Category Archives: Animation Reviews
Reviews of animated series, shorts, and films.
A mysterious event takes place, and then the opening titles roll. The gang rides into town and gets themselves involved in the mystery. Clues are collected and a trap is set, leading to a musical chase sequence. Our creep-of-the-week is unmasked, and is revealed to be someone they met earlier in the episode. Scooby-Doo does something funny, and the end credits roll. That, my friends, was the simple formula of the Scooby-Doo series for the past few decades. And it has worked well for their several years of crime-solving. While Shaggy and Scooby-Doo Get a Clue did attempt to change-up the formula, it did so in a way that made it no longer feel like Scooby-Doo. The DTVs lampshaded the formula, and made homages to past incarnations, but they never truly broke away from the popular Scooby formula. And now comes Mystery Incorporated, which tosses out the old continuity and begins anew. Is deviating from the formula a good way to go, or would it have been better to stick with the tried-and-true? It is time to take a visit to a town called Crystal Cove, and check out…
Unlike past installments which had Mystery Inc. traveling the world and being praised for their work, this series has our main characters as teenagers living in a small tourist town called Crystal Cove. Instead of being applauded for their mystery-solving prowess, they’re disliked by the police chief and their parents wish them to cease this activity. All this group of teens (and their meddling dog) want is to solve and honest-to-goodness mystery, and it seems like they finally have their chance. To spoil a story-arc that already long spoiled by the sneak peek months ago, it becomes apparent that there truly is a deep-dark mystery behind this town. The characters are “stuck” in Crystal Cove, a hub for all sorts of paranormal activity. An idea like this isn’t necessarily bad: it forces creativity and can give way for some pretty interesting stories. Crystal Cove is a nice mixture of the 60s/70s and modern-day, with the general atmosphere being that of nostalgia; respect for the original series was quite evident.
That said, the character designs are reminiscent of those from Where Are You?, with the original outfits and such things are Shaggy’s dot eyes making a return. Unlike WAY, the characters are far less stiff and move smoothly across the screen. Nothing seems jerky with character movements, with the simple character models happening greatly with that. The entire show is colorful and vibrant: the background designs are wonderful, achieving a nice watercolor look. There is little I can say about the art: everything works, and works together well.
The stories are episodic, but with each one building up to the climax: the reveal of the secret of Crystal Cove though the use of major clues recovered sometime past episode. Other than The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo, this is the only Scooby series that has an over-arcing plot. Mystery Incorporated also shares something with What’s New Scooby-Doo, in that the characters have real personality beyond their base attribute. Shaggy is a big eater and coward, as he always was. But some insecurity and intelligence is presented at times, in his relationship with Velma and when it comes to making plans. Velma is more than a genius in this series, becoming a bit of a cynic and more prone to anger. Fred is still the man who comes up with the traps, but he is also more one-track minded and is oblivious to Daphne’s affection. We also see Daphne’s attempts to get Fred to notice her as more than a friend. SDMI is just as much about the human characters as it is about their Great Dane. The humor is well-done and the chase scenes are still decent, despite the lack of musical accompaniment.
At the end of the day, I find Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated to be one of the best installments of this series. If you weren’t a fan a Scooby-Doo before, then this series might be the one to bring you into the franchise. If you are a fan, then expect some surprises. And if you just the average viewer, then I greatly insist that you check out the adventures of these kids and dog at least once.
Another year, another installment of the Total Drama series. Premiering in 2008 with little promotion by the network, the series has gone on to become a ratings darling for Cartoon Network. Why the reality show spoof continues to be so popular with the network’s target audience is beyond me: is it the characters? The humor? The jokes? Or is it the simple idea of a group of teenagers being tortured by their sadist host that brings in viewers, that coaxes the network to renew year after year. First the “island,” then a film studio, and now a musical trip across the world. Time to dive head first into the third installment of this series, that goes by the name of…
Running Time: 22 minutes
Production House(s): Fresh TV
Premiered: June 10th/June 21st, 2010
Unlike Total Drama Island which took place on an “island,” or Total Drama Action which took place on an abandoned film lot, Total Drama World Tour has the characters traveling the globe. From France, to Egypt, to London, our seventeen contestants face challenges that correspond to wherever they currently are. In Egypt? Go through pyramids and ride camels. Japan? Wacky Japanese game show. An added bonus is the fact that they must also sing at random times (at least once) during the program. These random musical numbers, mixed with the locale, can lead to some funny situations and character interactions.
World Tour has two new characters entering the fray, by the names of Sierra and Alejandro. Sierra is a crazed fan of the reality show, and due to a strange series of events that took place during the between-season special, Celebrity Manhunt, was able to compete. Less is known about Alejandro, who can also be classified as our “villain” for the season, using his charm and wit to advance in the game. Other than them, the rest of our cast of seventeen is made-up of returning favorites who are carrying baggage from the previous two seasons. Some of the characters that have developed the most throughout the previous 52 episodes & 2 specials are Gwen, Duncan, and Courtney who have formed a little love triangle. Some of these returners, however, have yet to develop much past the stereotypes of Island. Due to me putting a lot of stake in character development when in comes to entertainment of any kind, I find theis a problem and I desperately hope will be remedied in future episodes.
Unlike previous seasons, creators Pertsch and McGillis have little involvement with the actual production. Despite this, the writing and storyboarding doesn’t suffer: in fact, it has improved from the quality of Action, managing to keep my attention at all times. There were several times throughout the first episode of this season where I found myself laughing at the dialogue, the situations, or both. More than I can say for Island, and far more than I can say for Action. Past seasons pale in comparison when it comes to writing quality of this season. I also find it worth noting that the animation has also improved. Everything feels more vibrant and the characters all move less stiffly. This personally makes it more bearable to for me to watch.
If you weren’t a fan of the first two seasons, don’t expect this hold too much value for you, as the style of humor is very much the same. If you were a fan, then I’d be surprised if you weren’t watching this series already, as it is a massive leap in quality over the previous two installments.
Even if you aren’t a fan of comics, you might heard of the creative team “Man of Action”. Creators of the animated series Ben 10, a successful Cartoon Network action series that has spawned countless toy-lines and two sequel series that were both headed by Dwayne McDuffie (Static Shock, Justice League Unlimited). Having created such a huge franchise for them, Cartoon Network was obviously interested in any else that the group might pitch to them. And the guys had just the idea: an adaptation of Joe Kelly and Duncan Rouleau’s failed comic M. Rex, which was published by Image, which the network snapped up right away. While some things were changed, such as the main character’s age, the basic essence and idea of the comic made it to the screen. But is Rex any good?
Creator(s): Man of Action (Joe Kelly, Duncan Rouleau, Joe Casey and Steven T. Seagle)
Running Time: 22 minutes
Network: Cartoon Network
Production House(s): Cartoon Network Studios
Premiered: April 23th, 2010
Rex is our protagonist and our guide through the world of “Generator Rex,” serving as the narrator at the beginning and end of each episode. Rex is often acts like a jerk and rarely listens to authority: something that is completely justified. He is a teenager who has no memory of his past before an mysterious event that caused both him and every other living thing on the planet to become infected with microscopic machines known as nanites. Most of the time, the nanites do nothing and are generally harmless: but they can occasionally get out of control and mutate its host into a monster called an EVO. However, unlike other EVOs, Rex has control over his nanites and can use them to transform parts of his body into weapons and various other gadgets. Rex can also use his nanites to shut down the nanites of other EVOs, thus “curing” them. It’s this ability that has Rex locked up by an organization known as Providence, which treats him as a tool and little else. Rex has no freedom, his only friend is a chimpanzee, the guy has no idea who he really is, and he is rarely treated as a human being (resulting in low self-esteem, which can affect his powers). Rex is a jerk at times, but he has a right to be one with how bad his life is.
Other characters include Bobo Haha, Agent Six, and the villain Van Kleiss. Bobo Haha is a talking chimpanzee that serves as Rex’s trusty sidekick and best friend. The primate is the show’s manadatory comic relief, making biting commentary on the events that occur around him, from Rex’s attempts at flirting with Dr. Holiday to a huge fight with a dangerous EVO. Agent Six is described as Rex to be a “nanny, just more argo.” The sixth most deadly man in the world, he serves as Rex’s caretaker and in turn, a father figure in some ways. Possibly being an EVO himself, Agent Six is both the sixth most deadly man in the world and quite an emotionally distant person, hiding any feeling he may have behind a figurative mask. Then there is Van Kleiss, who is bound to the very Earth itself and as such, cannot die as long as he is in the area surrounding the lab where the nanite accident occurred. But with this power comes an unstable body that requires a constant stream of fresh nanites to stay alive.
The writing and storyboarding for this series is great: the action series are well-choreographed, and there was never a time where the dialogue seemed weak or cheesy. I can take the premise seriously, not raising an eyebrow at any of the events, and the basic story behind the nanite event was told to the viewer right away. That may have been good choice, considering that event is not so much the focus of the show as is Rex’s unknown past. Getting it out the way early may allow the writers to focus on other things such as Van Kleiss, The Pack, and Rex’s relationship with Circe. The voice acting is incredibly well-done, with the only hiccup being early in the episode, when Rex was crashing into the side of a building. The animation is clean-and-smooth, working really well with the character designs. There really isn’t much else to say, other than this is a series that is off to a great start.
If you haven’t heard of “Adventure Time” by now, then I’m surprised to see you even reading this. “Adventure Time” started out as a surreal short cartoon made for a program called “Random Cartoons!,” a collaboration between Frederator Studios and Nickelodeon. Created by CalArts graduate Pendelton Ward, the original cartoon was a huge hit, garnering over 2 million views online when it was first posted in 2006. It was unlike anything out there, with its surreal yet laid-back humor and simple artwork. With all this popularity behind the original short, Nickelodeon deemed it fit to make it a series: but due to creative differences, Cartoon Network eventually was the channel to turn this quirky ‘toon into a full-length show.
Starting in December 2009, the network began advertising the series: the closer it got to April, the more they hit the viewers with promos and sneak peeks at the upcoming show. The series was hyped by Cartoon Network to be their newest hit, and by the internet to be the next “Spongebob Squarepants” in terms of popularity. But does “Adventure Time with Finn and Jake” live up to the high expectations that were set?
Creator(s): Pendelton Ward
Running Time: 2×11 minutes
Network: Cartoon Network
Production House(s): Cartoon Network Studios and Frederator Studios
Premiered: April 5th, 2010
“Adventure Time with Finn and Jake” takes place in the mystical Land of Ooo: where some areas are made purely of fire and others places stuck in perpetual winter. Ooo is a vast land where you can find anyone and anything imaginable. Anthropomorphic nuts? Check. Portals to different dimensions? Check. Sexy vampire ladies? Double check. With wide grass plains, deep forests, and tall mountains, the Land of Ooo seems custom-made for a budding adventurer. With so many places to go in their world, Finn and Jake always have a place to explore or just have some good old fun.
On that note, Finn and Jake are the epitome of best buddies. In other cartoons, best friends have a tendency to constantly fight to the point that the viewer can doubt that the two really are friends. There is no such issue here: Finn and Jake’s relationship really shines through and mirrors a real friendship: often joking with each other, hanging out and having fun, and always being there for the other. If you boil the duo down to their cores, then you’ll find that they are basically two halves of a whole: Finn is the adventure-seeking energetic one, while Jake is more go-with-the-flow and lazy. It’s slightly yin and yang, and it works since Jake is often the more rational one and less likely to panic. Jake can serve as moral guide to Finn, while Finn is able to make Jake more outgoing.
The animation is top-notch: traditional animation done with a 30s-40s rubberhose feel to it. The characters have stretchy, wiggly limbs that have no real joints: an art style that can be hard to animate. Pen Ward’s cartooning style is simple, and is more something you’d find in a person’s sketchbook rather than on television. There are only general guidelines to follow when drawing these characters. Beyond those, you can draw them any way you want, and if you look closely, each artist’s style comes through via the way they draw the limbs and such. And in contrast to the faux-naïf art style are incredibly detailed backgrounds, filled with various colors and textures. It works effectively, and you can really believe that the human and dog actually reside in this world.
The writing for the series is done by the storyboard artists themselves, working from a plot outline and fitting in their own jokes while punching up others. Something that must be remembered is that this is an animated series that prides itself on surreal humor. If something doesn’t make sense to the viewer, it really does due to how their world functions. But someone who wasn’t aware of this program’s nature could come in completely and utterly confused, coming away with the idea that the show is nothing but stupid. For example, in the episode Slumber Party Panic when Finn breaks a promise he made to a friend, time freezes and two gumball machine giants come and threaten to kill him if he can’t solve the equation 2+2. It’s strange, but it makes sense if you understand the show and pay attention to background elements. That said, the writing is great if you’re into surrealism: many of the jokes hit their mark, and if one doesn’t, then expect another joke to come up and redeem it. Nothing seems forced: its the people behind the show simply bouncing gags off each other, not straining to figure out a funny line Jake could say or an expression Princess Bubblegum could make.
In the end, does “Adventure Time with Finn and Jake” live up to the hype? Yeah, in my opinion it does. But whether it becomes Cartoon Network’s Spongebob depends on how much of the original fans stick around, and if it can gain an even larger following from a group that sees what the show is going for…and likes it.