Since it first debuted back in 2018, Big City Greens, the Disney animated series about the titular Green family of farmers ,has garnered not only a dedicated fanbase but acclaim for both its comedy and heartfelt sincerity. So it didn’t come as a surprise when an animated movie was announced a few years ago. Debuting this week, Big City Greens the Movie: Spacecation follows the Green family as they embark on their biggest adventure yet, a family vacation to outer space!

Ahead of the film’s premiere, we had the chance to talk with Big City Greens creators and executive producers brothers Chris and Shane Houghton about going bigger and bolder with this Spacecation animated movie as well as teasing what’s to come in the current fourth season.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Taimur Dar: Films based on television shows are always a challenge. You want to reward longtime fans but simultaneously make it accessible to new viewers. I think you strike the perfect balance with Spacecation. How did you approach the story for the film?

Chris Houghton: You nailed it. We had a lot of discussions around that same question. What are the audience’s expectations if you’ve seen the show and if you haven’t seen the show? We wanted this film to be a standalone story that was very accessible to new viewers, but we want to reward longtime viewers. We want it to feel like it’s something bigger and better than anything we could ever do in the series. Shane and I had our own question of, “Why make this movie?” It’s an exciting creative challenge to take on. But just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do something. We talked a lot about this and the story we landed on seemed to answer both of those questions. It’s bigger and better than the series. Hopefully longtime fans will see that and get excited but [it’s] still accessible to new viewers.  

Shane Houghton: We reintroduce the Greens and Gwendolyn Zapp. If you’ve never seen Big City Greens, you can jump into the movie and that can be your first introduction. For people who have followed along, Gwendolyn Zapp tried to launch the Kludge, Bill’s truck, into space. Going back as far as the pilot, “Space Chicken,” space has always been in the DNA of this series. When we were looking for movie ideas, it felt like a natural expansion of this theme of fish out of water. The Greens move from the country to the city and they’re very out of place. Where are they going to more out of place than outer space?


Dar: That segues perfectly into my next question. One of my favorite Key and Peele sketches is the Family Matters parody where they comment on the fact that the show started out as a working-class family sitcom but basically became Quantum Leap by the end. Big City Greens has had some wacky adventures but you still ground it in some sense of reality. I think Spacecation is the furthest you’ve pushed it. Where do you draw the line before you break away from your roots?

Chris Houghton: There’s a tricky thing that happens with any long running TV series that I think we’ve all witnessed. As the series goes along, the writers and showrunners feel an obligation to go a little bit bigger and crazier because you’re always trying to beat what you last did. However, you run the risk of breaking your own show. “Jumping the shark.” We try to stay very cognizant of that because that’s not what we want. We have a list of rules for ourselves and our writers and storyboard artists as to the parameters in which Big City Greens exists. With this movie, taking them to space on the page feels almost too crazy. This is a simple show about farmers. Why are they going to space?

There are a couple of in-world rules I feel keep it grounded and gave us permission to do this. One of which was Gwendolyn Zapp. She’s got this amazing technology that we’ve used in the show. She’s kind of like a technological Willy Wonka. That really opens the door where we can take the Greens. Cricket is known for his pranks and stunts. He tricks his family into going to space. That character choice and character driven motivation helped justify it to us and keep it grounded. Yes, it’s about them going to space but they’re not meeting aliens. The core story is very similar to our episodes which is family and family dynamics and this butting heads between Cricket and Bill. We hope all those elements together help make it feel grounded even though it’s something weird and bigger than anything we’ve done in the series.  


Dar: The film features some pretty major stars including Renée Elise Goldsberry perhaps best known for her role as Angelica Schuyler in the Hamilton musical. As soon as I saw her name, I knew she’d be singing in the film and sure enough. Did you write the character, Colleen Voyd, with her in mind as well as tailor the song to her singing strengths?

Shane Houghton: That’s a funny story. Obviously, she was in Hamilton and fantastic. We saw her in Girls5eva which she’s very funny in. She’s also in She-Hulk where she plays a very buttoned-up and straitlaced tough lady. She had all the qualities we were looking for in an actor. When we originally cast her, she did not sing. There was not a song. We had the movie and when we put it all together and were watching it, we’re like, “There’s this gap for songs.” There’s this big opening number and it’s really fun. And the next song is “Space is Fun” which comes too late into the movie. You forget that there are songs in the movie if that’s the second song.

We realized we need a song somewhere in between. We were looking at Colleen’s introduction and [realized] there are some story points that we want to reiterate at this moment and a really fun way to do that is with a song. Someone at Disney was like, “You have a Grammy Award-winning actor in your movie and she’s not singing?” [Laughs]. Turns out, that song ends up being the most banger of all the songs. Ariel Vracin-Harrell, the assistant director on the movie, boarded it and elevated to this whole new level. It comes at the perfect time in the movie. That was a big breakthrough when making the movie.     

Dar: I didn’t realize it until recently, but Nancy and Gloria have almost never interacted at all. In fact, you actually address that in the movie and rectify it  by giving them their own side adventure. Was this new dynamic something you realized yourselves and wanted to highlight in Spacecation?  

Chris Houghton: It was exactly that. We have conversations probably similar to our audience about the show and the dynamics. We noticed the same thing. Gloria and Nancy just don’t have often get a chance to interact on the show. Nancy is taking care of the farmhouse in the country. And Gloria is taking care of her café in the city. Naturally, they just don’t have opportunities to interact. But knowing these two characters, we think we all can agree it would be fun to see them together. This movie allowed us that opportunity. They make a fun duo.

Shane Houghton: We’re always looking for new dynamics in the series like, “What if we put Remy and Grandma together?” We look for those pairings and sometimes we start there for story ideas. I hadn’t thought too much about Nancy and Gloria. Probably because it’s two adults and we try to mix and match with the kids a little bit more. Once you remove the Greens and put them in space, who’s left on Earth to be doing the Earth stuff? That’s when it’s a lightbulb moment of it would be so great because we’ve never done that. There’s done of opportunities for these two characters to go on a side quest together. Both Anna Akana who voices Gloria and Wendi McLendon-Covey who voices Nancy are so funny. It turned out to be a really delightful B story.

Dar: Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t discuss Big City Greens Season 4. There are obviously some big things coming up with Chip Whistler. Anything you can tease?

Shane Houghton: I’m glad you brought that up. I feel like online before the movie was released, people were assuming Chip was going to be a big part of the movie. We had a lot of discussions when we were first pitching the movie, if Chip should be the villain in it. We realized we didn’t want to do that because Chip requires some homework. You have to know the saga of Chip and [have] watched the series to understand the relationship between the Greens and Chip. We didn’t want to do that because we wanted anybody to come into the movie and be able to enjoy it. But we did have these really big and crazy ideas for Chip. Since we weren’t going to do it for the movie, what we did was break it into pieces throughout Season 4. There’s a really big Chip story that is told through multiple episodes throughout Season 4. A couple of episodes have already aired that revealed Chip in fact did not die in the helicopter crash. He is back in Big City in hiding. There are more episodes to come in Season 4 that will continue that story and we will bring that conflict to a head sometime in Season 4.   

Big City Greens the Movie: Spacecation debuts Thursday, June 6 (8:00 p.m. EDT), on Disney Channel and Friday, June 7 on Disney+.