Brent Butt had to be convinced to make Corner Gas Animated.
He’d been worried, just like he’d been worried before making Corner Gas The Movie. The original Corner Gas television series — which ran for six seasons on CTV and broke all kinds of audience records — was beloved. Even its reruns draw in huge audiences. He didn’t want to sully its memory.
But the 2014 Corner Gas film had been a box office hit (which, considering how hard it is to get Canadians to watch Canadian films, is really saying something), and the network wanted more Corner Gas content.
“We didn’t want to do the same thing, and we started kicking around the animation idea, and that scared me, too,” recalls the Vancouver based writer, actor, producer, director and comedian. “It could be something that people don’t like and we run the risk of hurting the legacy of the show.”
Butt and his team made a short animated demo, and they liked enough to run with it. The result of that leap of faith — Corner Gas Animated — premiered in April 2018, and proceeded to smash audience records for the Comedy Network and win awards (most recently, a Leo Award for Best Animation in a Program or Series).
Ratings and awards are just the cherry on the top for Butt. “The thing that’s really satisfying for me is when people say, ‘It just feels like more episodes of Corner Gas,’” says Butt.
Thus, these iconic, flawed and zany characters from Dog River, Saskatchewan — Brent, Lacey, Wanda, Hank, Davis, Karen, Oscar and Emma — continue to exist in their gas station-centric world, albeit in animated form.
On Canada Day, Corner Gas Animated returns for its second season. Like its first season, the second season features a mix of Dog River antics interspersed with fantasy and dream sequences.
“These little fantasy sequences we do, they’re really fun to break the mold of our show and play with the reality of it,” says Butt. “Within our real show world, I want to keep things pretty real, but then when we have these fantasy sequences and dreams, that’s where you can really cut loose.”
In the season premiere, Brent is terrorized in his nightmares by a murderous Michael J. Fox, and Fox voices his animated alter ego himself.
“I got myself in a pickle because normally the way cameos come together is you write an episode and you get an idea for a quick, funny joke and we approach the person we want to give the cameo to and if they say no, we just get rid of the cameo,” says Butt. “But I foolishly wrote this whole episode with Michael J. Fox specifically in three big scenes, and then it was like, ‘Oh man, what if he doesn’t do it? We’re screwed.’”
But Fox read the material and thought it was funny, and Butt and co. flew to Fox’s office in New York to record him.
Fox is one of a handful of high-profile Canadians who can be heard in the second season of Corner Gas Animated. Butt recorded Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in his office on Parliament Hill.
“With the Prime Minister, the first thing he said was, ‘I’m very open to direction, I don’t want to screw this up, so make sure I do it the way you want me to do it,’” recalls Butt. “He was very natural and no problem.”
Butt was similarly impressed with the voice talents and quick thinking of Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield.
“Part of his line he says with his space helmet on, and you don’t hear what he says, and then he takes it off and delivers the rest of his line. But that first part, I said, ‘I want to make sure that we don’t understand anything you’re saying, and he said, ‘Do you want me to do it in Russian?’ And I said, ‘Yes, absolutely, I do, read it in Russian,’” laughs Butt. “And then we played it backwards, so when you watch the episode and he’s got his head in the space helmet saying his line, what you hear is him saying the line in Russian and it being played backwards.”
Corner Gas Animatedfeatures the voice talents of Butt, Gabrielle Miller, Fred Ewanuick, Eric Peterson, Lorne Cardinal, Tara Spencer-Nain, Nancy Robertson and Corrine Koslo.
Corner Gas Animated returns to the Comedy Network with two back-to-back episodes on July 1.