Pop Culture


Hang on to your seats for a second. We're going to talk about a show on the Cartoon Network called "Robot Chicken." It's a sketch comedy show like, say, "Saturday Night Live," except done with stop-motion animation, and action figures, and much darker humor.

It especially appeals to those of us in the generation that grew up with cartoons like "Strawberry Shortcake," television shows like "Fantasy Island" and Michael Jackson of the "Thriller" years.

Seth Green and Matthew Senreich are the masterminds of "Robot Chicken," whose third season premiers Sunday and they are obsessed with "Star Wars."

Mr. MATTHEW SENREICH (Creator, "Robot Chicken"): Oh, that's an understatement.

Mr. SETH GREEN (Creator, "Robot Chicken"): Yeah.

Mr. SENREICH: I think it's what drove both of us into the entertainment business. It's just, you know, I remember - going to the theater with my dad when I was, gosh, 3 years old, and then again when I was 5.

Mr. GREEN: The fact that you know both of those all these years.

Mr. SENREICH: I know. It's embarrassing.

Mr. GREEN: That defines your interest.

Mr. SENREICH: But my dad, yeah, my dad took me out of school in third grade to, like, stand online starting at five in the morning for "Return of the Jedi."

Mr. GREEN: You'll never going to need an education the way you needed "Star Wars."

Mr. SENREICH: I know. But…

Mr. GREEN: It's a cultural touchstone. I mean, it's something that everybody can relate to because everybody participate it.

SEABROOK: But we're not just talking about - I want to make sure our listeners understand - you take people's knowledge of "Star Wars" and you then turn it around and make fun of it. And the way you could only do with something that is so culturally deep in our culture of "Star Wars." Let's play this clip here of the emperor who is sitting at his desk and gets a phone call.

(Soundbite of TV program "Robot Chicken")

Mr. SETH MacFARLANE (Actor): (As Supreme Chancellor Palpatine) (Unintelligible) Palpatine.

Unidentified Woman: You have a collect call from…

Unidentified Man #1: Darth Vader.

Mr. MacFARLANE: (As Supreme Chancellor Palpatine) I got to take this. Hold on. Vader, how's my favorite Sith? Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, just slow down. Huh? What do you mean they blew up the Deathstar?

(Soundbite of tone)

Mr. MacFARLANE: (As Supreme Chancellor Palpatine) Who was they? What the hell is an Aluminum Falcon?

Mr. SENREICH: These are the conversations that we end up having. It's like, our head writer Doug just kind of threw out the fact that, like, you know, what was that phone call?

Mr. GREEN: Because at some point, Vader had to call him and be like, I totally screwed up. Everything's blown up and (unintelligible).

Mr. SENREICH: He has to tell his boss, like, yeah. Everything went wrong. That couldn't have been a happy phone call. So…

SEABROOK: Now I understand that this exact scene here is what pigged the interest of George Lucas himself, the creator of "Star Wars."

Mr. GREEN: That's true. We got approached by the publicity team at Lucas film because they had seen the sketch. We sat down with the entire, like, developmental team of Lucas film, right?


Mr. GREEN: So what are you guys interested in doing? We're, like, half-hour "Star Wars" special on "Robot Chicken." And remarkably, they like it.

SEABROOK: And he liked it so much that he went ahead and starred in one of your episodes.

(Soundbite of "Robot Chicken")

Unidentified Man #2: You're George Lucas.

Mr. GEORGE LUCAS (Creator, "Star Wars"): (As himself) Ah, I take it you're here for the "Star Wars" convention.

Unidentified Man #2: I sure am. Want to see my costume? See? I'm a tauntan. But I don't have to tell you. You invented tauntans.

Mr. LUCAS: Well, that's, uh, that's serious?

Unidentified Man #2: Listen to my tauntan call.

(Soundbite of barking)

Mr. LUCAS: Nicely done.

Mr. SENREICH: It was very fun watching Seth direct George because each one was playing up the persona of the other. So George was playing the actor and Seth was playing the director and all they did was played to the stereotypes of what those are supposed to be as they were performing their roles.

SEABROOK: I want to ask you a little bit about how you work here. Working all in stop-motion has got to be difficult.

Mr. SENREICH: Yes, the process is really tedious and you've got an animator specifically dedicated that spends all day moving each character incrementally to form a scene as they take pictures of each movement.

Mr. GREEN: Neither one of us ever animate. We hire professionals to do that.

Mr. SENREICH: Yeah, we have, like, 12 to 14 animators on hand that will do anywhere between, you know, five to ten seconds a day, and they just stand there and move it, you know, little by little and take a picture as it just like the arm moves up. And you just sit there and watch their patience and how much personality they can give to…

Mr. GREEN: An inanimate object.


SEABROOK: Five to ten seconds a day?

Mr. SENREICH: I know.

Mr. GREEN: And that's enormous. Usually with a feature, you know, animation, "The Nightmare Before Christmas" or "Curse of the Were-Rabbit," they'll average like two to three seconds a week because it's so highly detailed and the lighting schemes, and just how complicated a shot can be.

SEABROOK: Well, you know, I was just thinking of that when I was looking at your new - your new season starts next week and I was thinking of all of this. There is one scene where there are four Sleestaks. These are the evil sort of alien things that used to be on the "Land of the Lost."

Mr. GREEN: You like to think that they are misunderstood.

SEABROOK: They're all sitting in a library when one of them gets a phone call. And it's just a play on how Sleestaks talked on the "Land of the Lost." Let's play this…

Mr. SENREICH: Yeah, they have no communication other than that whisper.

SEABROOK: Let's listen to this scene.

(Soundbite of phone ringing)

Mr. SENREICH: There's an escalating aggravation amongst the Sleestaks. There's like five of them in the library and one of their phone rings and they answer it with that sssh, and then somebody shushes them and then they also are shushing each other.

SEABROOK: Which is a play on how Sleetaks communicated in the "Land of the Lost." I mean, it's such inside baseball culture. I can't even get there. But the point is, is it worth the pay off of spending days and days animating something natural?

Mr. GREEN: You know, that's the entire philosophy of our show, is let's only put a joke on screen for as long as it can be sustained. And we do some longer storytelling things with multiple jokes built in, where we're making, you know, tons of commentary about a specific property. We actually have a sketch this season, which is a spoof on "Law and Order" where it's - an entire episode of "Law and Order" told in about a minute-thirty, and every single character is an anthropomorphic chicken, and there's no dialogue. There's just that bong, bong. And they're emoting in a chicken voice. So you've got two detectives inspecting a scene and they're like…

(Soundbite of chicken clucking)

Mr. SENREICH: The entire story, you understand completely without having to understand any word of it.

Mr. GREEN: "Law and Order" is so simple in its execution that you don't need dialogue.

SEABROOK: Okay. Thanks, Seth Green, Matthew Senreich, thank you so much for joining us.

Mr. GREEN: Thank you.

Mr. SENREICH: Oh, thank you.

SEABROOK: Seth Green and Matthew Senreich are the co-creators of "Robot Chicken," the stop-motion animation series of Cartoon Network's Adult Swim.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from