HBO Max’s Infinity Train: The devoted fans and creator Owen Dennis deserve more

Photo Credit: HBO Max and Cartoon Network Studios, Inc

“It’s not about the desti-something it’s about the whatever.”

Infinity Train was cancelled after four seasons on Cartoon Network and HBO Max. By now I thought the sting of cancellation would have worn off. Instead, it still bugs me. I’ve been through many series cancellations, but this one doesn’t sit right with me.

Taking it back to 2016, I remember hearing about a new Cartoon Network animated pilot being uploaded to their official YouTube channel called Infinity Train, probably somewhere on the Toonzone forums. While not all pilots get picked up to series, as an avid TV fan, I enjoy checking them out to see what could potentially be coming out. After enjoying the latest run of shows Cartoon Network was putting out like Adventure Time, Regular Show and Steven Universe, I was hoping to yet again fall in love with another cartoon series. The pilot episode, created by Owen Dennis, featured a young girl with a mysterious number on her hand as she traversed a mysterious train car with an entire world inside of it. While attempting to solve a puzzle of sorts, she stumbles upon a mysterious creature, which sets up the potential for a great mystery should the series get a green light. At the end, she realizes her number has decreased and finds her motivation to continue on. These ideas came together to form the groundwork for the series which would inevitably come.

Fast forward a few months, and due to the popularity of the pilot, one of the most watched videos on Cartoon network’s YouTube page, Cartoon Network aired the episode on the network. A short while later in 2018, Cartoon Network officially announced that it had ordered Infinity Train to series with a 2019 release date. Having shared the pilot episode with friends and my young nephews who all enjoyed it, we were all excited. 

In August 2019, Cartoon Network released the first season consisting of 10 episodes over the course of a week, as it has come to be known as a “bomb” release (As a Steven Universe Fan, we know alllll about these). The first season followed Tulip, the same young girl from the pilot episode, as she boarded the train and had to figure out where she was, what she had to do, and what the magical number on her hand meant. Her goal was to get off the train and return home. The train put her through the ringer over the course of the season. At the time it seemed like it would be a miniseries, but we soon learned the show would become an anthology of sorts.

A second season quickly followed in January 2020 with the same release format. This time the series continued on the same train, but with different lead characters. We had met one of these characters in the first season, but her role was expanded on and intersected with a new train passenger. The show began to dive even deeper into the ever expanding world, the mythology and the emotional depth which I did not expect. 

With the announcement of HBO Max, the streaming service from WarnerMedia, the show officially transitioned from Cartoon Network to HBO Max. Continuing the anthology spirit of the series, season 3 again featured new leads, one of which we had again met in the previous season. It debuted on the service in August 2020 with another 10 episodes, with a release spread out over the course of multiple days within a short period. While arguably the emotional climax of the series, it took the show into an even darker direction which I had not anticipated, but found extremely satisfying. 

After season 3 there was a long period with no information about the future of the show. Fans looking to creator Owen Dennis for information were left with no concrete answers due to his inability to share the information until allowed so. Again as a Steven Universe fan and Gravity Falls fan, I know all about the lack of information regarding when the next episodes would show up, or if there was even a future left for the series. 

Come February 2021, HBO Max announced that the fourth season would be released in April, with the entire season released at once, rather than spread out in the past three seasons. They also announced the show would be ending. This was a heartbreaking reveal to all the fans who were longing for a much longer run. When the final season was released, we found ourselves following two human passengers who knew each other before meeting on the train. Their story also coincided with a behind the scenes story which played out without their knowledge, but having seen previous seasons, the fans knew exactly what was happening in those moments. The season was yet again a satisfying trip on the train, but in no way felt like a goodbye or proper way to send the series off.

Owen shared his thoughts on the cancellation on his twitter and in the Infinity Train subreddit in the lead up and after the release of the fourth season. He revealed a lot of details about the production of season 4, what could have happened in future installments, and general details about the world of Infinity Train. He also answered questions about characters and things the train can and can’t do that weren’t able to be answered in series. The AMA with Owen was filled with lots of great replies, bits of information and behind the scenes thoughts.

Despite having a solid fan base, getting a respectable audience reach streaming the series (to our knowledge), HBO Max/Cartoon Network decided to not continue, despite Owen’s multiple pitches about the future of the show. One idea, he revealed to the fans, was to have a movie (which was already written and pitched) following Amelia and continuing her story which we got in multiple pieces over the run of the four seasons. Her story had so much more to explore. When we last saw her, she had discovered one of her creations was causing problems on the train and was going to investigate why it was happening. 

The reason for not continuing with that series was cited to be the lack of an entry point for children. Apparently kids wouldn’t want to watch a story with an adult lead, despite having already met her in the course of the series. This is baffling to me as the fans of the show come from people of all ages. As with many cartoons, kids grow up with these series and continue, or re-find them as they grow older. Look at what they are doing with Adventure Time on HBO Max itself! The original Adventure Time series ended its first run, and returned for more stories. Their target audience for Distant Lands may still be children, but many of the children who watched the initial run are now young adults or older. They will still want to watch these episodes. Why wouldn’t this same reasoning apply with Infinity Train? Additionally as a streaming service, they could advertise and push the series to more than just children as opposed to the target audience of Cartoon Network when it aired on that network. 

What does the show’s cancellation also say about the future of animated, and specifically serialized cartoon programming? Specifically, why would a fan invest their time with HBO Max if they know the company behind it has a history of ending the series’ run without a proper conclusion? Of course there are many examples of series with questionably announced endings, and this won’t be the last. Gravity Falls fans found out about the show ending before the final few episodes, which were already being stretched out beyond belief between airings. Those days of waiting for a single episode were ROUGH. We were left in an interesting place emotionally heading into the final episodes. The Owl House fans just went through their own emotional roller coaster. We found out a premiere date for season 2, a third season renewal and then found out that it would be the final season. Oh and the final season would be a bunch of 44 minute special episodes instead of a regular season rollout. Why do all these series I love get treated this way!

This isn’t the first show affected by Cartoon Network and HBO Max’s entangled web and behind the scenes complications. We came to learn from Ian Jones-Quartey that his show, OK K.O.! Let’s Be Heroes, was initially earmarked for the streaming service, but due to delays, led the show to air solely on Cartoon Network and eventually get cancelled before having the opportunity to transition to HBO Max. There was also a pilot for Cartoon Network called Trick Moon which was well received. The potential series failure to make it past the pilot stage can be directly tied into the behind the scenes restructuring, mergers, layoffs and shifting focus for the networks and streaming service.

Recent(ish) history shows animated series can be saved and revived by not only the same network, but by other networks who still see potential in the series. Fox’s Family Guy is still going strong after being revived at Fox. Fox’s Futurama found life beyond it’s initial run in the form of DVDs and a continuation series on Comedy Central. American Dad moved from Fox to TBS where it is still airing today. Even this month, WarnerMedia and Cartoon Network’s own sister network adult swim premiered the second season of Tuca & Bertie after the series was cancelled by Netflix after one season. The one thing in common that all of these series has is that their target audience was an adult audience. 

While Infinity Train does have a large adult audience fan base, the intended target is for a younger audience, especially in the eyes of HBO Max. In a world where show after show is being revived, rebooted and continued, including series with an initial younger target audience like Johnny Test at Netflix, iCarly at Paramount+, Total Drama Island at Cartoon Network, Star Wars: The Clone Wars at Disney+, and Young Justice at HBO Max, there is still hope for Infinity Train. Fans stuck with the show through a network change already and I’m certain they’d return to it in any form. 

One of my favorite things about Infinity Train was its universal theme of finding the strength within yourself, and from those around you that you meet on your journey through life. They help get you through the hard moments, the ghosts from your past and move you forward to a healthier place and place of understanding. When these passengers board the train, they might not even realize they have a past trauma that is holding them back, or affecting their lives. The people on the train and even the train itself help the passengers make sense of their lives or their feelings. We all want a Tuba, an Atticus, a Kez or even an Alan Dracula to be that mirror or solar opposite who can help you be the best version of yourself. Ignoring issues or “numbers” can lead you to an even darker place (as seen with Simon). You will be in a better place and a better person for addressing it head on. Like all the passengers we met, they may stumble or even backslide, but learning from the lessons of the past is the only way to move forward. 

For a “kids show”, that’s a pretty deep, universal, and ever important message.

The fans have been through a lot since the pilot made its debut in 2016. It was a long road to the screen, but we managed to get four seasons of this incredible show thanks to the hard work and dedication from Owen and the rest of the Infinity Train crew. Each season managed to feel special and unique, while also embracing and building an interconnected universe with endless possibilities. It always felt fresh and relatable. I would have loved to witness the envisioned 8 season plan and where it would have taken us next. 

In the wake of the final season release, fans have rallied to bring attention to the show, and hopefully get executives at WarnerMedia and Cartoon Network to pay attention to the demand. The show managed to get trending on Twitter at multiple points, driven by fan initiatives. Hashtags like #FinishInfinityTrain, #InfinityTrainHBOMax and #RenewInfinityTrain helped drive these moments to get trending. Fans shared their reasons for wanting to continue the show, their own artwork and just wanted to show their appreciation for the series and how much it meant to them. 

The next attempt to get the series trending is for June 27, 2021. Check out Traintwt Event Organizers for more info. With HBO Max expanding to more international audiences, hopefully we can continue to highlight the series for a new audience and spread the show wider to build new fans. There’s also the hope the added attention to the series could give us the slightest chance to potentially help get the show back up and running. At the very least it would help give us some closure which we are all longing for. With the upcoming planned merger of Warner and Discovery (another one again so soon, what’s going to fall through the cracks this time?), it may be a tough feat to pull off, but we the fans will do whatever it takes! 

Following the previous trending party, and as a thank you for getting the series trending for 6 hours, Owen shared a season 5 mock up image of Amelia.

Photo Credit: Owen Dennis

So much potential. So much left to explore. 

*Cue mysterious synth sound*

You can stream all four seasons of Infinity Train on HBO Max.

Tagged: