Christmas is a time for family, for traditions and for … zombie elves? Apparently, if you're talking about Adult Swim's twisted "Robot Chicken" universe. The stop-motion animation series skewers some holiday classics with "The Robot Chicken Christmas Special: X-Mas United," and director Tom Sheppard and head writer Tom Root gave us a little preview.
What can you tease about this year's Christmas special?
TOM SHEPPARD: Well, we are breaking with our usual sketch format and actually doing a narrative story this time out.
TOM ROOT: I think this is the longest story we've ever told with the Nerd, probably, so it was a lot of fun to be able to get out of our comfort zone and stretch out, tell a longer story.
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How would you describe the tone for this special?
TR: It's actually kind of a sweet story because the Nerd is such a sweet character. There was the same nasty, nihilistic humor that we love doing, but as opposed to just about everything we've ever done, the Nerd actually is a character you root for and you care about his feelings and want him to achieve his goals.
Were you inspired by any famous Christmas specials?
TS: We take shots at everything from "The Polar Express" to "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Fred Claus." "Snowpiercer," "Planes Trains and Automobiles," with varying levels of love for those properties. Nothing says Christmas like "Snowpiercer."
TR: We made fun of a lot of things I've never seen, which is always a challenge. I've never seen "Fred Clause," but most of America probably hasn't either.
Do you have any personal favorites in the Christmas genre?
TR: When I was a kid my favorite Christmas special was always "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." I really liked the look of it, and it was my first introduction to stop-motion animation.
TS: I loved "Rudolph," too, but I have to say as an adult watching it — and we have a little bit of fun with this — Santa's attitude towards Rudolph in the special is not very nice. He basically calls him a freak until he finds that he can make use of his freakishness. So we have some fun with that.
"Robot Chicken" has been on Adult Swim for 10 years. How weird does that feel?
TR:It's actually year No. 15 for us here, because we started the web series in the year 2000. So we really don't like to think about that we're in our 40s and we started in our 20s. But it's been really rewarding to watch it grow over the last decade. I love when interns come up and say, "I watched your show in junior high! It's what made me want to get into animation!"
Follow Ned Ehrbar on Twitter:@nedrick