Tag Archives: cartoons

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

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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.


The Best in Televised Animation – Introduction

ARCHIVAL PHOTOProbably 90% of the posts here could be separated into two broad categories:  video games and animation. Thus it would come as no surprise to anyone who has spent even a small sum of time browsing this blog that I love animation, especially the classic hand-drawn kind. I’ve never given much thought as to why I enjoy animation so much. I would guess it’s because animation can do anything, even things live-action cannot. It can imitate real life or do the exact opposite. It’s often a haven for comedy and a natural destination for characters who began life as a comic book.

Animation has spent considerable time on the big screen and on television. As film, animation often takes the form of a general audience picture running around ninety minutes. It of course began life as a short subject often pre-empting a more traditional picture, then Walt Disney came along and decided animation could go feature-length. On television, animation often occupies children’s programming, but select shows have broken through as animated sitcoms and adults-only comedy acts. Trying to narrow down the best animated films and television shows is quite a tall task, which is why this feature is going to concern itself with television for now. This I envision will be a long-running feature. I’ve settled on what I consider to be the ten best animated programs, but there’s always the possibility I could continue to add to it even after I do a write-up on my ten favorites. It’s also possible I never finish. The possibilities are endless!

Before getting to my top 10, I wanted to make an introductory post on the feature and use it as an opportunity to highlight the shows that just missed the cut. My list does not exclude the animation aimed at children and my top ten is almost half kid’s shows and half adult programs. I tried to approach all of them with the same basic questions:  Is the show entertaining? Is the medium used well? Is the artwork pleasing to the eye while suiting the show’s needs? Naturally, the list will be influenced by the era I grew up in, the 80’s and 90’s, so the shows that came before that time are unfairly penalized (though in my opinion, most of the cartoons from that era are garbage). I also didn’t include the package shows like Looney Tunes. I loved those cartoons growing up, but they’re theatrical shorts

With that out of the way, it’s time to hit on the ones that just missed my list. One of the first cartoons I can remember watching daily as a kid is DuckTales. DuckTales was extremely pleasing to the eyes, like just about all of the Disney cartoons from that era, and featured a fun, engaging plot with likable characters and a catchy soundtrack. It holds up pretty well today, but is obviously aimed at children. The show could get redundant as well as the premise for most episodes was Scrooge having to thwart the Beagle Boys, but as far as children’s entertainment goes, it’s hard to beat DuckTales.

Spider-Man has made numerous appearances on television, but the oddest looking is probably the best.

Spider-Man has made numerous appearances on television, but the oddest looking is probably the best.

DuckTales was an adventure program, and another adventure program that’s still fun to this day is Dragon Ball. Hailing from Japan, Dragon Ball tells the tale of Goku who travels the world in search of the seven magic dragon balls. The plot gets more complicated than that as the show moves along, but it’s packed with equal parts action and humor. Since it arrived in the states after its sequel series, Dragon Ball Z, anime dubbing was able to improve and english speaking audiences were treated to a wonderful dub, something that was rare during the 90’s. Dragon Ball Z is the more popular show, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the quality of Dragon Ball.

Superheroes have seen a great many takes on their comics in the world of televised animation. One such character has received numerous adaptations: Marvel’s Amazing Spider-Man. Two adaptations stand-out for the wall crawler, the simply titled Spider-Man from the 1990’s and the more recent Spectacular Spider-Man. The 90’s Spider-Man was a great introduction for kids unfamiliar with the character. It hit on lots of Spidey’s most famous stories from the comics, and even though it was for children, it took itself very seriously. Sometimes too seriously. Spectacular Spider-Man distinguished itself with a unique look. It’s style was a bit off-putting at first, but the animation was crisp and the show packed a ton of energy. Sadly, it was a casualty of the Marvel purchase by Disney and an inferior Spider-Man program took its place.

Superhero shows were quite popular in the 90’s, but one stood out amongst the crowd for its satirical take on the genre. I am, of course, talking about The Tick. The Tick closed out the mega-popular Fox Saturday Morning block of programming and was a particularly zany take on the superhero genre. It was probably too weird and too out there for a lot of kids, but it’s definitely a show that works better on older audiences. So obvious was this fact that Fox attempted a live-action sitcom starring the dim-witted blue hero starring Patrick Warburton. It was not a success.

The Tick was a breath of fresh air coming on the heels of numerous melodramatic superhero cartoons.

The Tick was a breath of fresh air coming on the heels of numerous melodramatic superhero cartoons.

In the world of adult cartoons, Family Guy is pretty popular these days. It was roughly animated when it first showed up, but the increased ratings lead to better production and the show looks much better these days. Unfortunately, like another very famous adult cartoon that I’ll get to much later, its current output is far less creative than the first couple of seasons. Family Guy really only had 2 and a half seasons of good content before the formula became too obvious and the characters unlikable. An even more vulgar program for older audiences, Beavis and Butt-head dominated a small chunk of the 90’s. It was impossible to find a teen that didn’t know who those two were. The show was a lot sharper than most gave it credit for, though the animation was as crude as it comes. It would make a Hell of a nice time capsule kind of show.

When it comes to cartoons not aimed primarily at children though, all present cartoons owe a great deal to The Flintstones. The Flintstones were basically a stone-aged take on The Honeymooners and the first primetime cartoon. It’s premise is clever, and the setting is a good example of one that works far better in animation that it ever could have as live-action (just watch The Flintstones movie if you’re not convinced of that). It’s also a show hurt by the age of your humble writer. I grew up watching The Flintstones in syndication when it aired as just another cartoon among many others. I enjoy it for what it is, but it doesn’t engage me enough to make my top ten. It very nearly did though just on its laurels, but I wanted to go with the programs that I personally enjoy the most, because after all, it is my list.

All of those shows I just mentioned were good at one point or another, though truthfully, other than The Flintstones, it wasn’t hard for me to leave any of them off my list. The ten I have picked as the best really are ten shows I enjoy quite a lot and I look forward to doing write-ups on them as I find time. And now, a few others I considered for this post:  Rugrats, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012, 2003), Rocko’s Modern Life, Sealab 2021, Batman Beyond, and Bob’s Burgers.


Lego Simpsons: The Kwik-E-Mart and Mini Figures Series 2

IMG_0445Last year, Lego released its first set and series of mini figures styled after The Simpsons, the animated institution that has anchored Fox’s Sunday Night lineup longer than Justin Bieber’s been alive. Debate the merits of the program’s more recent seasons all you want, but it couldn’t diminish my curiosity for a set of Legos based on the venerable series. The first set, predictably, was the home of the Simpsons while series one of the mini figures focused on most of the key characters from the show. Because the cast is so large, and the world so developed, there was already instant demand for a series two and Lego has delivered. And for the second construction set Lego tabbed Springfield’s most iconic convenience store:  The Kwik-E-Mart.

A few months ago I blogged on the subject of a series two for Lego and concluded that the Kwik-E-Mart was the most likely follow-up set. The only location that could possibly rival it is Moe’s Tavern, but Lego’s anti-alcohol policy makes that one a no-go right from the start. The Kwik-E-Mart may seem like a smaller set when compared with the Simpsons’ house, but Lego managed to stuff almost as many bricks into it as it did for the house, due in large part to all of the goods being peddled by Apu and his corporate masters. The set retails in the US for the same $200 the house retailed for, which felt high but wasn’t enough of a deterrent to keep me from purchasing it. In hindsight, it’s probably still too high but I think I actually like this one more than the Simpsons’ house, and I’ll tell you why.

imageThe Kwik-E-Mart is fairly large when compared with the house. It’s only one story high but the floorplan is more square and deeper than the house. It too features hinged portions to open it up for viewing/play and the roof lifts off for easy access to the store’s innards. Two of the store’s walls are lined with freezers, one of which features a decal of Frostillicus, and their construction is creative and adds depth. There’s a teeny, tiny, backroom that’s not true to the actual layout of the store, but I appreciate the fact that Lego at least attempted to include it. The other walls are lined with a cash machine, arcade games, and a coffee area. The central desk features a hot dog heater and a donut rack. Behind the desk is the all important Squishee machine and display cases come with copies of Angry Dad and other prints recognizable to Simpsons fanatics. All of the little details, like the puddle of Squishee on the floor or the different levels of the fruit punch and lemonade coolers are creative and extremely well done. Some of the aisle goods are a bit bland, but they’re the exception. Much of the detail of the freezer goods is almost wasted considering how unnoticeable it is and I love that Lego included a lone hot dog wedged between the counters. Adjacent to the store is a dumpster area and the roof features a crude representation of Apu’s garden. It may not come close to resembling the television garden, but it’s great that Lego included it.

A familiar site for Apu.

A familiar site for Apu.

The set comes packed with five mini figures:  Apu, Homer, Marge, Bart, Chief Wiggum, and Snake. Of the five, only Snake is exclusive to the set. Apu and Wiggum feature new outfits with Apu in clerk attire and Wiggum in a donut-stained suit. Homer, Marge, and Bart are essentially the same figures released in wave one of last year’s mini figure line. I understand that Lego likely feels compelled to include members of the Simpsons clan in any set it does, but it could have done something to make these three feel a little special. Marge and Bart could have had screen-printed jackets and Homer could have come with the giant hat he wore to spy on Apu for the local investigative news report. Or he could have been clothed in his clerk attire from the episode he took a part-time job at the Kwik-E-Mart. At any rate, it wouldn’t have required much effort to make these three figures unique but Lego opted not to. Also included is a squad car for Wiggum that can actually fit both he and Snake inside it. Accessories-wise, Lego doesn’t really do guns but there is a piece in the set that certainly resembles a gun (pictured) that Snake can utilize. It’s the same piece that’s also used to create Bart’s spray-paint. Marge has a basket, and Wiggum has some handcuffs. Nothing exciting, but certainly appropriate. The store has the better accessories, including a better looking Squishee cup (when compared with the coffee-like cup the mini-figure of Apu came with) and tiny cans of buzz cola.

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It’s like kissing a peanut!

The Kwik-E-Mart, minor nitpicks aside, is a success for Lego and fans of the Simpsons. As for series two of the mini figures, it’s somewhat a success but not as obviously so. First, let’s talk about the bad. As expected, each member of the family gets another figure. For Homer, Marge and Lisa, they’re given more formal attire. For Homer and Marge it’s their date attire we see from time to time while Lisa is wearing the dress we most often see her wearing when the family attends church. Bart is dressed as his alter ego Bartman, which was expected. Joining him is Milhouse as Fall-Out Boy. I don’t think anyone was clamoring for another edition of Milhouse, but at least he pairs well with Bartman. Maggie is also back but this time she’s exactly the same as she was in series one. This is unacceptable. Lego could have at least put her in her white onesie she sometimes wears or her starfish snow suit. Unfortunately, Maggie comes packed with Santa’s Little Helper (who really should have been included with the house last year) so fans who want to have a complete Simpsons’ family will have to pick her up again (Lisa comes with Snowball). The other members of the wave include some familiar faces: Willie, Professor Frink, Dr. Hibbert, Pattie, Selma, Smithers, Hans Moleman, Martin, Comic Book Guy, and Mrs. Krabappel.  It’s easy to second-guess Lego here as should we really have received a Frink before a Skinner? Dr. Hibbert before Sideshow Bob? Complaints about the selection aside, most of the new characters look great. My only gripes there are with Hibbert and Frink’s lab coats, which are printed on instead of being actual pieces. Comic Book Guy also, like Wiggum from last year, appears too thin. I wish Lego would do something to make the really obese characters stand-out as such, but it’s apparent they’re not going to do that. The included accessories for each character make sense, with the Simpsons’ pets being the obvious stand-outs. Willie probably should have come with a rake, and Hans a cane, but that’s no great omission.

Like all of Lego’s mini figures, these are released in blind bags. Those willing to swallow their pride and hang out by the display case feeling-up the bags should have little trouble in coming away with a complete set with minimal doubles. I was hasty in my first attempt and mistook a Selma for a Pattie, a Hans for Martin, and a couple other screw-ups. I ended up keeping one double, the Hans, and made use of the many Barts that have been released by swapping heads and depicting Hans as he appeared in the episode “Burns’ Heir,” when he briefly joined the Simpsons.

The two sets side by side.

The two sets side by side.

In the end, this wave of figures and the Kwik-E-Mart are fun and rewarding for longtime fans. They also accomplish the goal of making fans hungry for a series three. There are numerous essential characters that have yet to be featured and still plenty of Homer and Bart variants that Lego could fall-back on. As for a third set, Springfield Elementary seems like a logical resting point, though some sacrifices would have to be made to keep it in scope with both the house and Kwik-E-Mart in terms of the amount of bricks. Other locations that could be featured are The Android’s Dungeon and Krusty Burger. Series one sold well, and as far as I know series two has continued that trend so a third seems likely. Hopefully Lego can come up with a worthwhile successor to the Kwik-E-Mart, but even if they don’t, there’s a good chance I’ll buy it anyways