creator Sascha Paladino decided to do what most cartoons actively chose not to do, let the characters age.
The result is Mission Force One, a reboot of Miles From Tomorrowland that premiered earlier this fall. The new show follows Miles and his friends, rather than family, each with a unique ability that contributes to their strength as a team: Miles’ specialty is science, his sister Loretta is a tech wiz, Mirandos is a budding engineer, Blodger is the artist, and Haruna’s forte is mathematics. Talk about a STEAM power group.
Paladino spoke with SYFY WIRE about the reboot, new guest stars Yara Shahidi and Felicia Day, and his goal of making the universe as inclusive as possible.
Can you tell me about the reboot from Miles From Tomorrowland to Mission Force One?
One of the really cool things is when you write for animation you don't usually get a chance to let your characters grow up. I think Bart Simpson's been the same age for 28 years now.
Every other show I've worked on, even if it goes for a lot of seasons, the characters don't age, which is cool in some ways, but as a writer, we love to see characters develop and grow. It was actually a really unique opportunity just from a writing standpoint to think about what it means for our characters to grow up and get a little more independent and go out on their own. We essentially graduated from Miles From Tomorrowland into Mission Force One, where we focus less on the Callisto family and more on Miles and his friends.
There’s clearly a focus on science, engineering, and technology in the show, but what role does STEM play for you in writing the show?
Honestly, STEM is a part of the show, but I’m more interested in infusing it with STEAM. I'm so glad the "A" was added to STEM, because I'm someone who was terrible at science in school. I loved it, but it just felt like it wasn't for me, because I never did well in it, and so I was kind of closed off to it. My brain just doesn't work that way. I kind of joke now that I had to create a TV show about outer space in order to learn about outer space. To me, the arts are a way into science. I need that gateway, otherwise I can't get into it.
I feel like our show does best when all boosters are firing because we use science, but we also use our imaginations to take off from reality into crazy flights of fancy, but that who knows, might be true one day. I like to talk about how the form of the show and the way it’s created exemplifies our goal of combining art and science. Every aspect of the show is hand-drawn on a computer. We couldn’t do the show without human creativity, but we also couldn’t do it without massive computing power. So we practice what we preach.
Beyond that, we try to drop little hints to underscore the girls in science and girls in gaming message. In the new season, there are five kids, but they don't always go on every mission. In one episode, Miles says, "We got to go save this planet, but only three of us can go. We're going to take the best gamers. Miranda, come on." It's like a little moment, but hopefully the fact that we're able to very nonchalantly say that one of the best gamers is Miranda, a girl, means something. Of course, Miles is the leader, but we wrote it so he’s not the best at everything and he needs help. Disney's been really supportive of that, and it's nice to know that we can get some positive messages out there.
How did the collaboration with Yara happen?
We were both asked to do a panel about working science into entertainment for Google and the Paley Center for Media here in Los Angeles back in the fall of 2015. It was called Cracking the Code: Diversity, Hollywood, & STEM. Groups of high school students had to develop storylines for TV shows that incorporated science into them and present their ideas to the panel. Yara and I and the other panelists were judges. We just spent the day together. I was just really impressed that this teenager was so smart and so confident and cool. She fits our show in that she's a kid who loves science and loves learning. In the back of my mind I was like, "We got to find a way to get her on the show."
As we were working on Season 3, we were talking about villains. Someone came up with this great name for a villain: Malison. We wanted someone who was sort of like a Han Solo character, you know you can't really use the term mercenary or bounty hunter in preschool TV, but we wanted someone who was really confident, really working for the villain but could potentially also work of the good guys. That's this character's arc over the season, she actually switches sides. She sort of follows her heart at the end of the day in terms of doing what the right thing is, but we thought it would be really cool to start off as a villain and just to make her really cool, and smart, and tricky. The smart thing led me back to Yara.
We contacted her and she was super excited because she had never played a villain before. She was like, "Thank you for my first villain!" She was just really into it and has been super supportive, and she brought so much to her character. She just has so much attitude and just brains behind everything she does. I feel like she embodies a lot of the goals that we have for the show just in terms of encouraging positivity, encouraging education.
How did Felicia's character come about?
I knew who she was, kind of, and I knew about The Guild, and as I was talking to her at an event we both attended, it just clicked. We’ve done some fun episodes on the show about gaming and we've tried to do some interesting things about gender, and showing girls doing science and engineering, so I thought she would be a perfect fit for our show because she's kind of known for being a female gamer. What if we took that to the extreme and made her the villain in the video game that our character has created? The result was “How to Build a Better Villain.”
Right now it’s my favorite episode that's aired so far. Villains are always the most fun to write, but to write a villain who was the evil version of science education -- I just couldn't stop laughing while I was writing it. It's literally science gone bad, like if you used engineering and tech and all these things for evil instead of good.
In one of Felicia’s scenes, she says: “I love to see science everywhere" as she transforms the room into a nightmare scenario (with science of course). Were any of you consciously thinking of “the floor is lava” game all kids play?
No, not at all. That's so funny. You're right. My kids used to do that all the time. I feel like maybe on some subconscious level we're putting in our personal experiences, but no. It was more like trying to think what would be the most dangerous. If it's a natural environment, what's the most dangerous natural environment? I love how the animators pulled that off, because the space transforms in such a cool way.
I was pleasantly surprised to recognize Whoopi Goldberg's voice while watching Felicia’s episode, and it was clear the characters knew her already. How many episodes has she done?
She's done a bunch! Her character is called the GameMaster.
One of my favorite movies from being a kid is The Last Starfighter. I just loved the idea that by playing a video game you unlock this key to outer space. It was just a really fun, sci-fi idea. I wrote the “Galaxias Quest” episode as kind of a riff on that where Miles plays this immersive hollow game and it turns out that the GameMaster was using the game as a test for help that she needed finding a friend of hers.
I wanted the character to be kind of Willy Wonka-ish, but female, and again I wanted to show images of females in gaming. I don't know how it came up, but someone was like, "Who would be your number one choice?" and I was like, "Well, it would definitely be Whoopi." We’d had a lot of awesome people from The Next Generation guest-star already, like Wil Wheaton, Jonathan Frakes, and LeVar Burton. Luckily, she said yes! Her character's come back a few times as a sort of gaming queen.
Speaking of old movies. I had a Whoopi flashback at one point in that episode because she said something like "Get off of my cloud," which then made me think of the Rolling Stones, which made me think of Jumpin' Jack Flash.
You got it! That was all planned. I think you're the first person who cracked it.
I loved her character. I loved that it was a woman, too. That was the kicker.
Yeah, it's just that whole thing. Representation matters. We have a powerful platform for it thanks to Disney. So we use it whenever we can. And with Disney’s history of Tomorrowland, it feels like the perfect home for this show and this universe. That's something that we've sort of woven through the show as well, a vision of a hopeful future, and that the future is a positive place, which I think is important.
I think we’ve all learned some blastastic lessons today: 1) we never should have stopped watching cartoons, 2) we need to work together and support both science and the arts, and 3) it’s time to watch Jumpin’ Jack Flash again.