From Stoneham childhood sprang a daredevil

TV series creator draws on hometown exploits

By Don Aucoin
Globe Staff / May 14, 2010

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STONEHAM — ‘Believe it or not, I used to skateboard down this hill,’’ Sandro Corsaro said, gazing down the steep slope of the street where he grew up. “Before the fear set in. For a thousand bucks, I don’t think I would do that now.’’

Kick Buttowski would do it. For free.

Then again, very little fazes the title character of “Kick Buttowski: Suburban Daredevil,’’ a new animated series whose blend of action and comedy has made it the No. 1 show on Disney XD (a cable channel aimed at boys from ages 6 to 14 that was formerly known as Toon Disney), with an average audience of nearly 700,000 viewers on Saturday mornings.

The cul-de-sac in “Mellowbrook’’ where Kick Buttowski lives is modeled on Stoneham’s Nixon Lane, where Corsaro’s parents still live. The Stoneham library, the town square, the local elementary school, and such Stoneham streets as Broadway, Main Street, Bear Hill Road, and Kenneth Terrace are all seen in cartoon version on the show, as are Corsaro’s mother, some of Corsaro’s childhood friends, and Corsaro himself.

“Parents will sometimes introduce their kids to me as ‘This is the real Kick Buttowski,’ ’’ Corsaro said.

Corsaro drew on memories of his childhood adventures here to create Kick, a pint-sized Evel Knievel who wears a crash helmet, a white jumpsuit, and an expression of grim determination as he barrels down Dead Man’s Drop on an ironing board, pulverizes foes in a monster-truck rally, or careens around the streets of Mellowbrook on his skateboard.

Corsaro required some of Kick’s perseverance: It took eight years to get the show on the air from the day when the character first materialized in his head, fully formed. “I saw it all quicker than I could draw it,’’ he said.

That had seldom been the case for Corsaro, who first demonstrated his skill at drawing at age 3. As he grew older, he started creating stories to go along with the drawings, a habit that continued through his years at St. John’s Prep in Danvers. After graduating from the University of Southern California, he worked as an animator in Hollywood.

One day while he doodled, a strange little character took shape. Corsaro immediately saw the character as an aspiring daredevil. “I like this character,’’ Corsaro recalls thinking. “He reminds me of myself.’’

He kept drawing, and as he did he thought back to his own childhood in Stoneham and began creating characters based on children and grownups he’d known.

“I saw the cul-de-sac,’’ he said. “I knew his best friend would be this kind of odd kid, Gunther. I knew right away he was going to be a black sheep, and I was going to build that world around him.’’

He began to envision building a TV show around the character, then called Kid Knievel.

For the next four years, Corsaro carved out time, usually at 4 a.m., to work on a video that introduced the characters with a few scenes. When he began shopping it to studios, he encountered one rejection after another. There were times when he considered moving back to Boston and working at the shoe store run by his father, Mario, in the North End.

But in 2006, his knowledge of flash animation helped get him the job of creative director of Disney Online, a position he still holds. That same year, Disney picked up “Kid Knievel.’’ It debuted in February under the name “Kick Buttowski’’ and quickly became a cornerstone of Disney’s effort to make Disney XD appointment viewing for boys.

Like Eastwood or Bronson, Kick is a man (kid, technically) of few words, which he invariably growls from the side of his mouth. After sizing up a challenge, he swings into action with a terse “Let’s do this.’’ If a stunt goes haywire, he mutters a G-rated epithet: “Ah, biscuits!’’ And if his faithful sidekick Gunther frets that Kick is courting doom in his bid to become the world’s greatest daredevil, Kick’s response is simple: “Fail? I don’t do fail.’’

“In every city, in every town, on every street, this kid exists,’’ Corsaro said. “This is the kid who announces he’s going to go down the slide backwards. This is the kid who lives for the moment of drama on the big stage.’’

Corsaro himself was such a boy, perpetually defying gravity and the odds.

“He was a wild guy,’’ recalled Matt Mayo, a childhood friend who now lives in Woburn. “He was always egging me on to do different stunts.’’ But Corsaro had to admit, during a recent visit to his hometown, that the stage he made such a splash on wasn’t nearly as big as he remembered it.

Take Dead Man’s Drop. It was depicted in the first episode of “Kick Buttowski: Suburban Daredevil’’ as a virtual Mount Everest, earning conquering-hero status for Kick when he zoomed down it on an ironing board. But when Corsaro returned to the Bear Hill Golf Club to check out the original Dead Man’s Drop — the hill that leads down from the tee on hole No. 3, which he and his childhood friends used to barrel down on a toboggan or inner tube — he found that it does not exactly rise to nosebleed heights.

“A little different perspective now that I’m a grown man from when I was 9,’’ Corsaro said sheepishly.

Then again, it is the perspective of a 9-year-old that Cosaro was determined to capture with “Kick Buttowski.’’

In creating the show, he tried to channel how certain rites of passage made him feel as a child: the first time he successfully roller-bladed down Broadway; the afternoon when he was hanging out with his buddies and a friendly Stoneham cop gave him the “shoot’’ sign with thumb and forefinger; the day he pretended to be a stunt man and raced his bike over a manhole at top speed, resulting in a crash that tore a bunch of skin off the back of his leg and requiring a trip to the Lahey Clinic; his forays into tree-climbing and kite-flying and kickball games and go-cart races and explorations of the woods.

In addition to his duties at Disney Online, Corsaro remains involved with “Kick Buttowski’’ as a consulting producer. He makes suggestions for storylines — Kick goes to the dentist; Kick has to put up with a visit from an annoying cousin — and executive producer Chris Savino and producers shows him the scripts to ensure it remains true to his original vision.

Corsaro says he emphasizes to the writers and animators that Mellowbrook should not be depicted as boring. “Stoneham was never boring to me,’’ he said. “That’s my town.’’

Don Aucoin can be reached at