Tag Archives: cartoons

DuckTales Season One Review

ducktales newRebooting an old cartoon property has its pluses and minuses. On the one hand, reviving an old brand means the core of what you’re trying to build is already in place. Characters, relationships, stories, even music can all be mined from the old and adapted for the new. There are often tweaks made to the look of the show, new voices to cast, and a whole new team to assemble, but it’s undoubtedly easier and less expensive than starting from scratch. And it also allows a new generation of creators to take something they enjoyed as youngsters and mold it into something else. It also comes with risks, and as we’ve seen all too often recently there is an aspect of fandom that is, well, toxic to say the least. Take She-Ra, for example. Originally conceived as a way to market action figures to girls, She-Ra was integrated into He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, itself a show designed simply to sell toys to boys, and the backlash was swift and quick. Even those behind the creation of He-Man looked down on She-Ra and blamed her for hastening the decline of the franchise as a whole, “Now my sister wants to play with me? Gross!” This is all captured quite well in the documentary series The Toys That Made Us, if you want to know more.

She-Ra, I’m sure, had fans of her own, but they definitely were small in numbers, relatively speaking. Rarely did I ever hear anyone in conversation bring her up in a positive light and I literally met no one pining for a reboot in the same mold as He-Man himself. And yet, when a new concept was recently unveiled for She-Ra online the He-Man fandom and nerd culture as a whole was swift to pounce on it. Blaming it for ruining the character or for unoriginally adhering to the “CalArts style,” these fans were loud and largely obnoxious. It was similar to the backlash towards a new ThunderCats show that has yet to air. Did you ever watch ThunderCats back when it was originally aired? That show, just like She-Ra and He-Man and countless other programs, was terrible. It’s fine to be nostalgic for them because you grew up with them. I certainly watched a lot of crappy cartoons, but I don’t want to subject my kids to the same. If there are to be new versions of these shows I want them to be good! Not some 23 minute toy commercial. Fans should be happy these things still exist for a new audience. And the beauty of it all is, if you don’t like what’s new, you still have what’s old. It doesn’t go away or vanish the moment a new version shows up.

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The cast is much larger, but many episodes still revolve around Scrooge and his nephews (plus Webby).

It’s interesting that one of the companies behind the pivot from making shows that sell toys to just making good animated programming was Disney with its Disney Afternoon programming block. The original Disney Afternoon toon was Adventures of the Gummi Bears, but the show most associate with the block is none other than DuckTales. Basically a loose adaptation of the Carl Barks comics for television, DuckTales centered not around Donald Duck but around his rich Uncle Scrooge McDuck. He was partnered with his grand nephews Huey, Duey, and Louie along with his personal pilot Launchpad. Together they went on grand adventures searching for treasure. They wouldn’t just travel to far away places, but backwards and even forward in time! It was memorable for its lavish animation that went far beyond the likes of Dic and Hanna-Barbera. Not to mention for its incredibly catchy theme song.

As such, it seems appropriate that when it came time for Disney to adapt DuckTales for a new audience it largely escaped the internet backlash that had befallen other properties. Oh, I’m sure there are detractors that do not like the new visual style or the Felicia Barton sung intro, but by and large the response I have seen online and in person has been overwhelmingly positive. DuckTales just concluded its first season. Commercially, I have no idea how well the show has done, though it’s done well enough to receive a second season. It’s hard to judge that sort of thing in this day and age when ratings mean almost nothing thanks to streaming options and DVR. There hasn’t even been a tie-in toy-line until very recently so sales of that aren’t going to offer much of a measure. Creatively though, it’s hard to think of a cartoon reboot that has been more successful than DuckTales. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles come close with their 2012 reboot, and really that ThunderCats reboot of a few years ago was miles ahead of the original, though it did not last very long. DuckTales is on another level though, and there are a lot of reasons why.

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After mostly chilling on the sidelines in the original series, Donald is a part of the main cast this time around. He doesn’t get to relax as much as this image suggests.

First and foremost, the work of Carl Barks has not been ignored. Scrooge is back to his red overcoat and he’s partnered with all of his nephews this time – including Donald Duck! Back when the original Disney Afternoon was conceived, Disney was hesitant about letting any of its big stars headline a show. Landing Donald for the few episodes he was in was a huge get, as characters like Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy were completely shut-out at the onset. That stigma has long since passed allowing Donald to finally star alongside his uncle as he should. Huey, Dewey, Louie are still around and now they have distinct looks and personalities all to themselves. The prior nephews in basically every iteration were interchangeable. It was part of their charm, but also pretty limiting from a character perspective. Now they’re free to be themselves and the writers are allowed to explore each individual duckling. Huey is the closest to the original mold, the burgeoning Junior Woodchuck. Louie is more slothful and laid back while Dewey embodies the adventurous spirit of his great-uncle with perhaps a touch too much enthusiasm. Webby is also back and she’s no longer the little girl who seems to get in the way, rather she’s an adventurer herself who looks upon the likes of Scrooge and Donald as something close to legendary figures. She’s good-natured, and her grannie Mrs. Beakly is still around to look after her. Oh, and Mrs. Beakly is no longer the meek maid to Scrooge but a former covert agent herself with a rather massive and intimidating physique.

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One of the more radical redesigns is that of Mrs. Beakley, who went from doting old maid to a tank-like brawler who still has a soft touch.

The show’s approach is similar to the original DuckTales, take Scrooge and the gang on adventures to fantastic worlds with treasures to uncover and villains to foil. Since the cast is larger, episodes will often pairs things down to just a handful and save the full cast for the most important episodes. It also includes more structured story-telling and the first season revolves around a character we’ve only ever seen mentioned, and rarely at that – Della Duck. Della is the sister to Donald and the mother to the boys, and at the end of the second episode (aired as one long episode for the premiere) the boys uncover a painting that depicts her alongside her brother and uncle. Della previously was basically only mentioned in the cartoon short “Donald’s Nephews” with Donald shown reading a letter from her asking her to watch her kids. She’s basically never been mentioned again and never seen, as far as I can recall. The boys start off knowing something happened to her and it may or may not have led to a falling out between Scrooge and Donald. The first episode deals with Donald reluctantly going to his uncle for help in watching the boys so he can go on a job interview, and that arch ends with Donald and the boys moving in as Donald seems to understand its best for his nephews (plus his house boat was destroyed in the process). The boys spend parts of the first season secretly investigating what happened to Della, and the mystery is unraveled slowly and takes some twists and turns. It even threatens to split the brothers apart as Dewey discovers something and decides to keep it from his brothers. Things come to a head in the penultimate episode leaving the finale, which just aired this past Saturday, to deal with the fall-out.

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Lena and Webby’s friendship is one of the main plot points weaved throughout the first season.

The other big teaser throughout the first season revolves around Scrooge’s old enemy – Magica De Spell (Catherine Tate)! She was a frequent foil in the original series so naturally she’s back. As basically the big baddie of the whole thing, it’s a lot of fun to see the show treat her as such. When the season begins she’s magically sealed away and only able to interact with the world through her niece Lena (Kimiko Glenn) who poses as a friendly sort in order to gain the trust of Scrooge and thus somehow free Magica from whatever keeps her sealed away. To do so she gets close to Webby and the two become best friends. Throughout much of the second half of the season we get to see Lena being pulled between the two forces in her life; her friendship with Webby and her loyalty to Magica. It’s nothing new, but it’s handled well and there are some genuinely emotional moments that come of this and there’s a lot of payoff in the end. Plus, the animators used this really creepy effect where Lena’s eyes turn black and “spill” shadows to form Magica. It’s genuinely unsettling.

The original DuckTales cartoon dealt with plots that continued from one episode into the other. There were even changes to the main cast as was the case with the introduction of Bubba and Gizmoduck. Those storyline pay-offs though were not on the equal with the new show. The main theme of family is at the core of this new show and it never strays too far from that. Very few of the episodes in the first season felt like filler as all seemed to serve some purpose. Either a character learns something about themself or their relationship to the others or something else happens to move the overall story along. It’s a great way to structure a show and I always love seeing what is primarily children’s programming take this sort of risk. There will always be television executives who look down on children and think the simpler the better, but trust me, kids notice this stuff and appreciate it when a show doesn’t treat them like brainless buffoons.

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Many of Scrooge’s old villains have returned.

Additional challenges arise when creating a new version of a 30-year-old show. Namely, the voice talent available isn’t the same anymore. Alan Young, who provided the voice of Scrooge for decades, is no longer with us. And since it was decided that the nephews would be approached differently this time around, the talents of Russi Taylor were declined and instead each was given a unique voice. These changes are often the hardest for the old fans since not only do these characters barely resemble what we fell in love with as children, but they also sound very different. Once you get past that change though, it’s hard to say bad things about this cast. David Tennant is a great Scrooge with a natural Scottish accent. He brings everything you need from a voice actor to the character. He can be gentle, intimidating, enthusiastic, and even sad. It was hard to say good-bye to Young, but Tennant has done a remarkable job in his first season at the helm. The nephews are voiced by Danny Pudi (Huey), Ben Schwartz (Dewey) and Bobby Moynihan (Louie) and they all impart their own personality on the characters. If there is one negative to this season, it’s that Dewey definitely feels more developed than the other two and thus Schwartz shines brighter than the others, but season 2 could easily rectify that. Kate Micucci is Webby and she was perfect in the role while Toks Olagundoye voices her grandmother Beakley. Beck Bennett plays a more aloof Launchpad, but otherwise kind of sounds like he’s trying to do Terry McGovern which is a little sad because I know McGovern really wanted the part. If you’re feeling uncomfortable with all of the newness in the cast then at least you have Tony Anselmo reprising his role as Donald Duck, as it should be.

The new visual style of the show is bright and expressive. It’s a bit flat, which seems to be a trend in 2D digital animation, but it has its own look which helps differentiate it from the original series. The look of the old series just can’t be duplicated in today’s environment, so the show was smart to not even try. I really like the new look for Scrooge and Donald and feel it suits them well. The nephews have taken some getting used to as they have really large heads and in some respects resemble chickens more than ducks. The backgrounds are all really well done and there’s plenty of variety to be found from suburban settings to creepy castles. There’s also more imaginative and fantastic settings to be found and the show does an admirable job of mixing things up. It does the same with the villains and guest spots and virtually everyone you know and love from the original series makes an appearance or two here. There are also a few new characters thrown around, some inconsequential and some rather imaginative (I’m looking at you statue-headed horse) and almost all have some pay-off.

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And many old allies are back as well.

Of the first season’s 23 episodes (25 if you count the premier and finale as two episodes) it’s hard to pick a favorite. The first episode, “Woo-oo” was wonderful for its patient and rewarding reintroduction of these timeless characters. Any episode that pits Scrooge against Glomgold was usually humorous and entertaining to watch and the episode “Beware the B.U.D.D.Y. System” was equally humorous for its focus on Launchpad, plus it had Gizmoduck! Some of the episodes have some rather delightful Easter Eggs in them. You have undoubtedly seen or heard about the numerous Darkwing Duck ones, and the finale included one Easter Egg from the old NES game. And it’s really hard for me to not just pick the last three episodes as my favorites. They’re the most weighty with the biggest emotional moments in the whole season. I even get a lump in my throat just thinking about them.

As I said earlier, it’s hard to imagine a reboot having as successful a reintroduction as DuckTales did in 2017 and into 2018. The new show proves the old comics and original series still have legs, their foundation was one that can anchor any show in any era. This is the rare reboot that should have little trouble appealing to the old fans while also being something new for a younger generation that may never have even heard of DuckTales before 2017. If nothing else, my own children have proven to me time and again that the old theme song will never go out of style as the two will happily sing it at the dinner table, from their car seats, or while they play. It’s really rewarding as a parent to see your children embrace something you loved as a kid yourself, even if it’s not the same and in a new form. I have no doubt that DuckTales is in good hands right now and I look forward to watching the second season with my kids, or even on my own after they go to bed (it can be hard to focus on these things with a pair of short-attention span toddlers).

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Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – “Mystic Mayhem”

rise_of_the_tmntOn July 20th, Nickelodeon offered up a preview of its newest take on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Dubbed Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the new show is the heir-apparent to the one Nick ran from 2012-2017. Simply titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, that show was a modern re-telling of the story we’re all familiar with. It was presented in CG and featured the main characters from the comics and older television shows while mostly adhering to the personalities that had been long established throughout the various media. It was the fourth attempt at bringing the Turtles to television, and by all accounts it was pretty successful. Likely no future version of gang green will ever be as impactful as the 1987 series, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still be a success.

The show was well-received and it was one that even I, a 30-something, mostly kept up with. It likely ended for business reasons, though possibly artistic ones as the show-runners may have felt they had told all of the stories they wished to tell. I think it’s more likely the network felt the toy franchise was mostly tapped out and there were probably new contracts that needed to be negotiated. Television shows for older kids are also transitioning away from CG and back to 2D as technological advances have made that medium a lot cheaper, and easier, to work with. Which is likely one of the many reasons we are here today talking about a new version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arriving just a year after the previous one ended.

riseofthetmnt-skylight-turtles-700x318Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is an entirely new show with a new cast of characters. In some ways, this is the most ambitious reboot we have ever seen for the franchise. The 1987 series took the most recognizable characters from the Mirage comics and adapted them for television while also stripping out the violence. Each turtle was given his own personality, something they kind of lacked in the comics, and Shredder was made the main villain and given an accomplice in Krang. Ever since that series found success, it would seem each successive iteration tried to incorporate more of the original comic. Starting with the 1990 movie, Raphael would see his prickly and combative nature made his default personality, the tone would be a touch more serious, and Shredder more deadly. The 2003 4Kids series practically adapted the early books, and even Michael Bay’s turtles tried to keep some of that spirit, while also bringing the turtles closer to their cartoon counterparts.

The 2012 series did the same while also making sure to make everything appear modern. It’s biggest change was making April O’Neil and Casey Jones adolescents, but it mostly took the comic and cartoons that arrived before it and melded them together. It was a show that really wanted to appeal to adults who grew up with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and likely hoped these adults would get their kids hooked. Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is attempting to no such thing. For the first time since that 87 series debuted, this is a version of the Turtles made to appeal to kids first and foremost. It doesn’t care if you’re familiar with the property. It doesn’t even need to be a TMNT show, but the brand recognition is certainly easier to sell than a new IP.

april and splinter

April and Splinter are two of the more radical redesigns, but also two of the most effective.

Of course, some things will naturally never change. The Turtles are still Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Donatello. They live in the sewer with their sensei Splinter, a mutated rat, and reside in New York City. Their only human friend is a girl named April. What’s different is both radical and superficial. For the first time, each turtle is actually a different sub-species of turtle. Most notably is the large and spiky Raphael who is a snapping turtle and kind of looks like the old Slash. Donatello is a soft-shell turtle, and as a result, he creates backpack-like shells to wear to protect himself. Leonardo is now a wise-cracking turtle and Raph is an ineffective leader, as the two have sort-of swapped personalities from the 87 show. When the episode opens they all have their signature weapons, but that will change by episode’s end. Splinter is not the stoic Ninja Master we’re used to, and instead is a chubby little rat who likes to fall asleep in front of the television. April is once again a kid, though just how young is hard to gauge. She’s also African American and sports a pair of oversized glasses. In some respects, she reminds me of Irma from the old cartoon.

The episode opens with some light crime taking place in New York and the Turtles on the prowl. We’re supposed to think they’re patrolling the city as usual, but they’re actually just looking to discreetly take a dip in a rooftop swimming pool. It will become clear soon enough that these turtles are not proper ninjas. They don’t really know what they’re doing or appear to have any designs on fighting crime or anything. April is kind of just there and we’re not sure what the relationship is, but at least they appear to be having fun. The palette of the show is incredibly bright and vibrant, but the animation is not smooth in the least bit. Everything feels loud as characters move suddenly and quickly as if frames of animation are skipped. I don’t think this is a cost-cutting decision, but an artistic one to make the show feel heightened and manic and strikes me as an example of the show going for kids.

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On the right, new villain Baron Draxum, and on the left a big, white, blank, space.

The Turtles will encounter a weird teleporting dog/cat creature that takes an instant shine to April. It’s being pursued by some sketchy looking individuals and the Turtles feel compelled to help. This will result in them taking a trip through an inter-dimensional portal where they’ll meet the big baddie of the series, Baron Draxum, and also acquire new weapons. All except Donatello that is, who prefers to stick with his techy-looking bo staff. From here on out, Raph will wield twin tonfa in battle while Leo downgrades to one sword. Michelangelo will wield a kusari-fundo and all of their weapons have some mystical property that they’ll likely need to learn more about as the series moves along. Baron Draxum is a large, some-what Shredder-like figure, who is apparently behind the mutation of the Turtles. He has scores of underlings presumably, and some odd mosquito things that carry mutagen. The episode is an establishing one, and it’s likely the Ninja Turtles will need to get a touch more serious following this episode if they want to challenge Draxum in the future, since their fighting prowess is severely lacking.

It bares repeating that Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a show very much aimed at today’s children. It’s not a show made for me, and that’s fine as the children of 2018 deserve their own TMNT. As a show, it feels very similar to Cartoon Networks Teen Titans Go! It shares a similar look and the show wants to make kids laugh and is less concerned with wowing them via action sequences. The characters take nothing seriously, and I suspect they’ll have some failures along the way. The structure of the show is also to be two 11 minute cartoons for each episode, so the scale of each plot is obviously small.

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I couldn’t get much of a read on Michelangelo in this debut episode, but he definitely doesn’t seem as goofy as other iterations.

The voice cast struck me as fine. Ben Schwartz is Leonardo and he’s essentially just playing Dewey Duck from DuckTales. I thought it would be odd seeing Leonardo act in such a manner, but it was fine. Omar Benson Miller is Raph and he’s obviously being tasked to play a very different Raphael. He’s a leader, which just feels off, and he’s a bad one too, but not because of the usual Raph traits. He’s more indecisive and uncertain as opposed to abrasive and headstrong. Donatello is played by Josh Brener and he’s more or less the same Donatello we’re used to, with maybe a touch of dryness. Michelangelo is played by Brandon Mychal Smith and is the character I felt the least impressed by. I just didn’t get much of a sense for his personality, though he did refer to himself as an artist. The press material labels him a prankster, but we didn’t really see that side of him in this episode. This episode was probably too concerned with establishing Leonardo as the new Mikey type at the expense of the other turtles.

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Looks like there will be no shortage of interesting villain designs.

Splinter is voiced by Eric Bauza, who had previously voiced Tiger Claw for the last TMNT series, doing a stereotypical Japanese master voice. It almost feels out of place with so much of the other personalities mixed-up, though his personality is obviously different as well. He’s rather funny looking, and I presume he will have to actually train his sons eventually. We didn’t see much of the lair, but it appears to follow in the same mold as the other cartoons in that it’s lavishly outfitted with Donnie’s tech. April is voiced by Kat Graham, and she’s another character I didn’t get much of a read on. She seems more heroic than the actual turtles, and obviously felt an instant connection with the little dog/cat creature she acquires in the episode. WWE’s John Cena is Baron Draxum and I forgot he had been cast in this series. Draxum looks like a high resolution Xavier Renegade Angel, which isn’t a compliment, but his personality seems interesting. He doesn’t want to be a foe to the Turtles, though he obviously will be, and he came across as less cartoonish than the villains from the 87 show, which surprised me. He may prove to be a worthy foe after all.

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And don’t forget the toy-line! Meat Sweats is also an awesome name for a mutant pig.

I can see what Nickelodeon and executive producers Andy Suarino and Ant Ward are going for with this show. I also know that very little of it appeals to me. I welcome the change back to 2D, but I’m not crazy about the design of the characters. They’re a bit too similar to the Bay Turtles, which I found gross, but I concede they have a marketable look. I just feel it’s a bit too similar to other shows out there and it doesn’t strike me as unique. I did not enjoy the janky animation techniques and I hope they tone that down. The pivot to humor is fine, and it does feel like Teen Titains Go!, but it’s not naturally funny like that show. I didn’t watch it with any children present, so maybe they’ll disagree with me, which is what matters most. This isn’t a show I’ll seek out and watch as I did the 2012 show, but as a parent it won’t bother me if my kids start watching it. I like seeing the TMNT brand relevant, so for that reason I hope it’s a success.

“Mystic Mayhem” is just the debut for the show. Additional episodes are available right now online via Nickelodeon’s website and app. The actual series premier is scheduled for September 17, and the ever important toy line is expected to launch in October. Each episode will consist of two segments, but this first episode was one long segment. If you’re an adult fan of the brand I would still say give this one a peek just to check it out. Maybe you’ll like it, most likely you won’t. In a world where a lot of cartoons are hitting wider audiences (OK K.O.!, Gravity Falls, Craig of the Creek, etc.) it’s a little disappointing that this one does not, but not everything has to. Sometimes it’s fun for kids to have something that’s just for them.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Be A Clown”

Be_A_Clown-Title_CardEpisode Number:  9

Original Air Date:  September 16, 1992

Directed by:  Frank Paur

Written by:  Ted Pedersen and Steve Hayes

First Appearance(s):  Jordan Hill

Thus far, Batman:  The Animated Series has basically given us an episode either featuring The Joker as the main antagonist or basically a no-name villain (at the time) for Batman to do battle with. Here we are at episode 9 and already it’s the third Joker episode for the series. The series will not be so Joker heavy much longer, and truthfully it’s hard to argue with the strategy of making new stars out of Poison Ivy and Scarecrow while also mixing in a liberal dose of Joker. This is also the second episode directed by Frank Paur, who gets a shot with a big-time villain following his series debut with “The Underdwellers.”

The episode opens with Mayor Hamilton Hill (Lloyd Bochner) giving a press conference when some hoodlums come speeding through to disrupt things. They’re fleeing Batman, who swoops in and nabs them before departing as quickly as he arrived. Unfortunately for Hill, this all happened while he was downplaying the amount of crime in Gotham and it prompts a reporter to ask him about the criminals, as well as Batman. Hill reveals himself to be of the Bullock mindset that Batman is no better than criminals like The Joker – cut to The Joker watching all of this on television which enrages him. He’s angry that anyone, especially the mayor of Gotham, would compare him to Batman and deems it a grievous insult.

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Mayor Hill doesn’t share his son’s enthusiasm for magic.

Sometime later, Hill is throwing a birthday party for his son Jordan (Justin Shenkarow), who isn’t particularly excited about it. Hill basically reveals himself to be a greasy politician who stocks his son’s birthday party with various political personalities in Gotham as well as wealthy individuals like Bruce Wayne. Jordan is not at all amused by any of this, but he is delighted when Jekko The Magnificent shows up to entertain the party goers. Jordan is an aspiring magician himself, so he’s drawn to the clown performer immediately. When asked how to become a great magician, Jekko tells Jordan he should run away and find a mentor. As viewers we are not fooled by The Joker’s disguise, and anyone who was is soon tipped off when Jekko places a stick of dynamite on the birthday cake which features a head sculpt of The Joker himself. Wayne notices, and finds a way to “accidentally” knock the cake into a swimming pool before it explodes. Interestingly, when Joker places the candle he instructs the children to run along indicating he’s only interested in blowing up the adults. It’s an interesting bit of morality from The Joker, and I wonder who’s decision it was to soften The Joker in this manner.

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The guests at Jordan’s party apparently aren’t too observant.

Jordan, predictably, runs away and stashes himself in Jekko’s van. The police are summoned for a missing person and also happen upon the real Jekko, whom The Joker had tied up and left on the side of the road. Bruce is still hanging around the Hill residence to hear all of this and races off to track down Joker and Jordan. He tracks them to an abandoned amusement park where Joker has somewhat reluctantly taken Jordan in as a protege of sorts. He actually sincerely shows Jordan a few tricks before Batman shows up. Jordan, distrustful of Batman thanks to his father and also a bit intimidated by his appearance, goes along with Jekko’s scheme to lure Batman into a trap that succeeds in knocking him out. When Batman awakes, he finds himself inverted in a water tank with a straight jacket and no utility belt. Jordan, realizing this trick is intended to kill Batman, tries to free him only for Joker to finally reveal himself.

Jordan runs off, and for some reason The Joker decides to give chase rather than watch Batman drown, which naturally helps to allow Batman to escape. A chase sequence ensues involving a roller coaster, and if you played the Super Nintendo game based on this series it will seem familiar to you. Batman is able to deal with The Joker, who falls into a nearby body of water. Jordan has to overcome his fear of Batman in order to be saved, but naturally everything works out. We don’t get any closure on The Joker, who we presume gets away since I doubt anyone thought he perished from his fall, nor do we see Mayor Hill’s reaction to learning his son was rescued by Batman.

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Joker in his Jekko gear corrupting young Jordan.

This episode does not mark the first appearance of Mayor Hill as he was a part of the pilot, but it might as well be his true introduction. It’s actually nice to see people who question Batman and I like that his only real ally at Gotham PD is Gordon (and apparently Montoya following “P.O.V.”). It is sort of surprising to see a politician come out against Batman as I also assumed the general population of Gotham approved of Batman, but maybe they don’t? This episode also has some fun easter eggs in it. When Jekko pulls out a poster for a magician named Prosciutto the drawing is clearly supposed to resembled famed comics writer Alan Moore. There’s also a clown robot at the amusement park which laughs at Jordan when he runs by it. The laugh was taken from Tim Curry’s Joker audition (uncredited) as he was originally cast as The Joker before losing the role due to bronchitis. It’s interesting to hear because it most likely represents what The Joker would have sounded like (at least when laughing) had Curry been retained.

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Batman dodging Joker’s bladed throwing cars is a fun little animation sequence in this episode and a warm up for the roller coaster chase.

“Be a Clown” is one of the better Joker episodes as it captures what I like about the character. He’s easily set off by some of the most mundane things and is more interested in stirring up trouble than doing lasting damage (though he probably did intend to murder some of those party-goers with his dynamite candle). It’s also interesting to see him try and corrupt a child. The Jordan/Mayor Hill dynamic is believable in that he’s more of a political prop for his dad and feels isolated as a result. Hill comes off as a bit of a slime ball, but we do see that he does genuinely care for his son so he’s not a true bad guy. The only thing I don’t particularly care for about the episode is Batman is given some one-liners that mostly fall flat. I don’t mind the writers injecting a little bit of dry humor into Batman, but it’s a delicate game and the script wasn’t up for the task this time. And as always, the score for any Joker episode is excellent as the playful, but somewhat malevolent, Joker theme is always welcomed.

As I stated in the intro, this is already The Joker’s third appearance in this show, but we still haven’t made it to his actual broadcast debut! The order is all over the place, but this is our best Joker episode so far and when all is said and done it will probably still place in the top five, I would guess


Batman: The Animated Series – “The Forgotten”

The_Forgotten-Title_CardEpisode Number:  8

Original Air Date:  October 8, 1992

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Jules Dennis, Richard Mueller, and Sean Catherine Derek

First Appearance(s):  Batwing

A simple premise, what would Bruce Wayne do if he forgot he was Batman, turned into an episode. “The Forgotten” takes Batman out of his element and forces him to rely on his own skills as a fighter and lean heavily on his own instincts and moral code. It also gives us a deeper look at Alfred and his ability to function as a sidekick to Batman and show off his own detective skills. It’s also another episode without a traditional Batman villain, settling for the one-shot Boss Biggis as the main antagonist who will never re-appear (hence why I didn’t bother mentioning this as his first appearance).

The episode opens with Bruce volunteering at a homeless shelter. He learns some familiar faces have been disappearing and the police do not have the manpower to look into why homeless men are suddenly no longer around. Bruce decides to investigate, but not as Batman, but as Griff – the homeless guy! It’s while nosing around in his disguise that Bruce gets jumped by some men who at first appeared to be offering work. Distracted by a cat (foreshadowing future encounters, perhaps?), Bruce ends up getting walloped on the back of the skull and wakes up in a weird camp with no memory of who he is.

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Bruce disguised as Griff, Salvo, and Riley

The camp is basically a slave camp, and Bruce befriends two men:  Riley (Dorian Harewood), a steel worker who was a fellow volunteer, and Salvo (Lorin Dreyfuss), just some homeless guy down on his luck. All of the men in this camp are the prisoners of Boss Biggis (George Murdock), an obese man with no regard for the well-being of others. He’s angry the men need to stop work to eat and sleep, and demands they work harder or be imprisoned in “The Box,” a small, metal, enclosure placed in direct sunlight. The men are to work in Biggis’ mines for gold. He’s truly a repugnant individual and series director Bruce Timm stated he intended for this one shot villain to be memorable, and the only way he knew how to make him memorable was to make him revolting. He’s almost always show with some food in his hands and stains on his clothes and he’s constantly gnawing away while complaining about the lazy bums he’s surrounded himself with.

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The repulsive Boss Biggis.

Alfred notices Bruce’s absence the following morning, and finding the Batmobile still in the Batcave, is quite puzzled as to Bruce’s whereabouts. He notices one of the cars missing, which just so happens to have a tracking device implanted on it. He tracks it to a salvage yard where he removes the device and places it on a truck that’s being loaded with supplies, guessing this will lead him to Master Bruce. Once Alfred has a suspected location for Bruce, he decides air travel would be more appropriate (Bruce is in a desert so who knows how far away he ended up) which leads to the debut of the Batwing. Styled after the aircraft from the Tim Burton directed Batman, it’s strange to see the Batwing debut while being piloted by Alfred instead of Batman. Though perhaps it would be more appropriate to say the Batwing as piloted by the Batwing, as Alfred relies on the auto-pilot to reach Bruce. It should be noted, for television viewers the Batwing actually debuted in the two-part “Feat of Clay.”

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Alfred, in need of flying lessons.

Back at the camp, Salvo for some reason decides to mock Biggis with a fart noise, which leads to a scuffle when Riley and Griff come to his aid and all three men wind up in the box. Bruce’s memory is returned to him, triggered by Riley missing his family, and the escape is on. Bruce is able to find Alfred, following a particularly rough landing, and returns to the camp as Batman to take out Biggis and his lackeys. They end up battling in the mines, where Batman is triumphant. The episode ends with the three amigos back in Gotham. When Riley offers Bruce his home as a place to crash, Bruce politely declines and introduces himself officially to the two as Bruce Wayne, prompting Salvo to suggest Riley knock him out so that maybe he’ll wake up a millionaire.

“The Forgotten” tries something different, and it should be commended for doing so. I know more than one person who considers this a favorite, or at least memorable, episode of the series for them and I want to acknowledge that. For me, this is one of the weaker episodes. Amnesia plots have never been a favorite of mine, and it’s just hard to take Biggis and his men seriously as actual threats. I appreciate the Alfred side plot, and it’s probably my favorite part of the episode, but the rest I’m just sort of “meh” about. Riley is fine, but Salvo is intended to be a bit of a joker, but he’s just not funny. I would have also liked to have seen more concern for Bruce on the part of Alfred considering it’s probably his worst nightmare to get up in the morning and find he never came home.

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The best sequence in the episode is Bruce’s nightmare where he struggles to help all those who need his aid.

The score for the episode is something I find irritating. There’s a twangy theme used throughout the camp scenes that just sounds corny to me, like something that would have been featured in the 1960’s show. By the end of the episode I want to mute the television to stop hearing it. It’s even over-layed with elements of the Batman theme during the final chase sequence that makes it even worse. The episode looks fine, but the climactic moments in the mine aren’t a strong point. This show does so well putting its characters in dark environments, but they don’t blend well at all throughout this sequence. Boss Biggis is a rather huge individual too, but his model has no weight to it. He runs and bounces around like a balloon. More effort should have been made to convey just how heavy he must be.

I don’t hate “The Forgotten,” but it’s definitely one of the weaker episodes for me. I’m torn on if it’s my least favorite episode so far, as it’s between this and “The Underdwellers.” I think I probably would rank this one just ahead, but that’s not saying much.


Batman: The Animated Series – “The Underdwellers”

The_Underdwellers-Title_CardEpisode Number:  6

Original Air Date:  October 21, 1992

Directed by:  Frank Paur

Written by:  Tom Ruegger

First Appearance(s):  The Sewer King

For a long time, children’s shows were required to have some education content. That’s why we have such memorable segments from G.I. Joe with one of the Joe’s letting us know that “Knowing is half the battle.” These standards were either omitted or relaxed by the time the 90s rolled around, but this episode of Batman feels like it could have been made in the 80s.

The episode opens with a couple of kids playing chicken by riding on the roof of a train. Whoever bails first loses. Batman takes note and swoops in to put an end to such foolishness, and it’s a good thing too because one of the kids gets his foot caught on some cables and might have perished had he not. The boys are admonished by Batman with the line, “Play chicken long enough and you get fried.” See, Batman doesn’t just fight crime!

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Batman says, “Thumbs up, dude!”

Shortly after, a woman is robbed by a little person wearing a green cloak, prompting her to declare she was victimized by a leprechaun. Batman oversees this but is unable to catch the culprit, but seems to be buying her description for some reason. This even leads to a scene at the Batcave with Bruce asking Alfred if he thinks he’s crazy for claiming to see a leprechaun. Alfred smartly responds with sarcasm, before Batman heads out for further investigation. He ends up finding a secret entrance to Gotham’s sewer system, where he finds his leprechaun:  a young boy who’s apparently been living down there. For some reason, Batman deems it necessary to take the kid home with him and have Alfred look after him. I have no idea why he doesn’t bring him to the police and continue nosing around in the sewers, and sadly Alfred doesn’t question Master Bruce.

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This is The Sewer King. He sucks, though Michael Pataki gives a pretty good performance, all things considered.

The real reason for bringing the kid back is likely to pad out the episode as we get to watch Alfred struggle through a day trying to wash the kid, feed him, and even get him to do some chores. He’s a mute with a dislike of sunlight. In a separate scene we learn his name is Frog via his surrogate father:  The Sewer King. The Sewer King (Michael Pataki) is never named in the episode, and his name only appears as graffiti throughout the sewers. He’s some kind of madman dressed kind of like a pirate (complete with the eye patch) who has some obedient pet alligators to make him seem menacing. He also lords over a bunch of orphaned children who do his bidding. They’re forbidden to speak, and are only allowed above ground to steal for him. He’s cruel, but only emotionally. Apparently Standards & Practices wouldn’t let him be physically cruel to the children, which probably would have added more menace to the character. He’s enraged when a child other than Frog brings him his rolls for his dinner, and as the tired and malnourished children look on, he throws the food on the ground and sends them all away to find Frog.

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The Misadventures of Frog and The Butler

Meanwhile, Frog finds Bruce’s room full of antique weapons and plucks an old rifle off of a display. Batman shows up and is quick to remind the audience that children and guns don’t mix. Hey Bruce, I don’t disagree with that sentiment, but if you want to keep guns out of the hands of children maybe don’t just casually hang them on your wall within reach?

Batman and Frog head back to the sewers, where Batman is finally able to confront The Sewer King. He gets to do battle with the gators, and even dislocates the jaw of one of them in unrealistic fashion, but you don’t need me to tell you that Batman isn’t losing to some guy named The Sewer King. When he does finally catch The Sewer King, Batman implies he’s really tempted in this instance to take his life which apparently director Paur felt was necessary in establishing that Batman is a friend to all children.

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Shots like this are probably what caused Bruce Timm to declare it too anime-like in appearance, but I do think it works in places and love the blacks and blues seen here.

This is probably not a well-remembered episode of Batman. It deals with a D-level villain who will never resurface and is clearly aimed at just connecting Batman with a young audience. That said, I don’t feel it’s necessarily written poorly, I just wish it wasn’t so hammy with the lessons. The opening scene exists only for the show to make the statement that riding on top of trains is a bad idea, which feels like something that doesn’t need stating. If those kids were somehow followed-up on at the episode’s conclusion maybe it would have been worthwhile. Instead it feels like an episode that had a 15 minute story, and that scene, as well as Frog and Alfred, needed to be added to add more time. Though I should say, the scenes with Alfred and Frog might be the best of the episode as they are kind of funny, and the villain is so hard to be invested in that those lighter scenes end up working better.

Visually, Bruce Timm expressed dissatisfaction with the episode, saying it too resembled anime. I can kind of see that in the design of the children, but the episode is actually animated rather well. Better than the previous episode, “Pretty Poison.” The lighting in the sewer, something which could have proved challenging, looks great and I felt Batman’s movements were noticeably smoother than they’ve been in some of the other episodes.

There’s no covering up for a mediocre antagonist, and while The Sewer King is easy to root against, he’s also hard to take seriously. With the way these episodes are structured, when the villain stinks the episode tends to follow which is why “The Underdwellers” is probably nobody’s favorite episode. I should add though, I was not looking forward to re-watching this episode for this feature, but I ended up enjoying it more than I thought I would, some of that was ironically. Still, probably not my least favorite episode of season one.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Pretty Poison”

Pretty_Poison-Title_CardEpisode Number: 5

Original Air Date:  September 14, 1992

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Paul Dini, Michael Reaves

First Appearance(s): Poison Ivy, Renée Montoya

“Pretty Poison” is another early production episode that’s confident to give viewers a lesser villain rather than a heavy hitter. As the title implies, this episode is the introduction of Poison Ivy (Diane Pershing) and she’s debuting as a new villain, not as one with a prior relationship with Batman (so far, only Joker has been introduced as an already existing villain) making this an origin story for her. Also central to the plot is Harvey Dent (Richard Moll). We saw him briefly in the pilot “On Leather Wings,” but this episode is really his introduction to the audience.

The episode opens in black and white as we see a pair of hands saving a wild rose from being torn up to make way for a new prison in Gotham. An old news broadcast serves to provide a framing device for this prison as it’s the brainchild of Gotham’s new district attorney, Dent, with considerable financial backing from some guy named Bruce Wayne. The show uses colored images to take us to the present, five years later, and a current prisoner of that fancy new establishment is making an escape with the help of a helicopter. This sets up a fun little back and forth where we’re shown scenes of Batman going after this guy and a scene of Dent enjoying dinner with a dashing redhead. They’re waiting for Wayne, and we get some humorous comments from Dent about his boring buddy who is always late while Batman is shown doing mostly Batman things. It’s a scene that will basically be adapted for the first Spider-Man movie.

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Bruce meets Harvey and his new girlfriend Pam for dinner.

Bruce eventually shows up at dinner, having thwarted the escape, and is introduced to Dent’s fiancé, Pam Isely. After she gives him a long, lingering, kiss she departs and Bruce begins to caution Dent on moving too fast (he’s only known her a few weeks). Dent begins to complain about not feeling well, and then passes out into his pudding and Gotham PD is alerted. Dent’s been poisoned, and Wayne naturally is on the case as Batman.

Through the use of his awesome computer, Batman discovers the poison is derived from an extinct species of rose. He also learns that Dent’s new flame is a botanist, who is currently giving a lecture on extinct plants. You would think Batman’s villains would be more careful? Anyway, it’s pretty clear who’s behind the poisoning and Batman confronts Isley, who’s hopped into a backless green outfit with a wrist-strapped crossbow and is now calling herself Poison Ivey. She has some sentient plants that do her bidding and basically makes it clear she values the life of the plant Dent drove into extinction by building his prison (apparently Gotham has a bad environmental works department) more than the life of Dent. I can’t help but wonder if Ivy was created by someone who thought vegetarians were crazy and that they valued animal life more than human life and decided to make a more extreme version?

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I always thought Poison Ivy’s mini crossbow was pretty cool.

Nonetheless, this is a good episode with some pacing problems. I really enjoy the setup, and it’s great that we get to see the Bruce/Harvey friendship before a different tragedy befalls the Dent character. I like that Isley is not too on the nose at first. While it’s not hard to figure out who poisoned Dent, it’s handled about as well as it can be. Ivy does come across as a bit incompetent, even basically just giving up in the end after almost losing her precious plant. It’s always a challenge to put Batman at odds with a female because the censors don’t want Batman handling them in the same manner he would The Joker, but Ivy’s plant monsters work well to take a beating and they’re pretty cool looking. I can’t help but think this episode would have benefitted from being a two-parter though, as it wraps really fast. A second part would have allowed for the introduction of some red herrings to make things seem less obvious leading to a better pay-off in the end.

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Given how Ivy’s feminine features are very much a part of her arsenal, I really hope that mutant plant isn’t supposed to be representative of a certain part of the female anatomy.

Visually, this is a solid episode. There’s some stiff animation at times, but I liked the artistic take of utilizing black and white and color as a way to distinguish the past and present. Batman gets a little beat up too which is always kind of fun to see. There’s also a little visual humor as we get Gordon and his subordinates racing out of the police headquarters when that unnamed prisoner attempts a break-out repeated when they find out Dent gets poisoned. Both times Bullock is just trying to enjoy some donuts because he’s a cop, and he’s fat. Cheap humor, but for some reason it made me laugh a bit when the scenario was repeated. Alfred also gets some nice lines here, and he’ll be even better in the next episode, making him a dark horse early favorite for season MVP.

This episode is a good introduction for Poison Ivy, who could be considered one of the break-out players from this series. Prior to The Animated Series, Ivy wasn’t a big player in the comics, but this series treated her as Batman’s #1 female adversary (it would mishandle Catwoman, coming later), and yes I realize this is the show that gave us Harley Quinn. Without this show, she probably isn’t a featured villain in Batman & Robin, which was a pretty big moment for the character, even if the film is trash.


#9 Best in TV Animation: The Ren & Stimpy Show

renstimpylogoThe thumping bass line leads into a frantic percussion section punctuated with a quick strike of a guitar and The Ren & Stimpy Show is on! The third and most unique of Nickelodeon’s early 90’s Nicktoons, the show was a throwback to the Golden Era of cartoons embodied by directors such as Chuck Jones and Tex Avery. This was a show for animators, for cartoon lovers, for people that wanted a show to just make them laugh. The process of creating an episode, from start to finish, was handled by one director and just a few writers who bounced ideas off one another. There was no rigid, segmented process where every aspect of the show had to be overseen by a specialist and there was no nefarious merchandizing gimmick turning the program into an extended commercial. The Ren & Stimpy Show simply existed for the love of it.

The early days of Nickeldeon consisted of live-action programming mixed in with educational programming for young children. The animation came from outside sources with the most notable being the Looney Tunes package program featuring classic cartoons. As the network grew, the desire to produce its own cartoons naturally arose and thus the Nicktoons were born. Consisting originally of Doug, Rugrats, and The Ren & Stimpy Show, the block first began airing on Sunday morning in 1991 and were so successful that they ended up being just the first in a long line of cartoons. While Doug and Rugrats were fairly tame in their approach to entertainment, Ren & Stimpy stood out for their crass, gross-out style of humor that would eventually land them on Nick’s late-night block of Saturday night programming and even a handful of MTV appearances.

Ren's rotting teeth, as seen here, are an example of the highly detailed (and often gross) still images the show would make use of.

Ren’s rotting teeth, as seen here, are an example of the highly detailed (and often gross) still images the show would make use of.

Conceived primarily by animator John Kricfalusi, Ren and Stimpy were atypical characters existing in a fairly typical format. They were a natural odd couple, being a dog and cat, but broke the mold in a sense by being rather unappealing to look at. Ren, gangly and liver-spotted, resembled a mosquito more than a chihuahua at times while Stimpy was a cat in name only. Rotund with a big, blue nose, he had no worries of being mistaken for Sylvester or Tom. The show was a half-hour program but mostly consisted of two shorts that would drop Ren and Stimpy into completely new environments with no continuity from one episode to the next. In fact, several episodes ended with the characters in hopeless situations or even implied death

The show’s intention was to make the viewer laugh. There were some bits of sentimentality tossed in to appease the network, but mostly the show wanted to be funny in the most obnoxious way possible. The characters often screamed with Ren in particular prone to violent tirades. Stimpy was the dumb one with a good heart while Ren often abused him both physically and emotionally. The show was able to retain its humor because Ren usually got what was coming to him making the show feel like it earned the laughs that came at Stimpy’s expense. The show often resorted to gross imagery for its humor. Stimpy would frequently cough up a lumpy hairball or show viewers his collection of snot he kept under a coffee table. Kitty littler featured prominently in multiple episodes with characters even eating the stuff right out of the litter box. By far, the show’s most memorable gross gag was the long-running extreme and highly detailed close-up shots of characters. These still images usually depicted characters at their worst with bloodshot eyes and hairy moles. The most memorable may have been when Ren revealed a mouth full of rotting teeth in response to Stimpy’s proper dental hygiene.

Because of its penchant for violence and toilet humor, Kricfalusi often found himself battling with standards and practices at Nickelodeon. One very memorable episode featured the characters playing a board game called “Don’t Wiz on the Electric Fence” climaxing with Ren doing just as the box suggested he not do and all the characters being sent to Hell. Another episode, “Man’s Best Friend,” climaxes with Ren violently beating a man with an oar. The animation goes into slow-motion as Ren strikes the man and his head violently squishes and twists with each strike of the oar. It’s the episode often cited as being the last straw for Kricfalusi, who was fired by Nickelodeon in 1992, barely a year after the first episode aired.

Nickelodeon would turn to co-creator Bob Camp to head up the show for the remainder of its run through 1995. Voice acting dynamo Billy West, originally hired to voice Stimpy, took over as Ren and added to his impressive resume (though one wonders what lasting damage all of the screaming from this show did to his vocal chords). Still, without Kricfalusi the show was doomed. It was still capable of making people laugh at times but it often felt directionless, even pointless.

The background was often used as a tool to heighten the emotion and intensity of the onscreen action as opposed to merely being a set piece.

The background was often used as a tool to heighten the emotion and intensity of the onscreen action as opposed to merely being a set piece.

From an animated perspective, the show was quite excellent. Everything was hand-drawn and the backgrounds often popped with detail. The show was not afraid to borrow from several styles of art, even abstract. In addition to the detailed still shot the show was known for, there was also frequent use of emotive backgrounds, usually when a character screamed or was frightened. Instead of the standard background being present, it might be a splatter effect or just splotches of color. Music was a big part of the show as well. The jazzy theme song was unmistakeable, and some of the show’s most iconic scenes include song such as the “Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy” segment from “Stimpy’s Invention” or the theme for the Royal Canadian Kilted Yaksmen. The music and visual effects all came together to help give the show it’s off the wall vibe.

The Ren & Stimpy Show could be described as one of those programs, or events, that burned too hot for it to last long. It may have remained in production until 1995, but the show’s creative output was only at its peak for a year or so. For that reason, it’s inclusion on such a list as this one could be debated, but it left such a mark on the 1990’s that it felt too hard to exclude. Many shows would follow and try to imitate what The Ren & Stimpy Show started but virtually none of them succeeded. Even Kricfalusi tried reviving the show in 2003 as an adult-oriented comedy program but the magic was long gone. It’s possible Ren and his pal Stimpy were simply not meant to last as long as Bugs or Daffy, but for the short while they were around they made an impact and their cartoons stand the test of time.