Day 11: Review: Adventure Time

The review of a modern-day titan.

Day 11! So for today’s calendar pick, I wanted to finally dig into an important show review that I’ve wanted to do since it wrapped up earlier this year- and that is Adventure Time. This show was the flagship of Cartoon Network’s for the majority of the 2010’s and is both popular and influential. Let’s get into it.

The Lowdown:

Show: Adventure Time

Studio/network/years aired: Cartoon Network, 2010-2018

AniB’s thoughts: Well, it’s the end of an era. This show, perhaps the most iconic piece of Western animation in the past 10 years is finally, officially completed and admittedly, it’s a bit surreal to consider this the case. Yours truly was still in high school when the ball got rolling on this series, and now to see it over really feels like the final guard of that early 2010’s era of animation is finished as the final portion of the decade plays out.

On the topic of evaluating the show itself, Adventure Time is certainly unique. It evolved from a simple plot-of the day adventure-action show in its first season to a full-blown post-dystopian fantasy with elements of science fiction, mystery, comedy, surrealism and a whole slew of other things as the show immersed itself in a large, deep cast of characters and an expansive world, not only in Ooo itself, but beyond and across time as well. I think at a certain point it became rather difficult to just pick up the series due to the enormity it grew to, but it was also interesting to watch it grow and evolve to its natural conclusion by the end of it all, between finding a point at which it finally felt ready to stop, between the resolution of series-long plot threads and the sense that while it had once defined a network, now it was being pushed out by the wave of cartoons it had helped influence.

It would be impossible to cover all the plot threads, character arcs, overall elements and moving parts and everything else that happened in the show in one review, but it would be accurate to say the show lived up to its simple title: “Adventure Time.” Seriously, you never quite knew what to expect episode to episode, and this sort of originality, combined with ever increasing plot and character complexity as the seasons wore on kept the formula fresh- a difficult feat for any show over multiple seasons. Towards the end of its run, it suffered from the same wonky release schedule Cartoon Network shows had become by and large shoehorned into in the latter half of the decade, thanks in no small part to monopolized scheduling around a certain show, but it maintained its momentum to the end, capping it all with an excellent finale, which I’m sure fans of the show found satisfying and rich in details.

As for anyone ever curious about this series, it’s not a bad time to jump in if you want a long watch. This show is not without its flaws, meanderings, weird episodes, bad episodes and pacing issues here and there, but overall, there’s a reason it became so influential. Finally…can you believe Nickelodeon passed on the pilot of this show for the all-time terrible Fanboy and Chum Chum? I can’t either, but as they say, hindsight is 20/20 (and I’ve got an older rant of the latter on this site as well.) So grab your friends, go to some very distant lands, and see what’s in store with Jake the Dog and Finn the Human…


Animation: 2-D modern animation. This is the show that launched the “CalArts” style you might hear people complain about on the internet, or at least in animation circles, but as the cliche goes, “success breeds copycats.” And in the case of this show, the style works for what it’s doing, though some may find it far too stylized, and that is okay too. Overall, it does a good job enhancing what the story wanted to tell and in a creative way that mostly enhanced it, which is nice. There’s a wide variety of colors here, and the show even experimented with some different styles during some episodes. 4.5/5 points.

 

Characterization: We’d be here all day if I went through every last character in this show, what they do, their plot threads and how they are important. The later seasons do a lot of this, devoting entire episodes to side characters you’d never think twice about, even giving them mini-character arcs and in general, broadening the scope of this vast world they created. But as for the leads:

Finn the Human is an energetic, heroic boy who lives in a tree fort with his best friend, a magical talking dog named Jake. They go on adventures together, protect princesses, find cool treasures and have lots of fun- and while I’m simplifying this description a lot, this is essentially what they do. Finn’s story in particular is a unique sort of coming of age, as he grows a few years older during the course of the show, learns a great deal about who he is, his background, goes on many strange, death defying adventures, and in the end, is always true to being a hero.

Jake the Dog as mentioned is Finn’s best friend. He’s much more laid back and absentminded for the most part than his buddy, but has magical stretching powers which allow him to form different shapes and contort his body mass and muscles to radically different sizes and shapes, though this has limits. He’s got a variety of oddball interests and talents, such as playing the viola, and loves to make great sandwiches. He too has an interesting past which is revealed in bits and pieces during the course of the series.

The most common person Finn and Jake help out is Princess Bubblegum, the ruler of the Candy Kingdom. As her name describes, she actually is a sentient girl made of bubblegum, but full of surprises and a long history. She balances her rule with a passion and deep knowledge of science and technology, which she uses in everything from enhancing her candy citizen’s lives to defense of said domain. There’s a whole lot more I could say about her, but again…spoilers.

Finally of your “main cast” there’s Marceline, a vampire girl.  Originally a human, Marcy’s lived for over 1000 years, and has a generally easygoing, prankster nature. She loves to jam out on her axe guitar and is a talented musician. Additionally, her vampire powers make her a formidable fighter, but like all such beings, she has a fatal weakness to sunlight. After initially getting off on the wrong foot with Finn and Jake, the trio become good friends, and she also has a strong relationship revealed over time with Princess Bubblegum…

There are countless other individuals of varying importance that could be mentioned and probably should be mentioned, but the last one for this review is the Ice King. A deluded old warlock driven mad by his magical cursed crown, this frosty regent has a desperate need for attention and a want for princesses (at least early on). Sporting eclectic interests like playing the drums and writing fanfiction, the king’s role is not so much an antagonist as it is something else entirely…and his story arc is quite unbelievable.  4.5/5 points.

 

Story: Episodic and overarching plot elements intersect in this long-running series. This show’s narrative is more event and character based with several long running plot threads tying together disparate arcs, but while a complex and intricate world is created in Adventure Time, sometimes it’s difficult to keep everything straight, especially as the seasons go on. They kept it fresh though! 3.75/5 points.

 

Themes: There’s a lot packed into the gills of this show. Most of your basic sorts of themes appear (friendship, love, overcoming fears, etc.) but there’s also some deeper stuff just hiding in this show that is terrific for something airing on a kid’s network. Mostly, this is entertainment, and it can be very trippy entertainment, but there’s nuggets of some complex material especially as the seasons wear on and to the end. 3.75/5 points.

 

Don’t Insult the Viewer: This show knew its audience, and got slightly more mature along with it. Mostly smart writing, a few questionable sorts of things happen here and there, and it might have a bit of a curve to properly engage in this show now given its length. All in all, not bad intagibles. 4.5/5 points.

 

Overall: 21/25 (84%): With an entire large body of work to evaluate, Adventure Time holds up fairly well with scrutiny and is a very good show despite some flaws and the glare of fame’s spotlight on it. With its conclusion, it may make for a nice long watch, but either way, its influence cannot be denied as it pertains to animation.


Like what you see? Thoughts on Adventure Time? Leave a comment!

 

Day 4: The Codename: Kids Next Door Christmas Special

Day 4! In what seems like the blink of an eye, we’re onto the next day of this countdown already. Technically speaking, this is the newest “Random Episode Rambling” given the content of this piece, so you’ll be able to find it under the “Episode Reviews” page after today.

The Lowdown:

Show: Codename: Kids Next Door

Episode: Operation N. A. U. G. H. T. Y.

Studio/Year it debuted: Cartoon Network, 2005

AniB’s thoughts:

So, here’s a franchise I haven’t visited for a while. After two of the first three days in the countdown were spent on classics, this one’s a bit of an off-the beaten path pick, but might strike some resonance with those harboring fond memories of the early to mid 2000’s. Long-time readers may recall I wrote a KND review back in the spring of 2017, and suffice to say, it was another favorite of mine growing up. What a wildly inventive show it was! You can tell Tom Warburton and his team had a ton of fun making it, and the product shows, with increasingly high stakes, an expansive cast of characters and ever-more ludicrous inventions made from household items and junk (the “2×4 technology” the KND swear by).

Like most successful Cartoon Network franchises, there was in fact a Christmas special that was aired roughly in the middle of the show’s lifespan- and like anything else with this show, it was zany and action-packed. As with a good many KND episodes, there’s a plot by Sector V’s archenemies- The Delightful Children from Down the Land- in which disguised as the good guys, they perform a sting on the North Pole in order to frame our heroes and set a diabolical gift-hoarding scheme in order. And this special has it all- over-the top action, a hilariously high tech and over the top interpretation of how Santa’s workshop operates, elves that have some serious martial arts skills(in particular, Wintergreen, a parody of Wolverine), and of course, something akin to “storming the castle” by our main heroes of Sector V.

So critically, what do I think of Operation NAUGHTY? It plays out mostly as a normal episode with the Christmas theming, and stays true to the show’s style, building a Kids Next Door episode with a Christmas wrapper, as opposed to a Christmas story that has the KND in it. And I think it works, although you’ll be sadly disappointed if you wanted more traditional fare. Santa Claus puts in an appearance as well, but most of the episode’s heavy lifting is done by the usual suspects from the show and the big man’s own special elves. Overall, it’s one of the Cartoon Network holiday-themed episodes I recalled enjoying the most back when I was a kid, and even now it retains that same wackiness and adventure I knew the series for.

Therefore, this special is likely to be remembered fondly by KND fans and those who watched plenty of Cartoon Network during this era, though it really best described is an extended KND episode in addition to the Christmas theme. Working alongside the nefarious plot of the Delightful Children, the subplot of the entire episode juxtaposes Numbah 3’s generosity towards her teammates against the oblivious Numbah 4’s ham-handed approach to the spirit of giving. This character side story runs up against the main plot when Santa’s “Reindeer System”- a highly automated process of doling out the world’s presents from a top-secret inner sanctum- is hijacked by the Delightful Children, only to turn them into Grinch-esque monsters from their greed. In the end, Numbah 3 attempts to take this system over, which after a similar power rush overwhelms her, only Santa’s guidance to Numbah 4 about giving her a gift pays off.

Is it silly, zany and convoluted? For sure. That said, it’s a fun bit of nostalgia from that time period and a solid special that stays true to the spirit of both the holiday and the Kids Next Door-style of storytelling, and rather than hearing it from me, check it out:

Don’t forget, this season’s all about giving to others. And through it all, that might be the biggest takeaway from here. See what’s in store tomorrow! And check out below previous days if you haven’t already!


Like what you see? Big fan of this special or Codename: Kids Next Door? Leave a comment!

Day 1: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Day 2: Wreck-It Ralph

Day 3: Frosty the Snowman

Preliminary Review: DuckTales (2017)

The rebooted action of a beloved classic gets put to the critic’s test.

Ducks, ducks and more ducks…I had no idea that my next piece would be about Disney’s clan of the birds after Daffy Duck’s character piece, but here we are, kicking off September at the time of this writing with a special preliminary review. Yes, one season is finally in  the books for the highly-anticipated reboot of DuckTales, and it’s my pleasure to finally put some numbers and analysis on this bad boy. Let’s take a dive in like Scrooge does with his money bin!

The Lowdown:

Show: DuckTales (2017)

Studio/network/years aired: Disney Television Animation, Disney X.D./Channel, 2017-

AniB’s thoughts: A year or so ago, I sat down and watched with great interest the pilot for this reboot of the beloved 90’s classic. That specific first impression can be found here. Recently though, the first season of this ‘toon wrapped up and so, the time has finally come for the first review of the show at hand, and I must say- it acquitted itself well.

I suppose any DuckTales conversation worth its salt starts with Scrooge McDuck, the famous Scottish adventurer of fame and (very, very, very) great fortune. Returning more to his comic roots in terms of design, Scrooge’s miserly pallor is lifted in the opening act of the season, and the bold, famous duck of legend is back in full here. He doesn’t appear in every episode, but he does in most and when he’s center stage, he frankly steals the show. With the death of long-time Scrooge VA Alan Young prior to the show’s debut, it’s David Tennant- better known as one of the Dr. Who’s- who steps admirably into the void left here, and truthfully does some great work as the Scottish spitfire.

One of the most prominent moves in the adaptation was the decision to overhaul Webby Vanderquack’s character and personality entirely. While both this version and the original 1989 show saw a kind girl wishing to be the “fourth triplet” with Huey, Dewey and Louie, the current incarnation has some incredible martial arts and spy training, courtesy of her grandma (more on Mrs. Beakley in a bit) but also some social aloofness and naivete stemming from her sheltered upbringing. She’s energetic and tends to get overexcited about things that catch her interest, particularly the life and history of Scrooge, who she idolizes. It’s my opinion this version of the character is equal parts charming and cute, but not too annoying, and it works.

Another welcome change was the inclusion of Donald Duck as a major supporting character in this iteration of DuckTales. In an eye for detail, Donald is regaled in his classic comics sailor’s outfit, but is also true to the most classic iterations of the character- bombastic but also highly caring of his family and friends (particularly his nephews, who he is the legal guardian of in this series.) Cast as the one-time close member of Scrooge McDuck’s entourage who accompanied him on his globe-trotting adventure, the two became estranged after a certain key incident, which incidentally thawed itself out in the pilot episode.

A number of other cast members and places prominent in the original series return as well, from a Mrs. Beakley who’s a sultry British ex-spy/super maid in this outing, to Launchpad McQuack, who remains fairly faithful to his original iterations, though perhaps a tad more dimwitted than before. Of course, this also includes Scrooge’s old rogues gallery, from the ever-vengeful Flintheart Glomgold, to the bumbling antics of the Beagle Boys.

Overall, DuckTales was always going to be evaluated largely by not only its art style (which is simply eye-catching with that comic feel), but how it decided to approach these beloved characters in a new way, and overall, it’s not a bad re-framing of the universe with a more modern polish. The more timeless characters are as you’d remember them, though the triplets got a bit of an overhaul that’s notable as well (though using all my thoughts on the characters before the character section of grading would be a waste, wouldn’t it?) Additionally, the show features a nice overarching plot and mystery that no doubt got some influence from the creative team, a number of whom previously worked on Gravity Falls, and like the latter, the show has both an episodic and story arc hybrid sort of episode style going on, with a clear forward time progression. Finally, I will say the finale was a solid cap to the built-up events of the next season and a fine way to wrap up a number of outstanding questions while keeping perhaps the biggest one perfectly intact. As the theme song goes, “life is like a hurricane here in Duckberg.” It most certainly is, and it will be one of the more intriguing questions of 2019 as to where this series goes.


Animation Quality: Modern 2-D animation, computer animated. The style of this show is done in a way that emulates classic Scrooge comics a bit, right down to the key character designs, and this influence can also be notably felt in the revamped opening for the show. It’s a style that feel different enough from the original show to feel aesthetically unique, but pleasing, but similar enough that it’s unmistakably DuckTales. A fine job all around. 5/5 points.

Characterization: The thoughts above already encapsulated a wide variety of observations on the main cast of this show, with one major exception: the triplets.

The forever gripe about Huey, Dewey and Louie had been the difficulty in differentiating them as individuals. They also all had the “Donald Duck” voice treatment in most of their iterations, meaning it was often hard to complete understand what they were saying. In a bold, but not completely unexpected move, the creative team decided to overhaul the trio a bit and give them a) design makeovers, b) actual separate voice actors, c) more defined individual personalities, and d) both a strong sense of individuality but also unbreakable brotherhood.

So, to recap: Dewey is the headstrong adventurer of the three, though lacking in common sense at times. He’s the blue t-shirt. Huey is the one who retains the classic outfit with the hat in red, and in this iteration is the smart, nerdy duck. He’s well organized and believes in facts and data, order and planning- and especially if it’s in the Junior Woodchuck manual. Finally, Louie is the cool cat, in the green hoodie and with an appreciation for the finest things in life. He’s got his Uncle Scrooge’s penchant for treasure and the riches of the world, and he’s got a bit of a clever con-man inside him too. Sometimes, the trio can be their own worst enemies, but oftentimes, they make the best team that can overcome any obstacle.

While the story and show isn’t done being written yet, the reimagined DuckTales cast has been not only satisfactory, but rather well-implemented with a charm all their own. The writers do appreciate some references now and again to the original series, so keep your eyes open for the details!

4.5/5 points.

Story: Hybrid of episodic and overarching plot storytelling. As noted initially, this takes some cues from Gravity Falls in all likelihood, especially with the mystery elements, but some credit should also go to the original DuckTales, which occassionally had some mini-arcs on some of Scrooge’s outings, perhaps none more notable or memorable than the feature-length film that was the original’s pilot (and worth 5 episodes!) Within this show though, it’s a nice blend that keeps dramatic tension up nicely while furthering character development all the time, and episodes have good attention to detail of past events and prior happenings as well. Intriguing setup is in place for season 2. 4.25/5 points.

Themes: This show’s about family and the relationships people make, aside from all the adventuring, spelunking and various other (mis)adventures. It’s got a real emotional core in there though, and deals with some pretty complicated stuff within that simple premise, from the strains of being siblings to the dreams and desires of an only child to be part of that, to even an old duck’s regrets and misunderstandings causing very real pain. Don’t be fooled- this show even with its humor and the network(s) it airs on has some real weight in the characters themselves, especially when you key in on the details. It will be fascinating to see how this continues to unfold. 4/5 points.

Don’t Insult the Viewer: From the revived classic theme song, to the fast-paced action of the show, and the family-friendly presentation, it makes a good impression in this department. Some of the technology references though could get a bit dated as time goes on, but that’s a minor gripe. 4.75/5 points.

Overall: 22.5/25(90%): This may seem like a bit of a high grade for one season of a show with huge expectations, but it was a genuinely enjoyable watch that had a lot to like in its initial relaunch. It’s not a perfect show- nothing is- but it captures the essence of DuckTales supremely well and is a great show in its own right thus far, no strings attached. It’s worth checking it out sometime!

 

10 Thoughts: Week of June 25th

AniB goes to the movies, watches some anime, and stumps for the hometown hockey team. (Beware of T-Rexes!)

In this week’s 10 Thoughts, AniB takes a look at the movies, the usual look at this past week’s My Hero Academia episode, and as usual, a few other musings.

 

1.One of the issues with going to see animated films at the cinema is that you never know what kind of previews you’ll be forced to sit through. As the general audience is expected to be younger, you usually get a grab-bag of animated fare with promise, some ghastly looking premises, and the occasionally amazing-looking film. In the end though, it’s mostly exciting just to get to the movie you came to see…

2. …so in that vein, The Teen Titans Go! preview looks every bit as awful as I suspected it would. Memo to Cartoon Network: it’s your #1 show because you guys pushed into roughly 95% of your available time-slots. It’s not hard to make something the de-facto top show when it’s the only game in town, and if I had access, I’d like to see the numbers of their rarely other-aired shows extrapolated over the same time, or rather, TTG’s number’s averaged together for every viewing at the same rate of something else. I bet things don’t add up, and this film isn’t going to move a lot of people at all outside the 7-12 boys demographic (and their parents.) Mark my words on that.

3. Since this is a movie-centric 10 Thoughts so far, Incredibles 2 is definitely the clubhouse leader when it comes to to the animation award at the Academies so far. Going back to what I said a week ago (at the time of this writing) in a prior column, I’d be willing to bet even now it’s the odds-on favorite regardless of what Wreck-It Ralph 2 does as a sequel later this year, unless it’s absolutely stunning in a way no one saw coming. (Before anyone references Spirited Away or Wallace and Gromit, a friendly reminder that those awards were in 2002 and 2005 respectively- and the rules got worse for foreign films aside from the long drought. So I’m not holding my breath.)

4. One last movie thought, non-animated: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is definitely a popcorn-munching film, but from a purely critical standpoint, something about it doesn’t quite pack the same punch as the franchise’s revival song in Jurassic World. Maybe (spoilers!) it’s because weaponized dinos is such a silly premise with a fancy coat of paint over it that I can’t take it seriously. But then again, anything Jurassic Park or World related requires a suspension of disbelief, and from my experience, an IMAX screen if you’re actually living near a theater that has one. Something about dinosaurs on the biggest screen makes it that much better.

5. Alright, I’m sure you want some anime thoughts now to balance things out, and that begins with this past week’s My Hero Academia, which more or less capped off a big turning point for the series, without spoiling too much of anything. I’ll say this: Izuku’s mom is a really loving person who truly has her son’s best interests at heart, and that should be lauded.

 

6. Continuing on with Hero Academia , it was killing me not to include manga spoilers about Izuku Midoriya in this past week’s character piece.That said, he’s a really good example of a shonen protagonist done right, and has definitely become a favorite character of mine since I first picked up the series.

 

7. I’ve been reading the One Piece manga for a little while, on and off, which is absolutely terrific. However, it is somewhat of a daunting proposition even just covering the Shonen Jump publication from the start, so don’t expect me to talk about the anime (or it various filler arcs) on here, since it’s simply too darn long to actually pick up and watch to the current point. That said… the manga is truly wonderful. I recommend it if you haven’t touched the series.

 

8. On a non-shonen note, picked up the first five episodes of Welcome to the NHK. What a weird, darkly humorous show so far, which is just odd enough to be intriguing without being a total turn-off. Hard balance to achieve, definitely…and this is one I’d like to see through to the end in due time.

 

9.   I’m planning to review a show again this week, but what that is yet isn’t even clear to me at this point. I’ve got a few pretty good ideas of what to go over though, and it might just be a Western show. Also, did anyone notice I finally added a “Movie Reviews” tab to the main site’s page? I’ve got three of ’em now, so the time seemed right…and while the focus here is still going to be primarily on shows, I’m open to animated film suggestions as well.

10. Finally, in one other non-animated thought, the Buffalo Sabres (my hockey team!) finally drafted Rasmus Dahlin, the Swedish wunderkind defensemen, this past Friday with the top overall pick. While I doubt most, if any of my readers, have a vested interest heavily in sports, it’s a big thing for the city and the hopeful continued resurgence of a massive turnaround in the pro franchises’ fortune of Buffalo, coming on the heels of a Bills playoff berth this past January. So coming back around, I suppose my question for the week is “what sports team do you root for, if any; and if not, could you recommend a sports show or movie you might have liked?” (I suspect I might get some Draft Day and Hoosiers comments if I say nothing…or just sports anime. Either way, fine by me!)


Like what you see? Any thoughts on the question of the week, or any other suggestions about things you’d like me to write about? Leave a comment!

Preliminary Review: Star vs. The Forces of Evil (post season 3)

The princess of Mewni’s tale takes on a lot more depth.

The Lowdown:

Show: Star vs. The Forces of Evil

Network/years aired: Disney X.D, 2015-

(NOTE: THIS REVIEW HAS SPOILERS. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.)

AniB’s thoughts:

In a change from my usual reviewing style, I’m actually talking more about some specifics of this past season of Star vs. The Forces of Evil. For the first time here on AniB Productions, I’m looking at a second review of a show I already did (after season 2), and it would be some sense of folly to rehash thoughts that existed after the prior season’s events, most of which has changed drastically at this point. However, for reference, here’s a link to post Season 2’s thoughts if you’d like to see what I said back then.

 

Season 3, in a word, was wild. A huge season for a franchise that was building massive expectations after its second season wound up panning out well for the most part, with the interesting choice to open with a movie (‘The Battle for Mewni”) which resolved a variety of long-standing plot questions, but in turn opened up some major new ones- and the ending of the season, when the unexpected revival of a certain antagonist paved the way for some truly intriguing plot points moving forward.

One of the stronger moves the show made in order to increase its scope and storytelling was actually moving away from Echo Creek as the main locale to Mewni. The “Star as an exchange student” plotline had run its course, and as a princess-in-training, the logical next step would be for her to slowly get more engaged in the kingdom she’d be running day to day. It also allowed the writers a chance to work far more with the “magical” characters on cast, such as Tom, Kelly, and the Magical High Commission, and in turn, the Earth characters not named Marco didn’t make too many appearances, outside of an episode featuring Marco’s parents, some appearances by Janna, and the final breakup of Jackie Lynn with Marco that was both inevitable (and sort of wrote her out of the show as a key character, but season 2 was her big shining moment.)

The aspect that impressed me the most though (and became very noticeable this season) were the layered implications of changing events in all the aspects where Star’s life had touched up to that point- from the Diaz family, who unexpectedly were revealed to be having another son, to the underflowing current of monster society that was in the background of the entire season (and show, for that matter.) Star vs. The Forces of Evil has slowly, and rather subtly, transformed much like the Mewman princess’s character growth- it has come a long way from the early season 1 episodes of Ludo and his band of monsters showing up to try and steal Star’s wand- a goal and stakes that seem positively petty to  the current situation at the end of Season 3.

 

Star’s progression as a show has been incredibly encouraging from season to season, continually building on its plot points in new and often unexpected ways. A season that began with a somewhat inaccurately titled “Battle for Mewni” and a presumptive threat in waiting from Ludo changed more drastically than a chameleon on a bad day- the return and fall of Toffee, the unexpected entrance of Eclipsa into the show, though her kind and playful demeanor made plenty of viewers give pause to the “Eclipsa is definitely evil!” theory; and then the dramatic re-emergence of Miss Heinous, previously relegated to second-tier villainy, as an incredibly important and dangerous force in the Mewni puzzle: revealed to be the princess Meteora, Eclipsa’s flesh and blood; a bastard child in the eyes of the kingdom at the the time to all but her mother due to her unique mixed-race lineage as a monster and Mewman.

Fundamentally, Meteora’s role was symbolically important in the show’s narrative: here was a flesh and blood example that threw the “established truths” about the relations of the two major groups residing in the kingdom in a sort of chaos, and furthermore, there was actually serious questions of legitimacy to right of the throne. This topic in particular actually was a strongly reoccurring theme this season, not only with Star’s return to Mewni, but Ludo/Toffee’s brief hostile takeover of the kingdom (the crown by war and force), and then later, by the re-emergence of Eclipsa who never died and her daughter, who by the general rules of heredity that exist in royal lines (and Mewni’s is passed through the females, not the males,) Eclipsa is actually the rightful Queen and her daughter has a claim to the throne as well. In turn, there’s a strong argument both Moon and Star in turn have no right to the throne, which is a thematic twist of brilliance borne out of “our so-called heroes have actually done terrible things and the so-called bad guys are like they are because of such things.” This isn’t your simple little Disney show anymore when you think about it…

 

The entire royal tangle is part of what makes the emerging political game so intriguing in this show, especially with the end of season reveal that was Globgar- Eclipsa’s monster husband, who like her was encased in crystal. Needless to say, a royal rumble of sorts might just be about to emerge- and season 4 is shaping up to be something very promising indeed, for a show that has really shaped up into something special.


Animation Quality: Traditional 2-D animation, with some anime influence. It’s a unique art style that has roots in the magical girl-type show, with a bright and vibrant color palette. It’s rather clean for the many different monsters and locales on display, and comes off nicely. 4.25/5 points.

 

Characterization: The show revolves around two main characters: the titular Star Butterfly, the free-spirited princess of a dimension known as Mewni, who is sent to Earth in an attempt for her to mature and grow as a young woman, and Marco Diaz, her host family’s son and best friend. Through three seasons however, the supporting cast has grown and played strong re-occurring roles in several episodes, particularly Star’s own family, who took on a much more prominent position in the show’s narrative starting with the end of season 2.

Star is a rebel princess through and through; and while she’s hardly a “by the book” type of individual, she possesses a great deal of natural talent in magic and a sense of freewheeling adventure. Her relationships she’s made on the show have continually developed, and as a result, become more complex- you could technically even say “multiversal.” None of the above has necessarily changed by the end of season 3, but Star has become (slowly) a more responsible individual, and one committed to the future of her kingdom in a way that simply wasn’t present when she first appeared in Season 1.  She’s shown extreme loyalty to her friends, a willingness to understand all sides of a story, and gained the full power of her Mewberty butterfly form as well. Star was truly outstanding in the past season.

Marco Diaz serves as Star’s best friend and exchange host on Earth in the first 2 seasons . Cautious and straightforward, Marco’s a good kid who is hopelessly naive about veiled references and hidden feelings- he’s a straight shooter. He’s also a red belt in karate after the events of season 2, and is inexperienced (as you’d expect from someone his age) about romance. In Season 3, Marco moves to Mewni and becomes Star’s squire, sworn to protect her from danger. While the “Starco” plotline makes some progress in certain episodes, it certainly wasn’t the biggest aspect of the season for me, though as for Marco as a person, his bravery and sense of loyalty might have never been stronger. However, he’s now actively dealing with the tensions of living in another dimension, meaning a visit or two back to Echo Creek wouldn’t be a bad thing for our young hero as his family awaits a new baby!

A much bigger role appears for Star’s family as mentioned in my thoughts above. Leading the way on that front is the increased involvement of Queen Moon, who from the end of season 2 takes on a whole new role that really elevates her from this stodgy queen figure to a ruler who bears the stresses of her kingdom usually with dignity, but also with a level of uncertainty and insecurity, considering her past and what she hopes to pass onto the future in Star. She’s less tolerant than her daughter though when it comes to dealing with threats, and this tendency in turn costs her dearly by the end of the season.

Something that actually bothered me this season was the role of River, Star’s father. He sometimes was portrayed to have extreme levels of incompetence to the point of stupidity, which I believed was at odds to his prior characterization in the first two seasons: a loving father, devoted king, and on the inside, a wild man with the heart of a lion and the occasional good advice. One thing did remain consistent though: A love of corn.

The supporting cast continues to be pretty zany, but it works in the frenetic style of the show. I’ll mention Ludo, the main “villain” of the show in season 1, who has gone through a very interesting little character arc of his own; Toffee, the actual main villain through “the Battle of Mewni”, and a variety of Star and Marco’s friends and acquaintances, which include Tom, the demon prince who wound up becoming Star’s official boyfriend again (and amazingly enough, great friends with Marco), Kelly, a girl who first appeared in Season 2’s “Goblin Dogs” and since then became more or less a part of the core “friend” group of the show, Janna, a troublemaking girl who becomes close with Star; Ponyhead, the wild princess who was Star’s first friend before coming to Earth, and Jackie, a friend of Star’s and longtime crush of Marco, though her future relevance is very much in question after the events of “Sophomore Slump.”  3.75/5 points.

 

Story quality: Episodic, with an underlying story that began to pick up much more strongly in the final 3rd of the first season. Since then, the show has developed an interesting plot about coming of age, dealing with relationships, and the pressures of royalty mixed in with its usual fun, wacky, and free-flowing style, meaning a solid balance of humor and seriousness. I wrote in my prior review “It’s an effective mix that I hope to see keep developing. So far, it’s a good start- not the level of season 1 Gravity Falls, but certainly worth a watch.” Since then, Star has really taken off on its own, and I’m impressed- it’s an enjoyable watch that stays unpredictable with plenty of twists that work. 4/5 points.

 

Themes: Initially, there’s this idea of mystery and magic mixed with the idea of growing up and friendship, which then becomes more complicated with time. At the end of season 3, there’s definitely a stronger development on the “growing up” aspect, but there’s also some royal lineage stuff that gets a history buff like your truly going, some latent questions about the truth of the Mewman kingdom and perhaps an undercurrent of “do we really understand and listen to all parts of our society?” Interesting developments continue to await. 3.75/5 points.

 

Don’t insult the viewer: The show’s bursting with a good sense of fun and energy while staying rather clean. The theme song and outro are both very catchy, and there’s something infectiously enjoyable about watching this show, which is hard to describe. As of season 3, a new outro was introduced and the opening recieved fresh graphics more in line with the show’s current events. 5/5 points.

Total Score: 20.75/25 (83%). A third season that unfolded with big-time expectations mostly delivered, setting up another intriguing season that may or may not be the last. Watching the development of this show has been rewarding, and it’s an entertaining watch that’s definitely worth picking up (and that’s for anyone who read this despite the spoiler warning!) For everyone else, three seasons are in the book. What comes next will once again determine how the show is viewed as a whole.


Like what you see? Big Star vs. fan? Leave a comment!

Random Episode Ramblings #2: “Duck Amuck” (Looney Tunes)

Happy New Year everyone! I hope all my readers had a great end of 2017, and I’m wishing everyone the best in 2018. And to start things off, we’re going back to a classic short that’s instantly recognizable to anyone who’s seen it… Also, it’ll answer the following question:

“Where’s the Western animated fare lately?”

Well, fret not. The second (and also long-awaited) episode review is a an absolute classic from one of the greatest animators in the history of the medium- Chuck Jones, and in turn, one of the more iconic outings for Daffy Duck, everyone’s favorite hard-luck egotistical mallard. The Looney Tunes are definitely something I’ve wanted to discuss for a while in writing, and rightfully so- the influence of this show and its characters in the history of animation cannot be understated.

Looney Tunes of course, is iconic in animation, and  for good reason. It was a pivotal show in writing the rules to the medium and featured some legendary talent that worked on it, along with unforgettable characters, especially Bugs Bunny and the aforementioned star of this episode- Daffy Duck, who in turn had an interesting history leading up to the creation of Duck Amuck.

While certainly worth an entire “What’s In a Character” piece, Daffy briefly had been the biggest star for Warner Bros. in the late 30’s and early 40’s, usurping the lead role in the common pairing he’d have with Porky Pig. He was the archetype of the lunatic-type character, giving audiences something very different in a protagonist, and on top of that had a fair bit of talent and wit. However, the latter decade quickly saw the meteoric rise of Bugs Bunny as the new main star of the Looney Tunes cast, and so Daffy in turn would find his role transformed into the eternal second fiddle and archival of Warner’s main star, bitterly hoping to be the main hero again but rarely succeeding, in large part thanks to an outsized hubris and always to plenty of laughs.

Duck Amuck therefore, was an interesting exercise in animation. Daffy had been well established and become widely known in the years since his introduction by the public; how would he fare though shoved into completely different contexts that both dug at the fundamental aspects of the form itself, and still generated a fair bit of humor? In turn, this episode delivered something that was simultaneously a deconstruction of cartoons, along with an all-time memorable Daffy episode.

“Scenery? Where’s the scenery?”

The short first starts off with Daffy armed and ready for what he assumes is a Three Musketeers parody, complete with the title cards to match, the swashbuckling hat and rapier. Unfortunately for him, no sooner does he begin his actions than does the scenery disappear, confusing the duck as he begins a episode-long argument with an unseen animator, who in turn makes it a very one sided debate…

The episode then continues to put Daffy through the paces of a variety of animated questions, all done in a fluid sequence of gags, orchestral hits and bits, and Daffy’s one sided dialogue. What, for example, happens when you take away his voice briefly? How about when he doesn’t even look like a duck anymore, save his voice? All in all, this episode proves to both be quintessential Looney Tunes but also unlike anything else in the show’s long run- where a literally unseen hand constantly and silently breaks the fourth wall. (Who the narrator is though, is a gag in it of itself. The answer might present itself quite clearly to long-times fans.)

“All right, wise guy. Who’s responsible for this?”

From my own point of view, Duck Amuck is not only brilliant, but required watching for those who want to understand the animated medium boiled down to its very nuts and bolts…all while making for a highly entertaining segment that indeed is very Daffy Duck despite it being nothing like any of his other outings. The pacing and flow of the short is superb, and the transitions (as well as those unseen questions) happen in rapid sequence, which in turn actually causes Daffy consternation, annoyance, and final outright anger at the mysterious source of his misfortune through the show.

Perhaps more interesting yet is still the fact that it’s an animated short that is about the medium itself, beyond Daffy as a front-man. The duck is self-aware that he’s in “an animated cartoon,” and loudly complains about the incompetence of the unseen artist who in turn is the animator himself- which means Duck Amuck in turn is an episode that’s also about the creativity and sorts of zany things animators can in fact do- with the template simply being “this is Daffy Duck in a Looney Tunes short. Go wild! And remember to make it funny!”

Duck Amuck’s simple brilliance continues to shine well over 60 years from its debut. In that sense, Daffy’s character survived intact in this short the final test for all animation- the passage of time- and the presentation and unmistakable presence of this classic ‘toon has succeeded with flying colors in that key regard. In fact, Duck Amuck found itself selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in the US Library of Congress- a rare honor for an animated cartoon- and only one of three episodes helmed by Jones that has that distinction. High praise, indeed.


Happy New Year! (The Bills made the playoffs!) Like what you see? Love the Looney Tunes or Daffy Duck? Leave a comment!

Review: Wander Over Yonder

Take a wild wacky trip across the galaxy.

The Lowdown:

Show: Wander Over Yonder

Network/years aired: Disney Channel/XD, 2013- 2016

AniB’s thoughts: The most recent and perhaps underrated work of Craig McCracken’s career is this show- the delightfully offbeat slice of life Wander Over Yonder. Borrowing notes from classic cartoons of yesteryear and a good sense of adventure, Wander managed to carve itself out as a sort of cult hit on Disney X.D., in the midst of more celebrated works airing at the same time, namely Gravity Falls and Phineas and Ferb, and in turn, was an understated cartoon, quietly bowing out in a summer finale in 2016.

Despite its reputation as a severely overlooked show, Wander featured some legitimate vocal talent on its cast, led by Jack McBrayer as Wander, (whose other well known voice acting role was as Wreck-It Ralph’s titular game companion, Fix-It Felix in the movie of the former’s same name.) A strange “wandering hippie man” as McCracken describes him, Wander is endlessly upbeat and looking to make friends wherever he goes and however improbable the situation… and there’s something very warm about his entire concept that just works, beyond the orange fur… He is accompanied everywhere by his inseparable pal, Sylvia, who prefers to to let her fists do the talking while concealing a gentler side as well.

There was also an actual character arc in the show for main baddie-turned likable incompetent Lord Hater, who despite his odd love-hate relationship with Wander (his antithesis) stayed deep down committed to his goal of being the “the #1 villain and baddest in the universe!” Accompanying him was also one of the better animated sidekicks in a while, the single-eyed Commander Peepers, voiced by none other than Tom Kenny, as the general of Hater’s “Watchdog” Army- a group of similarly single-eyed little men with unwavering devotion, a fair amount of cowardice, a surprising number of luxuries, and perhaps most notably, woefully underutilized by their big boss- who delegated all the hard day to day details to Peepers.

 

The show’s second and final season also saw the introduction of a brand-new and very competent villain as well (who I mention about in the character grading section), and the continued zany adventures of Wander and Sylvia, as well as Hater and his minions. Both seasons feature a lot of different planets and locales, and in many ways, it’s a more modern take on the old “space age” tales of classic cartoons the show riffs off of. Instead of shiny aluminum towers, Planet X’s and little green men though, Wander creates an immensely diverse place that we all get a glimpse into, while wondering aloud if the myriad of characters in the show are missing it all as well as it passes by. There’s a lot of heart and some deeper questions sometimes lurking in the fabric of this fun production, even among goofy inane pursuits ranging from Hater’s terrible sense of romance to Wander’s seemingly inhuman ability to drop *everything* at the cry of help. Needless to say, it’s a show that’s easily accessible and truly far more than just a footnote from its time period on Disney X.D.

 


 

Animation Quality: Traditional 2-D animation, with computer shading. Wander’s animation is gorgeously classic, a wonderful rich palette with varied worlds, characters and backgrounds all done in a simple, hand-drawn style. It works very well, and in some ways is remincient of the various locales in Samurai Jack, despite the different style of show and eras. There’s a lot of charm and color, along with some neat animation techniques which really make the show come alive. 4.5/5 points.

 
Characterization: While mostly covered in the thoughts section, the show rotates around the titular Wander, a sort of wandering “hippie” who crosses the galaxy looking to help people, have fun, and promote peace; his ride and best friend Sylvia, a “zbornak” who is a tough as she is loyal, and their “frienenemies,” so to speak- Lord Hater, the self-proclaimed villainous “Greatest in the Galaxy”, his second in command Commander Peepers, and a army of one-eyed henchmen known as the Watchdogs.

(SLIGHT SPOILERS:)

As of the second and final season, Lord Dominator, a ruthless conqueror bent on destroying the galaxy, takes over the main antagonist role. Unlike Hater, she outright seeks to destroy planets in an unstoppable march that she revels in. Dominator’s personal lack of friends may have more than a little to do with her ambitions, but she’s also quite powerful herself and genuinely enjoys being evil, so there’s that.

(END SPOILERS)

Truthfully, the entire show’s cast is exaggerated and funny in their traits, but the DNA of classic Looney Tunes and Hanna-Barbera run deep through its veins, and their hijinks correspond to that sort of humor, which is well-written. For this style of show, it’s very good. 3.75/5 points.

 

 
Story quality: Episodic, with continuity. Wander at its core has the DNA of classic Western cartoons in its storytelling, and each episode is naturally its own adventure. However, there is continuity in the show; past people and place reappear, adventures are referenced that already happened, and character development, along with a loosely long-term narrative exists. There’s no arcs, so to speak, but it’s a lot of fun to watch; it’s a show that’s smart without ever taking itself too seriously, knowing its own tropes. Indeed, the conclusion of the show is both a fitting end to the wacky people and places of the show while still giving a sense that the adventure never ends… 4/5 points.

 

 
Themes: There’s a lot of nice themes wedged into episodes about friendship, love, and ultimately many other valuable life lessons. It’s a very sweet show that finely balances these ideas on its trademark humor and zaniness. However, if you’re looking for a very densely packed thematic show, you’re in the wrong place. 3.25/5 points.

 
Don’t insult the viewer: “Fun” is the best descriptor to describe Wander. Smart, classic, and something all its own, it’s a cool ride. It also uses references and tropes quite well. 5/5 points.

 

 

Total Score: 20.5/25 (82%). Craig McCracken’s show is a entertaining blend of slapstick humor, frantic storytelling, and hints of past efforts such as Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends. It is one of the better efforts at the episodic format in recent years, and is worth a watch. (You’ll also find yourself whistling that theme song all day long!)


Like what you see? Have something to say about Wander Over Yonder? Leave a comment!

Review: Ed, Edd, n Eddy

One of the longest-running Cartoon Cartoons embodied the precociousness of youth.

The Lowdown:

Show: Ed, Ed n Eddy

Network/years aired: Cartoon Network, 1999-2009

The Lowdown: Memorial Day has passed, and June has arrived- meaning summer’s unofficially arrived for many people. To that end, perhaps no show embodied the idea of creative childhood summers better than Danny Antonucci’s Ed, Edd n Eddy, one of the first Cartoon Cartoons, and also the longest running one, sticking around in production for a full decade. In many ways, the show marked the beginning of one era and the end of another, serving as a pillar for Cartoon Network in its so-called “golden era” that occurred in almost exactly the same time frame the show existed.

To be sure, Ed, Edd n Eddy is quite different from other later cartoons that take place mostly or completely in the season. It’s not a Gravity Falls with a deep mystery element and overarching story, nor does it try to be, and while a show like Phineas and Ferb focuses on inventiveness and references, it’s almost certainly a successor in some ways to the Eds. The show, quite simply, is classic slice of life scenarios chock to the brim with slapstick, clearly defined personalities, and quite a bit of humor that really clicks once you’re over the age of 18. More specifically, the Eds are your neighborhood outcasts always looking to try a score a quick buck and social “cred” en route to jawbreakers- the hard candies are bloated to massive proportions in the show- and for the most part, fail miserably, often to some combination of disaster, abject humiliation, injury, or bad luck. Most remarkably despite all that, the Eds keep plugging away, one day (or episode) at a time.

For many kids growing up in the early-mid 2000’s, the Eds were probably a constant in your cartoon repertoire. There was some personal involvement in watching Antonucci’s fictional Cul-de-Sac as the Eds navigated life and attempted scams. For an episodic cartoon, there was an unusual attachment to the characters the more one watched- and certainly, most people had their favorites- Double D certainly stood out as the brains of the trio; there was the fear of the Kankers busting out of nowhere in any given episode, and quite a few people probably also wished Ed didn’t have the brattiest sister on Earth in Sarah. The show may have resonated strongly among the demographic precisely because it was an exaggerated version of many a peer group- and the creativity of childhood unbridled in a show with reckless abandon, and so it can be said Ed, Edd n Eddy beyond any other descriptor, is fun.

While the show primarily is set in summer, the 5th season took it in a different direction, bringing the Eds and their peers to school and into fall and winter- a fact sometimes lost in the classic episodes of the first four seasons. However, the best part was that Ed, Edd, n Eddy went out with a bang and at precisely the right moment to avoid seasonal rot in 2009’s Ed, Edd, n Eddy’s Big Picture Show– a movie that largely brought the Eds back to their roots while giving the series a fitting wrap-up. I wouldn’t quite call the series a classic, but it was very influential, and has quite a few individual episodes that are conceptually brilliant (and very funny). It’s a bit of a nostalgia trip to go back and watch the show now, but its trademark style still shines through.


Animation Quality: An old-school 2-D cel shading, which was uncommon at the point the show debuted and virtually unheard of in 2009. Danny Antonucci specifically wanted this style of animation in order to evoke a certain style and feel- and to that end, it successfully captures the old-time feeling of cartoons past, even if it isn’t perfect…but plenty good enough to bring the world of the Cul-de-Sac to life. 4/5 points.

 
Characterization: Episodic show, focused mainly on the three titular characters, all of whom fit a certain type of individual. Of the titular characters, Ed’s the nice, if not completely dumb, grunt; Edd, better known as “Double D” is the smart, nerdy one, and Eddy’s a straight con man.

Ed, while a simple and foolish kid mostly, is very kind, ridiculously strong and loves life. He’s got no sense of personal hygiene, loves monster movies, chickens and buttered toast, and most of all, hanging out with his best pals. Spouting usually nonsensical phrases and laughter, Ed every once in a while has a moment of enlightenment; it’s always entertaining when that happens.

Edd, better known as “Double D,” is the brains of the trio. Diametrically opposed to Ed in terms of cleanliness and knowledge, Edd’s a neat freak and the inventor behind the construction of the trio’s scams. He’s physically weak, but makes up for it in social adeptness, manners, and a kind disposition to please everyone…which comes back to bite him often in this show. He also wears a black sock cap; a running gag is no one has seen what’s under the cap save for the other Eds (and so it’s left to speculation.)

Eddy is the self-proclaimed leader of the Eds and the driver of the scams the trio perform through the show. He’s short in stature, but his greed for money and jawbreakers often dominate his personality. (SPOILERS: In reality, Eddy harbors an inferiority complex. He’s stuck in the shadow of his big brother and desperately wants to be liked by everyone…but is instead the object of derision from the other kids for much of the show.) Despite his flaws, Eddy is fond of his friends, and the Eds are an inseparable trio, despite their wildly different personalities and goals.

The rest of the cast of characters are entertaining enough, though as an episodic show  get varying amounts development for as long as the show aired. This consists of the other Cul-de-Sac kids that appear in every episode, and the Kankers, who are deliciously fun, if not ridiculously over the top, as the villains of the show.  3.5/5 points.

 
Story quality: Episodic, with some canon here and there, mainly pertaining to the Eds’ themselves, such as Double D’s hat and Eddy’s brother. Each episode is usually well paced and takes a page out of the slapstick book of humor, albeit more unsettling than the classics and not anywhere close to “adult fare.” Most episodes usually follow a formula, and so it’s good, not great. Entertaining is the best descriptor. 3.25/5 points.

 
Themes: This show is virtually void of most deeply engrossing themes…except it explores certain aspects of childhood and growing up quite well. There’s a shared brotherhood in the struggle for acceptance between the Eds, and perhaps a bit of a running meta-commentary on life. (Man, I’m not sure who’d want to live in that neighborhood.) There’s nothing super-objectionable though. 2.75/5 points.

 
Don’t insult the viewer: Ed, Edd, n Eddy is pretty funny, though it can be crude at points, and certain scenes can be unsettling…but that’s probably what Danny Antonucci was going for. The soundtrack also matches the fast-paced mayhem of the show well, and certain motifs are given to characters if you listen closely. 4.25/5 points.

 

 

Total Score: 17.75/25 (71%). Ed, Ed n Eddy was certainly an quantified success by ratings and seasons, but it is at its heart, an above-average cartoon with some notable flaws. Overrated slightly? Most definitely. Downright terrible? Not at all. “Above-average” seems to be a fair descriptor, and careful analysis seems to agree, as it does some things very well and preserves the sense of fun it always had some number of years later.


Like what you see? Was Ed, Edd n Eddy a favorite of yours? Leave a comment!

Review: The Huckleberry Hound Show

The blue hound with a Southern drawl proved influential- but how does he hold up today?

The Lowdown:

Show: The Huckleberry Hound Show

Studio/ years aired:  (Hanna-Barbera), 1958-1962

AniB’s thoughts: Oh yeah, I’m going old-school here. In sharp contrast to samurais, a classroom of amateur assassins doubling as junior high students, or if you want to go back further, a pair of twins in a town full of mystery, it’s all the way back to circa 1958 with one of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera’s classic cartoons: Huckleberry Hound.

Classic cartoon aficionados will recognize this distinctively even-keeled blue hound with the signature Southern drawl and a love for the tune “My Darling Clementine,” and while he’s acknowledged as a timeless character, Huckleberry himself is really straightforward. He either gets outwitted or outwits his adversary of the day, with a trademark dry commentary and a personality that never gets too high or too low. And Huckleberry Hound actually brings me to a conversation I’ve been wanting to have for a while: How should we view classic cartoon characters?

Characters like Huckleberry Hound are archetypes of later shows- the bedrock in which slapstick humor of certain varieties and the bare-bone plot structure of the “slice of life” show came from. It’s fair to say that Huck’s a classic character instantly from the Hanna-Barbera library, but at the risk of probably offending some purists, he hasn’t aged that impressively. The Looney Tunes (the original run of shows, right up through 1969), for instance, still retain their charm quite well over 50 years later, and there’s a sort of classic nostalgia that can’t be replicated, such as the Wile.E. Coyote- Roadrunner chase sequences. Huckleberry Hound on the other hand, has some variety, but Huck’s heavy handed attempts to solve the plot of the day seem to fall somewhat flat, especially with a rogues gallery that’s more generic than anything, and animation that even for the period, seems somewhat lazy at times. The classics are the classics, but there’s nothing wrong in pointing out a flaw or , especially if other shows of the period did it better. However, the show did pioneer one aspect of animation better than almost any other show: breaking the 4th wall. Huckleberry was known to often turn and talk to the audience about his plans, and while other shows certainly did this sort of tactic, it was the bread and butter of the blue hound. Additionally, the show was credited with helping Hanna-Barbera grow into becoming a household name (along with Yogi Bear), and actually won an Emmy in 1960 for children’s programming, while simultaneously helping animation’s push into made-for TV series, and so, Huck’s influence is not to be unappreciated.

The Huckleberry Hound Show was quite successful in its own day, and like most successful Hanna-Barbera characters, Huck re-appeared in a number of spin-offs down the line, especially in the 1970’s (where the company got really successful, but lazy, as the major game in town in Western animation…and it all had to be watered down “for kids.”) The show aired re-runs for a long time on Boomerang, Cartoon Network’s sister channel, after the acquisition of Hanna-Barbera properties by Time Warner, but it may not now, given Boomerang’s propensity to air other classic properties. It’s worth appreciating for what it was (a period piece with some influence) and to add breadth to your animation viewing palette, but I suspect most experienced viewers will either find it to be too simple, or delighted for the same reason.


1. Animation Quality: Traditional 2-D animation, hand painted backgrounds and drawings. Everything was drawn frame-by frame, and so, a lot of classic techniques are on display, such as the static backgrounds that are scrolled along to give the illusion of motion. It’s pretty standard for the late ’50’s- early 60’s, and so, it grades out average as well. 2.5/5 points.

2. Characterization: Essentially, the entire section falls on how strong of a character one thinks Huckleberry Hound is.

Huckleberry is an erstwhile individual who usually serves in a variety of professions which change depending on the episode and setting, from a cattle rancher to a policeman (on several occasions) to even a knight in medieval times. Typically, he’ll be pitted against the episode “antagonist(s)” who is/are the cause of the conflict, and slapstick comedy ensues when Huck attempts to resolve said issue. He’s relatively cut and dry outside of the characteristics mentioned in my thoughts. Still, those characteristics, from the Southern drawl to the 4th wall breaking, gave him a distinct personality and made him a classic cartoon character; unfortunately, the rest can’t be said of the rotating generic cast. 3.25/5 points

3. Story quality: Episodic shorts with plenty of cutaway gags. Huckleberry Hound was a typical work in story structure for the period, and wasn’t terrible, but a bit simple, given Western cartoons’ propensity to target kids exclusively in shows at the time. 2.5/5 points.

4. Themes: Thematically, the show is very simple, largely in part because the story and characters are simple too. Essentially, it’s the classic “good guy” wins (mostly, or sort of) and the “bad guy” (or antagonist figure, most, if not all of Huck’s opponents could be described as mischievous or flat characters, rather than truly “evil”) either gets his just desserts or “loses.” This would be docked more for being rather cliche and shallow if the show aired 40 years later, but considering the period and target audience, it’s very difficult to fault too heavily weakness in this area. 2/5 points.

5. Don’t insult the viewer: Huckleberry Hound is a clean show, has classic slapstick humor, and is simple fun, if nothing else. It doesn’t have a snazzy soundtrack or a crazy premise, but it’s got a decent main character and a nostalgia factor. 5/5 points.

Total Score: 15.25/25 (61%). The score may seem somewhat low for a “classic show,” but The Huckleberry Hound Show is a mixed package of a period piece that’s quite dated in some respects, and still retains some charm and innovation in others. There are other cartoons from the period that did plenty of the things it did better, such as the aforementioned Looney Tunes, but it’s worth a look if you love retro shows, classic characters, or a further look into the history of animation.


Like what you see? Love any classic or retro cartoons from pre-1980? Leave a comment!

Random Episode Ramblings #1: “Not What He Seems” (Gravity Falls)

A while back, a certain reader of mine requested at some point that I take a look at individual episodes of some shows. I considered the proposal and ultimately decided that it’d make another good series to write that would keep me going for a while…the only hard part being that I had to parse down to singular episodes I really liked. Most of the time, I usually am thinking about shows in their totality because I’m writing the graded reviews that are a major focus of this blog, and I also know other bloggers already do this kind of analysis…but I’m here to put the “AniB spin” on it. (I suppose I can grade episodes too!) So here’s the first episode I’ll talk about: “Not What He Seems,” from Gravity Falls.

There are any number of individual episodes worth talking about from Gravity Falls, the critically acclaimed Disney show that I talked about a while back, and it remains a personal favorite of mine, but I’ve decided to discuss a keynote episode of the show that brought together the best of its episodic and overarching storytelling blend, which in turn delivered on a great deal of buildup from the very first episode of the show (Tourist Trapped). It’s an episode that reveals in one explosive 22 and a half -minute package the truth about the journals, the culmination of a great deal of character development for Stan Pines, who I also wrote about in a character analysis piece, the actual purpose and reason the Mystery Shack exists (and it’s not just as a dumpy tourist trap), and finally, the explosive reveal of the mysterious “author of the journals,” in what is still an incredibly-well choreographed and animated moment.

 

It goes without saying that Not What He Seems is a Stan-centric episode, but beyond that, it’s how he ties into the entire current of mystery underpinning the entire show. While I talked at length about Stan’s role in another article, part of what makes this episode so memorable is the buildup to it. At the end of the prior episode- Northwest Mansion Mystery, Fiddleford McGucket’s fixed laptop shows a doomsday clock; since the finale of season 1 (Gideon Rises), the audience is aware of the massive portal underneath the Shack, and that the other journals were in the possession of Stan, who hid his double life working on said portal…until now.

The cold opening begins with Stan working in the basement again, apparently using toxic waste to fuel his endeavors. It also showcases another reason this episode stands out- the absolutely stellar animation. After the intro, the episode starts innocuously enough like so many other Gravity Falls episodes before it- as Stan decides to join in on some mischief with fireworks and then water balloons- and then, the facade is broken as the government shows up.

Watching Dipper and Mabel formulate an escape plan and then discover the uncomfortable truths about their “Grunkle Stan” before he had a chance to tell them is both genuinely uncomfortable and tense- a testament to the staff that such emotional sentiment was built up to this episode. In true Gravity Falls style though, there is still some unexpected moments of humor that work- and in this case, it’s delivered by Soos, whose well-meaning, albeit ham-handed attempts to protect the Shack and Mr. Pines bring just the right amount of levity to an episode where “serious” takes precendence over “humorous.”

The final 5 minutes of the episode however, is genuinely some of the best stuff you’ll ever see in animation, as the buildup come to a (literal) earth-shattering conclusion that brings many narrative threads to a head at a critical moment. Stan escapes from jail in a very cool scene (and Durland and Blubbs are playing pinata in the corner, haha), the twins have made their unsettling discoveries in Stan’s personal office (fake I.D.s’, newspaper clipping of his “death”, and a lot of doubt) and Soos shows up to protect the vending machine in the Shack’s gift shop, where after a brief reunion and struggle with Dipper and Mabel, the trio discovers the secret behind the door.

I’ll pause here for a moment to really take in the work on the drawing in these scenes. The creative team did an absolutely terrific job evoking “apocalypse,” from the reddened sky and sun, to the town literally tearing apart at the seams, and the portal itself, its massive energy surge threatening to warp the fabric of existence and send our characters into an unknown oblivion. It’s true that the writing made most of this episode and Gravity Falls on the whole, but Not What He Seems is taken to another level by the art itself- just look at this still panel:

“Grunkle Stan…I trust you.”

The decision to have Mabel make the final decision in such a key narrative moment was a crucial writing decision. Shown to be the “fun” sibling, with an insecurity towards growing up (and grown-up affairs), she is asked a hard question rooted in very real implications, a roaring rift gate potentially ready to unleash the apocalypse, and a difficult comparison: was Stan the “grunkle” she came to know over the course of the summer, or the strange man of double lives and false aliases her and her brother came to find? This line of questioning would be difficult for an adult, let alone a 12 year old girl…and she went with “trust” as an answer. Was it smart? In the long-run narrative, yes it worked out, but logically without further information it was not…but from a character-building perspective it was a perfect decision. Simply put, it showcased Mabel’s greatest strength- her ability to emphasize and give the benefit of the doubt to mostly anybody, was also her greatest strength, and that sometimes, the biggest decisions in our lives are not always as cut and dry as we want them to be, or pressing a giant red button, as Dipper would have been wont to do.

So “my brother, the author of the journals,” appeared. Ford’s official debut served as the conclusive finish to many questions in the show, and while his emergence from the portal is a massive turning point in Gravity Falls, it is secondary to everything else that happens in this amazing episode. The next episode in the show (A Tale of Two Stans) explained a great deal of backstory, but Not What He Seems served as a mid-season finale to end all mid-season finales. Alex Hirsch even described at one point that the episode was likely slated to originally serve as season 2’s endpoint, with a final season focusing on what the final 9 episodes did instead, but the result was still brilliant in setting the table for the sprint that was the end of Gravity Falls, but also as a stand-alone episode.

There’s probably plenty more I can say about Not What He Seems, or Gravity Falls as a whole, but it’s even better to go back and watch it again. And if you read this far and have never seen the show or this particular moment, do yourself a favor and watch it. It’s one of the best shows this decade, and in this author’s opinion, the best Western animated show of the same time period. Honestly, there’s more than one episode from the show that could make the cut for this column, but in the end, one of the most influential episodes in the show both as a standalone piece and pertaining to its role in the overarching story gets the nod as a stellar work of animation.


Like what you see? Want more Gravity Falls material, or episode reviews? Leave a comment!