"Miles from Tomorrowland" has some real science facts threaded through it -- there's mention of Jupiter's moon Io in an early episode -- but given how these factoids sit side-by-side with the science fiction gadgets and spaceships, its unclear what positive educational impact their inclusion will have.
The show's family role modeling is commendable. Miles lives with his parents and science-obsessed sister. Dad is a spaceship pilot prone to space-age twists on old-school sayings ("raincheck" becomes "meteorshowercheck") but it's mom who is the boss. Literally. She's the commander sitting in the captain's chair when the family goes out on missions (Dad is essentially the Sulu to mom's Kirk).
Nancy Kanter, executive vice president and general manager of Disney Junior Worldwide, said how to present family configurations to kids that mirror their real world is something that's always in the heads of Disney executives.
"We do look at the world kids live in and try and reflect that in TV shows," she said in a phone interveiw last week. "The fact is there are a lot of working moms and a lot of households where mom is the main breadwinner and dad is more stay at home. We want kids to get the option to see all sorts of role modeling. ... It's a great oppportunuity to show mom is the one in charge but the dad has a real role and responsibility. He's definitely not the dumb dad but he has a different role to play and that's important to us."
So how did Miles end up with a robo-ostrich as his best friend? Kanter said there was always the concept of a connection between Miles and a pet and several variations were considered.
"Look at Timmy and Lassie, that bond children have with their pet animals," she said. "We wanted to portray that in a futuristic way that would make sense. We looked at a number of different designs -- could it be a robotic dog? -- and when we saw the design for the ostrich, it was unexpected and made us laugh. We thought, why not? The notion of this ostrich leadping through space, traipsing over planets was funny to us and an opportunuity to have a character Miles could ride on."
And Disney-philes take note, although "Miles from Tomorrowland" precedes the George Clooney-starring Disney movie "Tomorrowland" by just a few months -- just as Disney XD's "The 7D" came on around the same time the Seven Dwarfs Mine Ride opened at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom last summer -- Kanter said there's no effort at corporate synergy at work.
"There really is never an intentional or direct relationship at all," she said. "Obviously Tomorrowland is something that had resonance for us as a company, so when this was pitched we thought, gee, if we can make a subtle acknowledgement and touchpoint and Tomorrowland and the Tomorrowland Transit Authority is out nod back to our heritage, and the coincidence with the movie is just that."
Here's a trailer for "Miles from Tomorrowland":