New buzz is buzzing about Cartoon Network's Adventure Time and the New York Times best seller, The Adventure Time Encyclopaedia:
Inhabitants, Lore, Spells and Ancient Crypt Warnings of the Land of Ooo, Circa
19.56 B.G.E. - 501 A.G.E. - as well as the hit series, Disney's Phineas & Ferb, which is the focal point of the most high-profile crossovers in animation
history with Marvel and Star Wars.
What all of these properties and projects share are the respective talents of Martin Olson and his daughter, Olivia. On Phineas & Ferb, Martin is a writer, actor and songwriter; while Olivia sings many of the songs and performs the voice of Dr. Doofensmirtz's teenage daughter, Vanessa. On Adventure Time, Olivia voices and sings for vampire Marceline - with Martin voicing her evil dad, Hunson Aberdeer.
I sat down with Martin and Olivia to get the story on how they do it all.
GREG EHRBAR: One of the great things about Phineas & Ferb is that it stays within the boundaries of the Disney brand but it is loaded with subtle references. For example, I rejoiced at the mention of "Tralfaz."
OLIVIA OLSON: I think that’s a reason why it’s become so popular. The parents who are watching it with kids are like, "No way! They did NOT just reference that!" It’s all because they have old geezers like my dad writing it.
MARTIN OLSON: (laughs) We didn’t even know Olivia was going to play Vanessa when Dan and Swampy originally pitched the series. They’ve known her since she was a baby and followed her singing career. Vanessa just developed by about the third or fourth episode. They said, "Let’s bring in Olivia."
GREG: In a way, Doofenshmirtz and Vanessa are more relatable than Phineas and Ferb's mom and dad because they have issues, as we all do in one way or another.
OLIVIA: It’s true. Vanessa and Doofenshmirtz they have more problems, more back story and more day-to-day, back-and-forth banter than Candace does with her parents.
MARTIN: Phineas and Ferb don't have any conflict with their parents. Candace gets by, but she's still at odds with her mom because of her ongoing goal.
OLIVIA: To bust her brothers.
GREG: She's like Mrs. Kravitz or Dr. Bellows.
MARTIN: Yeah, that’s right, but she loves her brothers. She also wants to protect them so she is torn. Writing for her character is super-fascinating. Doofenshmirtz and Candace are two other
big reasons for the show's success. And Ashley Tisdale’s performance brings so much to Candace. She is one of the funniest actors that I've written for.
GREG: That’s a huge compliment to her. You’ve written for tons and tons of talented performers, like Kevin Meaney, Bobcat Goldthwaite, Penn and Teller, Kevin Nealon—and you’re known as one of the “Founders of Boston Comedy.”
MARTIN: A group of us started the first comedy club in Boston in. There was Lenny Clark, Steve Wright, Barry Crimmins, everyone in the documentary When Standup Stood Out. Boston was very unique. The comedy clubs in New York and Los Angeles were run by club owners rather than comedians. In Boston, the comedians ran the clubs. It was a totally different vibe. There was more freedom to experiment and share in everyone’s success.
GREG: Olivia, you sing on the Phineas & Ferb CDs and they are really, really nice.
OLIVIA: Thank you. On the Phineas & Ferb Christmas album, one of the tracks says "Sung by Olivia Olson" and the other says "Sung by Vanessa Doofenshmirtz." It was kind of funny, because I gave my friend a CD and she said "I thought you said you had two songs on here. I only see one."
MARTIN: And Olivia, in addition to voice work, is famous for her song writing. She has three fan bases, one is for the movie, "Love Actually," and one each for the animated shows. She has 10 or 20 million hits total.
OLIVIA: Straight out of singing in "Love Actually," when I was ten, they wanted me to be a Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana type kid.
MARTIN: We all said "no." Olivia voluntarily said that she would be a normal kid, not be a child star going on tour, which is what they proposed through her teenage years. She continued writing songs and recording all through high school and stayed true to her promise not to be a showbiz star. So the two animated shows were perfect, because she didn’t have to show her face and she could still write music and sing which was a Godsend. Her singing was one of the reasons that Pen Ward asked her to be on Adventure Time. Pen had heard her on Phineas & Ferb and asked her to play Marceline.
GREG: Let's talk about that. I think people
are fascinated by the enigmatic quality of both of your characters on both
OLIVIA: I was trying to explain Adventure Time to one of my friends who has only seen a few episodes. She said, "I don’t know if I saw your character. There was some bubblegum princess or something." I said, "Oh, no, no, no, no, that’s another person." Princess Bubblegum is super happy, super nice. She is my counterpart. She brings the happy-go-lucky smiles to Candy Kingdom as opposed to our characters from the Nightosphere. We’re supposed to be evil but my character is a good person. She’s a very conflicted evil spirit.
MARTIN: Adventure Time is like Lord of the Rings with layered textures to the characters. Really good writing.
GREG: It's like Oz too. Wicked has Elphaba and Oz the Great and Powerful has Theodora. There’s a motivation behind why they are perceived the way they are.
OLIVIA: Yeah, especially since they're not really human. These characters have been living for thousands and thousands of years. They have a reason for why they are the way they are. It’s really cool.
GREG: It's interesting that Olivia voices two characters on two separate shows, but both have a dysfunctional relationship with their evil Dads. In the case of Adventure Time, do the lines blur between real life and fictional father and daughter?
OLIVIA: It does a little bit. When Dad came in to record, it was weird, talking about father/ daughter issues, saying things like "Dad, you do love me?" In some ways, we are playing characters but at the same time, we were speaking to one another as if it was a real thing.
GREG: Do we find out the backstory?
OLIVIA: Well he did eat my fries and I think that got me mad for a cool three hundred years. They have been doing Marceline and Ice King backstories and shining a light on why the relationships are the way they are now. "Simon and Marcie" showed how during the war, Simon was taking care of young Marceline before he went crazy. So where was my dad, Hunson? I think they are going to show why our relationship is estranged.
GREG: Plus there's the new book about Adventure Time.
MARTIN: Pen Ward asked me to write it because he liked my first book, Encyclopedia of Hell.
GREG: Could you explain that? It's a comical book, right?
MARTIN: It's a Mark Twain type of adult satire, an overview of mankind in the form of an invasion manual written by the devil for his demon army.
GREG: That makes me think of that infamous Irwin Allen movie with Groucho Marx and Vincent Price, "The Story of Mankind."
MARTIN: Yes, the book has a very similar vibe to that movie. If you look at mankind from the devil's point of view, you can satirize everything and all bets are off. The ultimate thing in that book is that both the devil and God are in the book and they are both idiots - except that God is the only one who knows he is an idiot.
OLIVIA: When I tell my friends the title of the book they say, "Ohhhhhh, okay." Then I say, "No, it's a satire." Then they say "Uhuhh..."
MARTIN: Anyway, Pen had asked me to be Marceline's father, then he called to say he liked my first book and asked me write a similar encyclopedia for his show Adventure Time using the same voice. I suggested it would be great if Marceline wrote comments all through the book. Penn said it was a great idea. So Olivia got the galleys and wrote comments all through the book with a red pen.
OLIVIA: There are tons of photos, breakdowns of all the characters. It’s really cool.
MARTIN: It has the same illustrators as my first book: Tony Millionaire, Renee French, Mahendra Singh and Celeste Moreno. There are crazy chapters in it like "If You Read This Chapter, You Will Die," At the very end, the book itself falls in love with the reader and then has to convince the reader to stop reading. A magical spell is put over the book by Hunson that makes the book come alive as you are reading it.
OLIVIA: The illustrations are congruent to how "Adventure Time" is illustrated.
MARTIN: Interestingly, I was told by CN not to mention upcoming characters and certain backstories, so the book is more a satirical character study of Ooo viewed through the prism of the Nightosphere. In the book, Hunson, my character, basically doesn’t care about any of the other characters and thinks they are all idiots.
OLIVIA: Exccept for myyyy section because….I almost teared up a little bit because I felt like he was writing about me. It was really funny.
MARTIN: (laughing) It's true.
OLIVIA: "This is my wonderful daughter, blah, blah, blah…" I was like, "Awwww Dad".
MARTIN: (laughs) It's true I was getting a little emotional writing about my TV daughter because it was such a unique opportunity to write about my real daughter.
As of this writing, Olivia and Martin have just released an independent CD of strange songs inspired by their TV counterparts called "The Father-Daughter Album of Unspeakable Beauty" and available on cdbaby.com.