Hamster and Gretel Creator on the Shows Greatest American Hero Inspiration, and Its Connection to Phineas and Ferb

“Phineas and Ferb” co-creator Dan Povenmire was absent-mindedly doodling on a scrap of paper during a meeting when he realized he had sketched his way into his next TV show: It was a hamster, in a superhero outfit.

“It just came from my subconscious somewhere,” he told Variety. “I liked it and I set it aside and took a picture of it. I brought it home, and then I pitched a bunch of ideas for a show for it to my daughter when I was tucking her in one night. I was able to come up with a whole bunch of ideas for it right away.”

Povenmire had just wrapped Disney+’s “Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Candace Against the Universe,” and was ready to pitch something new. So while on vacation, he created the pilot that would become his latest series, “Hamster and Gretel,” which premieres Friday on Disney Channel (9:35 p.m. ET) and Disney XD (10 p.m. ET). In the series, teenage Kevin is driving his younger sister Gretel in the family van when aliens show up and grant the duo superpowers. Except Kevin doesn’t get the powers: Gretel’s pet hamster does.

That bit was inspired by the cult classic 1980s TV series “The Greatest American Hero.” “That’s sort of a spiritual grandfather of this show,” Povenmire said. “I love the fact that when he got the superhero powers [in ‘Greatest American Hero’], he loses the instruction manual. So he doesn’t know all the things he can do and sometimes things just happen to him. And that’s sort of what we’ve been doing here. Gretel doesn’t even know all the powers she has, but ‘I have super strength and I can fly and I’ve got heat vision.’ We just added a really bizarre superhero power in the second half of the season that we’re trying to figure out whether or not there’s a way we can use that power.”

Gretel is voiced by Povenmire’s daughter, Meli Povenmire, in her first major role, and that also came by happenstance: Povenmire had her do the temp voice for Gretel in his first animatic. “And she was really good,” he said. “So we kept her through the testing and then she tested really well. And we were like, ‘Okay, let’s still see if we can find somebody with some marquee value that that would make this as funny,’ because her sense of humor is sort of my sense of humor. I don’t have to explain how to say the jokes to her really, she just gets it. And then she just survived all the way through and eventually she just became Gretel.”

Ironically, casting Meli Povenmire helped save a few dollars in production: “We don’t have to pay for studio time because she records right here,” Povenmire said of his home office.

Povenmire’s voice pops up in “Hamster and Gretel,” but unlike “Phineas and Ferb” — in which he played Dr. Doofenshmirtz — he opted not to take a regular role this time. “I’m a couple of repeating characters but they just wasn’t a character that felt like like that’s me,” he said. “Even though the the dad in the show looks exactly like me. But that shouldn’t sound like me, that should sound more like Matt Jones, so we got him to come in and do it.”

Besides Meli Povenmire and Jones, the show’s voice cast also includes Michael Cimino (“Love, Victor”), Joey King (“Bullet Train”), Beck Bennett (“Saturday Night Live”) and Liza Koshy (“Liza on Demand”).

Povenmire based Kevin and Gretel on his own relationship with his sister. “There are 10 years between us,” he said. “So we had a different relationship than if we had been next to each other in age. If you’re that far apart, then you just become like another parent, except you the fun one who will still pillow fight with them. And drive them to go see ‘The Goonies’ 20 times. I think that dynamic is something I don’t see in kids shows very often, this whole area where the older sibling can be almost another adult where they’re sort of caught in that in between.”

And then, of course, the moment that Povenmire really thought “Hamster and Gretel” was a go was when the title came into place. “I was like, ‘I’ve got to pitch this now,’” he said. “Because you come up with a title that sounds immediately like something to people, I’m like, that’s too good of a thing not to have out there.”

Unlike “Phineas and Ferb” and the follow-up “Milo Murphy’s Law,” Danville is not the setting for “Hamster and Gretel.” But it’s the same universe, he said. “Milo and Phineas both lived in Danville, so this is like a town over,” he said. “I feel like, hopefully we’ll get a second season. But if we get a third season, then I’m gonna pitch doing a crossover maybe of all three of them.”

This also reps the first show since “Phineas” and “Milo” for Povenmire where he’s not partnered with Jeff “Swampy” Marsh. But the duo are still tight — Marsh frequently appears on Povenmire’s TikTok videos — and you’ll hear them voice old guys playing chess on “Hamster and Gretel.”

What about the future of “Phineas and Ferb”? “There’s always talk and I’ll do whatever,” he said. “I told [Disney] I can do two projects at once, I’ve done a bunch of times. Just let me know when and where and how serious you are about it. Before we did ‘Candace Against the Universe,’ there were several conversations we had before that about about dipping into that pool again. And ‘Candace Against the Universe’ did really well for them. So I imagine we’ll do that again, at some point. I get the feeling that we’re not done with ‘Phineas and Ferb’ yet.”

Watch a teaser for the first season of “Hamster and Gretel” here:

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