Life might be a little easier if we could all pack up our things and move into the world of Frog and Toad. What if life’s biggest issues were lacking the willpower to stop eating cookies, goofy bathing suits, and deciding on a flavor of ice cream?
We can’t all shrink down to the size of the tiny amphibians—but we can now live vicariously through the beloved characters, thanks to a new kids show heading to Apple TV+ on April 28. The series features art that feels drawn straight out from the hand of late writer and illustrator Arnold Lobel, with stories from all four Frog and Toad books: Frog and Toad Are Friends, Frog and Toad Together, Frog and Toad All Year, and Days With Frog and Toad.
Though the Frog and Toad books were written for children in the 1970s, they’ve stood the test of time—two best buddies who have become a friendly nugget of nostalgia for multiple generations. Rob Hoegee, the showrunner for the new adaptation of the picture books, describes the series in a way that makes you yearn for the past, and for the time when you were young. As you watch the show, you feel small like Frog and Toad, reclined on the lawn on a warm summer’s day.
“It’s almost as if you’re lying on your tummy in your backyard, peering through some blades of grass and looking into a world that’s at ground level,” Hoegee tells The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, speaking over Zoom. “It’s like a diorama you’d make in grade school, where you’d take a shoebox and cut a hole to make a scene inside. You peer into it, and you see the stacked foreground, midground, background with a richer scenic environment with selective focus, shadow, and light.”
Speaking about everything from the color palette used to bring Lobel’s illustrations to TV to the queer subtext that has become such a cherished part of fans’ relationship to these characters, Hoegee makes clear just how much pressure there is to breathe new life into a property so near and dear to so many people. Even clearer, however, was how much he relished it.
The new series follows the titular pals through the events of those classic short stories: Cranky Toad refuses to get out of bed in the morning, but an energetic Frog bothers him until he rouses. A wistful Toad yearns to receive a letter in his mailbox, so Frog writes him one but reveals what the letter says before it can arrive at Toad’s stoop. Little tales of small gestures guide children (and older folks!) through the commitment of friendship; just because Frog and Toad are very different creatures doesn’t mean they’ll never see eye-to-eye.
In the 1980s, a stop-motion-animation adaptation of the series brought Frog and Toad to life with clay, and in 2003, the buds sang and dance in a Broadway musical called A Year with Frog and Toad. But this feels like the most faithful adaptation, where Frog and Toad look exactly like the book. The show even had a specific Frog and Toad font created to match the signature swoops of the original covers.
Creating a landscape that was fit for high quality television—but also evoked the original illustrations—was something Hoegee and his team struggled to blueprint. If you study the books, you’ll notice the only colors used are black, brown, green, and white; that wasn’t going to lend the series the vibrancy that the team desired.
“While we wanted to keep the color palette of the show within the world of what we think of Frog and Toad, we did want to expand it,” Hoegee says. “What I learned was that Arnold Lobel delivered drawings just as pen and ink drawings and the publisher colored. That made me feel a little bit more willing to push the color palette a little more, knowing that was more of a printing decision rather than an entirely creative one.”
That detail about Lobel’s original workflow came from his children, Adrianne and Adam Lobel, who served as executive producers on the series and have become “the champions, gatekeepers, and guardians of their father’s work and legacy,” Hoegee says. “I shared with them how I felt a show would be, and thankfully, we were in alignment of what that would look like.”
Hoegee certainly has his own memories of the characters from his childhood. “But they really came home when I had my own kids,” he says. “They’ve always resonated with me. You talk to adults—these are books and characters that don’t leave you. So many childrens’ books, they stay in the past, you age past them. But there’s something about Frog and Toad that sticks with you.”
Reading the books to his children, who are now 12 and 16, Hoegee recognized them as timeless tales of friendship, love, and compassion. Signing onto the Apple TV+ production meant he got to fully realize those stories into a series, but it also meant he had to release some of those memories. He had to look past all of the voices he gave Frog and Toad while reading the books aloud to his children, for example, and assign actors to play the part.
“I had, in my head, a very clear voice for both these characters,” Hoegee says with a chuckle. “I’d already become jaded by my own preconceived understanding of what these characters sounded like. A big part of it for me was unlearning what these guys sounded like so that I could be open to other interpretations.”
Nat Faxon and Kevin Michael Richardson were cast as Frog and Toad, respectively. Faxon read the books to his kids, too—as did much of the voice cast, which includes Yvette Nicole Brown, Margaret Cho, Cole Escola, Aparna Nancherla, Fortune Feimster, and Tom Kenny. John Hodgman, who voices one of the characters on the show, had a drastically different voice for Toad than the rest of the cast: “an odd Eastern European” accent, Hoegee says. “Everyone that has a love for this show comes to it with their own take on it.”
That includes the behind-the-scenes creative team. They had to select which Frog and Toad were the “Ultimate Frog and Toad,” since the characters’ style changes over time in Lobel’s books. They also had to draft new, original stories that would be paired with the stories from the books.
“Every single person on our crew that had a hand in the show—as an artist, as a writer, as a voice actor—they all brought their own version of Frog and Toad to what they did,” Hoegee says. “It was really important to me that I allow as much of that on the screen as possible.”
That’s why Hoegee found it important to consider the queer subtext of the Frog and Toad books. A “significant number” of his cast and crew identify as LGBTQ+, Hoegee says, and he aspired “to make sure that everyone felt that they were being heard and their contribution—their Frog and Toad—lived on in whatever shape that was.”
“You can’t deny it,” Hoegee says. “It is part of the books, it’s part of the legacy.”
Though Frog and Toad are simply called “friends” in the series and in the books, Arnold Lobel came out to his family as gay in 1974, after the books had been published. In a 2016 interview with the New Yorker, Adrianne Lobel called the books “the beginning of him coming out.” Over the years, Frog and Toad have become gay icons. There are shirts that read “Frog and Toad Are Gay.” Even when this series was announced, Them wrote an article headlined “Everyone’s Favorite Queer Couple, ‘Frog and Toad,’ Are Coming to TV.”
“What we wanted to do here is create a faithful adaptation of the books,” Hoegee says. “For people, a lot of readers of a certain age, Frog and Toad as characters seen through a queer lens is hugely important to them. We can’t deny anyone that meaning to them, as far as these characters go. If that’s how you see these characters in the book, it’s fair to say that you will have the opportunity to see a similar viewpoint in the show as well.”
Perceive Frog and Toad however you want, but Hoegee says the most important thing is that you understand how much they deeply care for one another. It doesn’t matter if that compassion is platonic or romantic, the fact that they’re nearly inseparable should teach us all a bit about companionship.
“What Frog and Toad shows us is that there is still the ability to have a deep and meaningful and loving friendship that transcends everything,” Hoegee says. “This is a show that celebrates how two very different characters can still find a common ground and a respect and appreciation and love for each other, that still allows them to have fun together and be inseparable. Our differences shouldn’t divide us, our differences should be the thing that brings us together.”
It’s an important lesson for kids to learn, but it’s equally influential for adults, too. As Hoegee said, Frog and Toad don’t really leave you—the whole world was elated at the announcement of a Frog and Toad series, not just the pipsqueaks. I, for one, still keep a copy of Frog and Toad Are Friends in my nightstand. In our interview, Hoegee whips out a rare pop-up copy of some of the Frog and Toad stories from just behind his desk. The little guys are always nearby.
“There’s an assumption that shows made and written for kids have to be simple in the sense that you’re almost channeling your inner five-year-old. The fact of the matter is, these are made by adults. We are still bringing our own sensibilities and our own baggage and our own experience and our own joys and sadness—all those things get poured into the work we do,” Hoegee says.
While Hoegee is talking about himself and his team, it’s impossible to hear this quote and not think about Arnold Lobel, who wrote these stories for children with tender themes of love, trust, and boundaries that—as his children have confirmed—related back to his own life. Now, dozens of other artists get to see those stories retold through the lens of their own lives, too.