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Disney’s ‘Miles From Tomorrowland’ Merges Fact, Fiction for Preschool Audiences

Miles From Tomorrowland,” Disney Junior’s family adventure series for kids 3-7, has life in outer space down to a science, literally.

The series, which follows the exploits of young adventurer Miles Callisto and his family of space explorers, aims to include science facts in each of its entertaining science fiction stories. And it does that with the help of a cadre of experts from such celebrated places as the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA and the Space Tourism Society as well as key voice talent with strong ties to science and science fiction (“Star Wars” and “Star Trek,” anyone?).

“I’ve always been interested in science, but I was never that great at it. My mind always went toward the arts,” says creator Sascha Paladino. “When I pitched this show about outer space, I wanted to make sure the science was good, that we were mixing science fiction and science fact in an intelligent way. Luckily, when Disney bought the show, they were on board with that.”

Paladino and crew work most closely with JPL’s Dr. Randii Wessen, who oversees the science in each episode from concept through production. “The difficult part for me is to decide when do I say ‘Hey, you can’t do that’ versus letting it slide,” says Wessen. “A classic example, and the biggest one, is that right now we can’t travel faster than the speed of light. That’s a known physics law. This show is about interstellar travel across the galaxy. You have to go faster than light speed,” he explains. “There’d be no show if I said, ‘Hey, you can’t do this.’ I had to leave that one alone.”

“We don’t always agree on how much science to put into an episode, but I think that’s a good thing because we’re always trying to find the balance,” says Paladino of their work with Wessen. “We don’t want ‘Miles’ to feel like a didactic show where the learning is clear. We want to tell really exciting and entertaining stories and have science woven in organically.”

Another example of that creative tension between science and art took place over breakfast — sort of. “We try to put a spacey spin on everything, so we thought they should have floating pancakes for breakfast,” says Paladino. “Randii is not a fan of the floating pancakes.”

Wessen picks up the tale: “I’m trying to get the gravity field right on Mars so that it will look right, and the writers are putting anti-gravity powder in pancakes? So when Miles eats them, does he float?”

“Randii just doesn’t think that’s possible. And a lot of things are not possible, but we just liked the entertainment value of it. He couldn’t get his scientific brain around it,” explains Paladino. “But floating pancakes are just funny.” They reached a truce. “He’ll give us floating pancakes, if we put in some real facts about Jupiter when we go inside of it,” says Paladino. “But it’s become kind of a running joke that he’ll never get on board with the floating pancakes.”

Though many of the show’s viewers haven’t even started school yet, the experts say its never too early to introduce the to science. “It’s important to inspire young people across the board to have an interest in science, technology, mathematics and the environment, to be aware that they can play a role in helping to create a more peaceful world,” says consultant John Spencer, a space architect who has come up with designs for such things as orbital space yacht for extremely high-end tourists. Spencer provides the artists with a different kind of science inspiration. “It’s a very different thing than from Randii, who is more hard science,” explains Paladino. “John is more of a dreamer in a way. He dreams up these great concepts.”

“We had lots of discussions about what a star ship might actually be,” says Spencer of his work with the “Miles From Tomorrowland” team. “We wanted to make it friendly … just make it a home.”

And home is where the family is. From NASA’s Dr. Yvonne Cagle, the artists learned about the importance of companionship in space. “There’s no way you’re going to be able to explore and ultimately colonize a planet” without companionship, Cagle explains. “The crew becomes your extended family.”

Cagle sees the “Miles From Tomorrowland” audience as the next generation of real-life space explorers. “The young people we’re inspiring now, the next generation, they are the Martians,” she says, referring to last year’s film starring Matt Damon. “The truly are going to be the next lifeforms on Mars, so it’s important to engage and excite them. And this is a great way to do that learning. I like to tell our next generation of young people that their spacecraft is their own dreams and they can travel as far as their imagination can carry them.”

“Miles From Tomorrowland” has also gleaned sci-fi cred from two of the most beloved franchises in the genre — “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” — via the voice talents of George Takei of the original “Star Trek” series and films, Wil Wheaton from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill from “Star Wars.”

“As we were talking about who might play certain roles, we said ‘Who’d be the absolute best?’ and we’ll go from there,” says Paladino. “My first choice was Mark Hamill to be on the show in some way. We had this character, an alien villain (Gadfly Garnett), and we knew he’d played the Joker in the animated ‘Batman’ series. We said ‘It probably won’t happen. No one’s heard of the show. It hasn’t been on yet. But he said yes!”

Paladino said it snowballed from there. Takei played an alien that can only see in the infrared spectrum and Wheaton played the villainous Commander S’Leet in guest roles. “It was great having conversations with Mark and Wil about the effects that their respective ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Star Trek’ franchises have had on people who wanted to pursue careers in science after seeing them. To think that our show has a little bit of that DNA, it feels right,” says Paladino. “I feel very lucky the agreed to be on our show.”

The series will conclude its first season Friday at 10 a.m. on the Disney Channel with an episode called “Galatech: Secrets of the Black Hole.” As the show embarks on its second season this summer, space is proving to be an ever evolving frontier. There is a lot of real world science for “Miles From Tomorrowland” to explore, including real planets and imaginary ones that have a basis in fact.

“We’ll get in room with Randii and he’ll tell us about weird science facts,” explains Paladino. “For instance, he told us there could be atmospheric conditions that could result in a planet made from diamonds. Immediately, all the writers in the rooms we’re like, ‘Oh, I’ve got it! There’s totally a story coming together.’ But Randii’s like, ‘What’s so great about that? It’s just a science fact.’ But to us, it’s like story gold.”

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