4 Surprising Inspirations Behind ‘Futurama’ Characters
Great cartoon characters don’t just grow on animated trees; they require bursts of artistic inspiration. Like how the idea for Popeye the Sailor Man came from an actual grizzled sailor man, and Mickey Mouse was derived from old-timey racist minstrel shows that Disney probably doesn’t love people bringing up these days.
And speaking of Disney’s terrifying, all-consuming power, Futurama is back, this time on Hulu. So where did the show’s oddball assortment of weirdos come from in the first place? After running out of immediate family members to hastily turn into cartoon characters for legal reasons, Matt Groening and his Futurama team took inspiration from some truly surprising sources, such as how…
Fry’s Look Was Copied From James Dean in ‘Rebel Without a Cause’
Philip J. Fry is the ultimate lovable dope. Sure, he’s saved the universe once or twice, but he also made out with a radiator and had sex with his grandmother after traveling back in time, thus becoming his own grandfather in the process.
Even though Fry is far from being stereotypically cool, his look was patterned on one of the coolest movie stars in pop-culture history: James Dean. Yup, as Groening once revealed, Fry’s wardrobe, complete with a red jacket, white shirt and jeans, is the same outfit Dean famously wore in Rebel Without a Cause, which, last time we checked, does not involve cryogenics or drunken robots.
Bender Was Allegedly Designed to Look Like a Robot From a Crazy ’70s Movie
Everybody’s favorite liquor-powered robot, Bender Bending Rodriguez, is robot-hands-down one of Futurama’s most popular characters. (Just not its greatest one.)
A lot of people seem to think that Bender’s design was influenced by Necron 99, the robotic henchman of a villainous mutant sorcerer/neo-Nazi in Ralph Bakshi’s bonkers 1977 animated film Wizards.
While the two robots don’t look exactly the same, Bender’s antenna is certainly reminiscent of his evil 1970s equivalent. While the influence of Wizards hasn’t been confirmed by Groening, Bakshi himself has noted the similarities.
That said, the series hasn’t needed to get a chicken lawyer thus far...
Leela Was Named After a 1949 Symphony
While you’d be forgiven for believing that “Turanga Leela” is simply a traditional name of the noble sewer mutant people, Leela’s exotic moniker actually derives from a classy place. It turns out that she’s named after the Turangalîla-Symphonie by Olivier Messiaen (Groening is apparently a big fan).
The symphony, which first premiered in 1949, is about love and “the meaning of life.” The phrase “Turangalîa” is “a combination of Sanskrit words” although “its meaning is almost untranslatable.” Somehow it has yet to be adapted for the Holophonor.
Zoidberg’s Voice Came from ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’?!?!
Dr. John A. Zoidberg, Planet Express’ resident physician/grotesque lobster-like monster (complete with stink glands), is no doubt one of the goofiest characters, regardless of species, on the show. This is a guy who once rode a co-worker’s sperm like a cowboy — literally, not a sex euphemism — and that was one of his more dignified moments.
Shockingly, Zoidberg’s creation is partially indebted to one of the most serious stories in history. According to actor Billy West, the voice of Zoidberg is an amalgamation of his impressions of comedic performers George Jessel and Lou Jacobi. He specifically took inspiration from Jacobi’s work in the 1959 film adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank.
West later recalled the confusion he felt as a kid watching one of his favorite comic actors break down in tears in the middle of a Holocaust drama: “I was laughing my ass off, and I said, ‘I’m gonna go to hell for this. This is horrible.’” It does, though, explain Zoidberg’s penchant for sobbing uncontrollably.
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