The Design Of Futurama's Hypnotoad Was A Subtle Nod To The Simpsons

In the 2001 "Futurama" episode "The Day the Earth Stood Stupid," Leela (Katey Sagal) has chosen to enter her beloved pet Nibbler into an intergalactic pet show. Fry (Billy West) comments that the animals at such shows are well-trained and difficult to beat. Leela points out that the dogs aren't an issue, but one really has to look out for the Hypnotoad. The Hypnotoad, true to its name, is a hefty amphibian, about the size of a medicine ball, that can swivel its eyes toward sheep and hypnotically force them to enter a pen themselves far more efficiently than any sheepdog. When the pet show judges look at the Hypnotoad a little askance, the toad stares at them and hypnotically forces them to give it a perfect 10. Inevitably, the Hypnotoad will be awarded first prize. The audience, under its spell, claps somnambulistically in unison. 

In later episodes of "Futurama," the Hypnotoad will also be seen as the hystar of its very own television show, which is nothing more than the toad staring at the audience, its eyes droning loudly, its mysterious hypnotic rays reaching billions. It's implied that the toad is slowly taking over the world with its creepy, creepy pulsating pupils. The Hypnotoad is one of the funnier running gags on the show, and the showrunners loved it to the point of including an episode of "Everybody Loves Hypnotoad" on a "Futurama" DVD. 

In a recent interview with Cracked, Mark Ervin, the designer of Hypnotoad, talked about where he got his inspiration, while sound designer Danik Thomas reveals the origin of Hynotoad's loud, hypnotic drone. 

Boy-Scoutz 'n the Hood

In the script for "The Day the Earth Stood Stupid," written by Jeff Westbrook (with a story by Westbrook and David X. Cohen), the Hypnotoad was merely described as a huge toad with hypnotic eyes. Ervin looked to the Argentine horned frog as a model, a round, squat amphibian also known as a Pacman frog for its resemblance to the Namco arcade star. The Argentine horned frog also has an enormous mouth. The Hypnotoad sits a little more upright. With a bit of embarrassment, Ervin noted that the Hypnotoad was not based on a toad at all. 

For the hypnotic eyes, Ervin recalled a very specific moment from "The Simpsons" as inspiration, seen in the picture above. The eerie eyes of the Hypnotoad were meant to imitate Bart Simpson's eyes when he ate too much sugar. In Ervin's words: 

"As for his eyes, I looked at those oddly-shaped eyes that a frog has and based it on that. Also, I'd previously worked on 'The Simpsons' episode 'Boy-Scoutz 'n the Hood,' where Bart and Milhouse get all amped up on Squishees and have these crazy eyes. It was a bit of a nod to that."

"Boy-Scoutz 'n the Hood" first aired on November 18, 1993 during the show's eighth season. 

Angry machine

The evil droning noise heard when the Hypnotoad is mesmerizing its audience also finds its origins in the early 1990s. Danik Thomas, an editor on "Futurama," recalls with clarity the moment he recorded the noise he ended up using on the show. It turns out he was simply noodling around with amplifiers while working on another, completely unrelated job, and came up with a really annoying sound. A sound so annoying, in fact, that he kept it for years. Thomas said: 

"Yes! I did that! I recorded that sound way back in October 1992. I was in Fort Wayne, Indiana doing this music video and, during some down time, I was in this cavernous water treatment plant with this great, echo-y sound to it. I had this old analog signal generator that made all these different noises, so I hooked that up to my bass amp and recorded it with my microphone. It was the most obnoxious sound ever."

Thomas admits that the noise, which he nicknamed Angry Machine, was mostly used for pranks. He would upload the noise into colleagues' computers — specifically the computer of co-worker Paul Calder — and program it to play at opportune moments, making people think something was broken. During the building of "The Day the Earth Stood Stupid," Thomas inserted the noise as a place-holding sound effect until a better effect could be invented, but the showrunners ended up using it. A bass-heavy water treatment plant in 1992 was now annoying a new generation of fans. 

The Hypnotoad appeared on multiple episodes of "Futurama," and even made its way into an introductory segment of a Simpsons "Treehouse of Horror" episode directed by Guillermo del Toro.

When Westbrook saw Hypnotoad in that sequence, he sighed, saying "I can't escape this creature."