In The Mix

Odd Birds

Lisa Hanawalt takes wing with Tuca & Bertie.

Ramin Zahed
  • Netflix
  • Lisa Hanawalt (center) with Tiffany Haddish and Ali Wong

    Eddie Chen

Fans of cartoonist Lisa Hanawalt's weird and wonderful characters have a new reason to binge-watch Netflix this spring.

Best known for creating the distinctive look of Netflix's BoJack Horseman, Hanawalt is creator–executive producer of Tuca & Bertie, an animated series debuting May 3 that features the voices of Tiffany Haddish and Ali Wong. The popular comic actresses play two very different 30-year-old bird-women living in the same building.

"I was watching this toucan stealing eggs and being very greedy on this nature documentary," Hanawalt recalls. "I thought she was kind of my id, so I put my worst traits into this fictional bird character called Tuca. Her friend Bertie is a nice counterpoint to her, as she's a more shy and reserved songbird."

While the show is also executive-produced by BoJack creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg, Tuca & Bertie presents the world through Hanawalt's whimsical point of view.

"The show is based on my own life experiences," she explains. "I think my sense of humor is a little more gross than Raphael's. The writing is very funny, goofy and more absurd than BoJack. We have a more loosey-goosey, childlike universe where objects come to life. We also mix in different types of animation — the show is 2D-animated, but we also have claymation sequences and puppets in the mix."

Hanawalt is thrilled to be making an animated show that she herself would like to watch. "Most children's animated shows weren't grown-up enough for me," she says, "and the adult shows were too harsh and nihilistic in their tone. On our show, the characters really love each other. Even the evil characters have some good qualities, and the good ones are flawed."

The animation, which is produced by Shadowmachine in L.A. and Big Star in South Korea, is equally unexpected. "Our art director, Alison Dubois, is a friend of mine and really understands my sensibility," Hanawalt says. "Not only did she make the show very beautiful, it looks very different from any of the other shows that are out there."

A fan of The Ren & Stimpy Show, Beavis and Butt-Head and Don Hertzfeldt's internet-famous animated shorts, Hanawalt is excited by current developments in animation.

"There are so many cool, new, even experimental shows coming up. It's wonderful to have so many different voices, as more women and people of color are getting their shows greenlit. While a lot of the shows that I love are written by men, many of them don't satisfy my desires as a woman.

 "It was important for me to have a wide variety of people involved in the writing and making of the show," she adds. "We have all kinds of birds and different animals on our show. We even have plants that walk and talk and sing! My hope is that everyone will connect with the show, because it's silly and surreal on the surface, but it's very relatable and has a lot to say about women and friendship and real emotions."

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 3, 2019